How to Avoid Being "That Boss": Keeping Your 'A' Players on the Team

Paul Jones

Recently I was speaking with a friend about a significant reorganization that is happening at the company at which he works. When I asked him how he felt about this reorganization he told me he was very excited. His answer surprised me.  Most people going through this kind of change are more nervous than excited. His answer to my question about why he was so excited was very telling. His exact words were, “I won’t have to work for my current boss anymore!” 

Perhaps you have heard the axiom “people leave managers, not companies.” Maybe you have even experienced this. You may have been working for a great company in a position that was exactly right for you but your boss was so unbearable, you left. In a world where competition for good talent is at an all-time high, companies cannot afford to lose good people simply because they can’t stand the boss. 

Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the sales world. In my experience, top sales talent will not suffer bosses who make their lives miserable. They will leave for greener pastures and all that will remain are the B and C players. So what can companies do to keep from losing their best people? 

It starts with acknowledging one of the biggest reasons this is such a chronic problem in sales teams. Most sales leaders are promoted into management positions simply because they were effective salespeople. The challenge is, being a good salesperson does not necessarily translate into being a good manager or boss.  Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that many of these newly elevated sales leaders receive little to no help or training on how to be a good boss. They are expected to just figure it out on their own and many are unable to do so. 

In addition to the voluminous number of topics one could find related to being a better manager, I would like to add a few ideas that could be considered unconventional. If you are a leader who wants to avoid losing good people in droves, consider the following ideas:

  • Be OK with the idea that your people might know more about their jobs than you do. This one can be extremely hard for some leaders to accept.  They believe that to be an effective boss they must demonstrate they are all knowing.  Even if you have done your team’s job before, it’s very possible your people know as much or more about sales as you do.  And that’s OK.  Stay open to the idea that your people can teach you things you don’t know.
  • Shoot straight and ATFQ. One of the biggest frustrations I hear about bosses is that it’s too difficult to get straight answers to straight questions.  One client put it to me like this:  “Every time I have a conversation with my boss and ask her direct questions, the answers end up being so convoluted that by the time we are finished with the conversation we have both forgotten what the original questions even were”!  A good practice to adopt is what I will refer to as “ATFQ”.  It stands for Answer the Freaking Question!  Shoot straight with your people and match direct questions with direct answers.  Don’t think you need to sugar coat everything and don’t try to talk your way out by pretending to answer it.  
  • Tell them something they don’t already know. This one is especially appropriate for sales leaders.  So often when a salesperson is failing to hit quota, many sales leaders continually remind the salesperson that he/she is behind quota and needs to hit quota.  Do you honestly believe they don’t already know that?  Of course they do!  The question is, what can you do to help them hit quota?  Aside from just telling them they are behind and need to improve, what can you do to help them get where they need to be?  

I believe no one wants to be “that boss.” No one wants to be the reason high-quality people leave jobs. Unfortunately, many bosses are unaware they might be playing that role. Consider the ideas offered here to help avoid or overcome this situation.  Otherwise, your best people might soon be working for one of your competitors.  

Gain a deeper understanding of the skills and strategies to achieve your sales goals by registering for a complimentary Helping Clients Succeed webcast.

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