Why do they call it leading? Why do you lead a horse with lead-reins? Well, have you ever tried pushing a horse from behind? I certainly hope not. Some things should be obvious in sales leadership, but far too often are ignored. Let’s talk about push vs pull leadership.

I had the pleasure a few years ago to listen to the great John Wooden speak at a business conference about his principals of leadership. He was 95 years old, and while physically weaker, still as sharp and polarizing as in his UCLA years. He said two things I’ll always remember:

  1. Asked why he thought he had such a great team for all those years. He said “I had the best team because I had the best players!”
  2. Asked how he was able to keep such huge personalities like Walton and Alcindor working together without fighting. He said “I cared more about them as human beings than as basketball players, and I set consistent standards for behavior and performance regardless of who they were.”

Hmm, there’s a business lesson in there somewhere. So if I can just recruit the best salespeople and hold them to consistent behavior and performance standards, I should be able to exceed all of my company’s sales goals. Sounds easy, but its not. I’m focusing on the “caring more about them as human beings” part of the topic.

Push vs Pull Leadership

Referrals are the best and easiest way to gain new customers, and so it is true for recruiting sales talent. If your company has a great reputation for leadership, the best will want to work for you, and your best will never want to leave. They probably know other talented salespeople from elsewhere. Do you want them recruiting for your team, or warning others away? In my career I’ve found my best and brightest through other top performers on the team. If your goal as a sales leader is to drive your team to make the most money possible they will see you for who you are; a pusher from behind. If your goal is to help make your team be the best salespeople they can be within their skill sets, they will deliver far higher results.

You can only achieve this by a fair, consistent and helpful approach to performance management. Most of all its leading by example. (Do as I do and not as I say) Learn from your salespeople rather than always being better than they at everything. Chances are each member of your team is better at one aspect of the job than you are. Rather than disagreeing, show them how you learned from them and ask if they’re willing to share that at the next meeting/call?

Try this: “I care more about helping you become the best sales professional you can be than I do about winning or losing.” If you do, you just might create an environment of winning because they want to, rather than because they must.

The Coach knows….If you can recruit the best, you will win the most!


Mat Forester

VP of Sales & Marketing with an excellent record in business and corporate development, operations, strategy, profit growth and training. Proven leadership ability demonstrated in management roles throughout career. Major strengths include team leadership, sales and marketing leadership, increasing revenue and profit, hiring effective sales and operations professionals, motivating and training reps and managers for future leadership roles.

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