The Balance Between Being a “Boss” and a Friend

To share more than just my own opinion, over the past 3 days, I have interviewed 6 different sales leaders and my very own team of SDRs and interns.

It starts on the very first day

I think that a true sales leader should strive to ensure that their employees know that they care about them. Employees should feel confident that their manager has their best interest at heart – from day one. So, as a sales leader how do we do that?

Adam Chambliss of Urjanet states, “The biggest thing from my perspective is making sure your employees know what you are about, what you value, what your career goals and aspirations are, as well as their own on the very first day.”

Understanding each of my SDR’s goals gives me the opportunity to steer that employee towards attainment of those goals, by working to remove any potential roadblocks to success. Does that path to success require challenging them? Of course it does…but what is more friendly than putting their career development goals above my own? I have always said, and will continue to say, that the main metric by which I measure my own personal success is the number of employees that I have helped to achieve and surpass their very own professional goals.

Fred Chiverton of All American Resources talked with me about his experience and explained “a leader comes across as the guy who walks in everyday looking to build their reps future, and is devoted to making them successful.”

I take Fred’s point to heart.   Every morning, as I walk into the office, I am thinking – how can I make each and every person on my team better than they were yesterday?

It’s time to roll-up the sleeves to get respect

A lot boils down to leadership by example.  People want to feel like “Rob will (and has) done it, I should too. If he is not scared to get in the weeds with me, stick up for the team, and make this happen then what am I waiting for.” Actions always speak louder than words especially in Sales Development.

Fred explained, “training is so big, when reps feel stagnant in their growth, the whole liked vs. respected (fine line) goes right out the window. If you, as a leader, aren’t adding value to these reps day, and they don’t feel like they are learning anything new, they are going to leave. The people that I liked the most – the ones that weren’t scared to help by showing and doing.”

With the SDR role averaging 1-2 years, depending on the industry you are in, ensuring your reps are continuously learning, engaging, and gaining new responsibilities is paramount.

According to Jack Veronin of Everstring, “The #1 thing that gained respect from my team is constantly going to battle for my SDRs.” When interviewing my other intern, Andy Okala, he alluded to the same quality – “You stick up for your team no matter what, and that’s what I respect the most.”

Show Empathy

People want to work for other human beings, those that have empathy and have been in their shoes before. This concept is especially important in the SDR role as it can be a grind, every day having it’s emotional ups and downs. Whether leaving 50 voicemails, in a row, without a single connect or getting shut down on the phone time and time again, your employees seek your guidance because you have been there before.

People want to work for those that they see as a slightly better version of themselves, one that they can relate to…not individuals who paint a picture of being so great at their job that it is unrelatable. Your SDRs want to be able to see themselves in your shoes one day.  They want to feel that “the things my leader is talking about will also work for me as we aren’t that different.” One of my interns, Chance Calderhead explained that “it feels like you understand where me Andy and the rest of the team have been, and I think the best word for that sort of thing is mentor.”

Be Humble

Never underestimate the importance of admitting when you’re wrong on a topic. As much as your reps love working for a leader who is smart and confident they also want to work for a human being. When you show imperfections it’s actually endearing to most employees particularly when you readily admit your missteps and mistakes. Having a level of humbleness allows people to open up, share ideas, celebrate wins and be as proactive and productive as possible.

If you can foster a culture of improvement for both yourselves and your reps it will work wonders. Asking for unprovoked feedback on what you can do better, as a leader, shows your team that their opinion matters most. After that exercise, it creates openness – I wanted honesty and now I will give you the same with coaching and we both can grow.

There is a difference between being a “friend” and being “friendly”

It is always important to keep, at the forefront of your mind, ‘the why’ behind your start in the role. Current sales leaders have many different goals and aspirations but for most those do not include “I wonder how many friends I am going to make here.” Your SDRs are not any different, they crave feedback and want to receive the guidance required to develop professionally.

If your rep is an A-player, they will want more responsibility, the promotion, and the clear path to what’s next. That next promotion is not going to come from a round of beers, but through your actionable coaching and dedication to ensuring they will get to where they want to go. Period.

I think that being liked and respected are not mutually exclusive. After setting up the 4 level certification program for our SDRs, to grow into an AE role, some of the SDRs did not pass the first level on their first or second attempt, but their feedback was tremendous. The consensus was, we do not want “participation trophies.” We want to learn and EARN it.

When, where & why do we draw the line?

In business, it is obvious, that we have goals and objectives to hit. The need to hit said goals and objectives lends itself to some tough conversations from time to time.

This is why it is important to think ahead – the majority of problems we face could have been handled if we actually thought ahead. When it comes to being a leader, we must think “is this particular action going to have a positive impact down the line.”

That being said, envision your top performer(s) – I am sure we all have a few that immediately come to mind. We are all human beings, and naturally we make mistakes and have learned from them. Interestingly enough – doing a poor job of not drawing the line between “friendship” and being a “boss”, only comes to hurt you when negative circumstances occur.

If one is dealing with a top performer this usually won’t be an issue but it is important to be prepared for the worst and think ahead. Whether running the risk of team morale or your reps thinking they won’t get the promotion because your top performer is your “buddy.” You must think of the implications and its impact.

A true leader is not a boss, neither is a friend.

Another leader that I look up to, Melvin Prada, pointed out “a true leader is a situational guide that can empathize and understand how you can be more efficient and grow professionally regardless of your age or where you are in life. When I had my own business, I hired amazing people…not to tell them what to do, but for them to guide our team how we can do it better.”

Back when I was an SDR, and saw my boss put in so much effort and dedication to make me and our team successful, I used to think to myself  “I can’t let this guy down.” I still feel that way today, but now it’s morphed into “I can’t let my team down.”

Rob Anderson

Rob is currently the head of Outbound Business Development at Docebo, a game changing LMS company. At the age of 25, he worked his way up from being an SDR to scaling a global team in less than a year. He enjoys assisting in the global event strategy such as the upcoming conference #DoceboInspire. Helping define and develop other young professionals career is his passion.

Follow my journey – twitter: @rob_b_anderson and LinkedIn, here.

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