There are a lot of lists of attributes required of a great leader; most include things like vision, communication, and a strategic mind. There are far fewer lists of the soft skills that make for a great leader. The following soft skills would cause a team to recognize their leader as great.
- Making Time: A great sales leader makes time for the people on their team. While this should not be an earth-shattering attribute, many sales leaders spend so much time serving the company, they are left with too little time for their team. The sales leader or manager who makes time for their team is going to have a more engaged and more successful sales force. The sales leader who has no time for their team is projecting that their priorities are elsewhere.
- Listening: Some of the most powerful people you will ever meet have developed the ability to listen. They are patient, allowing the other person to speak. More still, they can block out the background noise and give the person their full and undivided attention. In a world of asynchronous and overwhelmingly transactional communications, the gift of being heard is a rare commodity. The ability to turn the phone over and shut the laptop lid indicates the person in front of you is more important than anything else at that moment.
- Intellectual Humility: Leaders are supposed to have the answers. Their team looks to them for help in succeeding in the difficult craft of professional selling. The soft skill of intellectual humility is what allows the leader to know what they don't know. New sales leaders and sales managers can feel a certain pressure when they are asked questions for which they lack answers. Great sales leaders recognize that they don't know what they might need to know, and have the humility to say so. This is one of the ways they learn and improve.
- Lifelong Learning: When Napoleon traveled to Egypt, he took hundreds of books with him, including books he had already read multiple times. Great leaders, including sales leaders, are lifelong learners. You can easily find statistics that suggest that CEOs read many more books than the average person. This is one way they try to understand their world and learn what they need to know to lead their team and improve their results. This soft skill for great sales leaders is, in part, the result of their intellectual humility.
- Optimism: Being optimistic and future-oriented is necessary, especially in the ACDC environment that creates unrivaled uncertainty. The strong belief that they will succeed despite any challenges helps others believe and act. Anyone who has worked for a pessimistic leader will value working for a person who is positive and unafraid in the face of challenges. The sales force is a reflection of their leader.
- High EQ: It is one thing to read another person's emotional state. But as powerful as empathy might be, what is often more important is being able to recognize and control our own emotional state. We might describe the outcome of high emotional intelligence as steadiness, with the sales leader keeping an even temperament, never too high and never too low. This is a vastly underrated soft skill for sales leaders.
- Giving Credit: The very best sales leaders and managers take full responsibility for their failures while giving their team all the credit for successes. When they miss a goal, they accept the responsibility, never blaming their team. When the sales leader's team reaches their goals, they credit the team, taking no credit for the results. Sales leaders with this competency use the words you or we far more often than I.
- Using the Right Currency: One thing sales leaders get wrong is believing that every salesperson is motivated by money, even though this is not true. Everyone wants more money, but only a small number of people are truly motivated by it. Other people are motivated by certainty, recognition, purpose and meaning, or belonging. Stephen Covey suggested each person has an emotional bank account. Making a deposit in the emotional bank account requires you do so in the right currency. Great sales leaders know what currency each person prefers.
- Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is a more difficult soft skill to acquire, in large part because of our tendency to fall prey to our confirmation bias and overly political social media sites. The critical thinker can look at things objectively. Being able to look at both sides of an issue or a difficult scenario is a soft skill that improves one's leadership by allowing them to see what is true, improving their decisions and their results.
- Perspective: It is difficult to develop a perspective without having experiences that allow you to see something invisible to others. The sales leader with a perspective likely earned it through hard lessons. The sales leader's perspective was bought and paid for, and now shows up as wisdom. It helps them know what to do and what to avoid, which allows them to help their team improve their results.
Those who pursue these soft skills will find some of them more challenging than others. There may be no better place to start than listening. To do that, you would need to make time and exercise your intellectual humility. No matter where you start, the never-ending project of growing as a leader starts differently for everyone.
Just recognizing a lack of any one of these soft skills is enough to help improve your leadership. Awareness always comes first, and then your real work begins. Improving, however, requires another soft skill: patience.