When I was younger, I thought of the CEO role as being akin to that of a philosopher king, dictating from on high and treating assets like pieces in a massive chess game.
In other words, I felt that the smartest person in the room made the best leader. He or she would see opportunities that others missed, leading the team forward by sheer intellect.
As with many things I believed when I was younger, experience proved me wrong.
What I didn’t recognize at the time is that the ability to sell is what often separates successful leaders from failures.
In fact, I’ve now come to the realization that sales professionals, or at least people with strong sales skills, can make the best leaders.
They know the difference between intelligence and wisdom
I grew up with best friends who more intelligent than me by several orders of magnitude. The majority of my youth and educational journey was spent desperately trying to keep up with them and prove my value.
Of course, they possessed a natural intellect that I could never replicate, no matter how hard I tried. This realization left me with a feeling of inferiority and concerns about my ability to compete in the future.
What I failed to realize, however, was the difference between intelligence and wisdom. While intelligence is a matter of raw intellectual horsepower, wisdom is a matter of knowing how and when to apply knowledge.
While my friends were undoubtedly smarter than me, I was better when it came to connecting with people. I was able to leverage what intelligence I possessed and apply it in the most effective ways.
Sales requires wisdom, not necessarily intelligence. Good salespeople know how to read another person and connect with their hopes, fears, and perspectives. As a result, they’re able to bring people along on their journey, and ultimately get things done.
Leadership, like sales, is about bringing people to a mutual understanding rather than telling them the answer.
They’re persuasive and get things done
One thing I’ve learned in my role as the CEO of a growing company is that coming up with an answer is easy. Turning that answer into a tangible reality, however, is far more difficult.
My life is one neverending negotiation. I’m constantly called on to analyze a situation, think ahead, and find ways to align the resources at my disposal to get a job done.
Persuading people to buy into your answer can be challenging; it requires a certain degree of real-time analysis and constant vigilance.
You cannot simply tell someone to do something. If they haven’t bought into the task, the results will be lacking. Instead, you have to get them to believe in what they’re doing.
As a leader, you have to develop an ability to understand people’s fears, perspectives, and ambitions. Only by understanding the way they think can you guide them in the direction you want.
Successful leaders recognize that these sales skills are central to their success, and have honed them over the years in various sales roles.
They have empathy and understand the intangible side of business
Perhaps the most important reason why sales professionals make great leaders is that they tend to have both a high degree of empathy and understand that business isn’t always logical.
Sales, and business in general for that matter, is about people, plain and simple. All of the academic answers in the world won’t amount to anything if you can’t get others to come along for the ride.
Anyone who has worked a sale knows that logic and facts rarely win the day. Instead, emotion tends to guide the process. Empathetic salespeople recognize this and are able to help prospects or employees navigate the emotional landscape and reach the desired conclusions.
Great leadership is found at the intersection of wisdom, persuasion, and empathy. Sales professionals have a unique understanding of the human element and tend to embody this mix of skills in just the right amounts.
Chris Myer, Contributor