Which Sales Leadership Style is Right For You?

Recent research from CSO insights indicated that only 10% of sales managers exceeded expectations. This alarming lack of approval may stem from the finding that only 28.3% of managers see the sales process as a priority. Instead, many are still hyper-focused on meeting quotas, which only 54.4% of reps meet, perpetuating the dissatisfaction of a strictly quota based management method.

Management methods that focus on the sales process rather than merely the outcome tend to be more sustainable overall. If you invest sincere time and effort managing your sales team, their satisfaction with work, and thereby their work quality, will increase. Smart sales management is common sense, but the options and tools for managing your team can seem endless and overwhelming.

Every sales team is unique, so one would be hard-pressed to find any teams that work exactly the same way. However, there are some common patterns in management styles that are applied across the board. It’s how these styles are applied that makes a difference. David Jacoby, managing partner at the Sales Readiness Group, describes four distinct management styles. Understanding the circumstances under which each is to be applied is, Jacoby insists, critical to effective management.

Further research reveals that each sales management style, much like the leftover Halloween candy sitting next to me while I write, is best in moderation. While not all experts adhere to Jacoby’s four styles alone, they agree that frequently resorting to one management style over the others could result in dissatisfying consequences for you and your team.

Using Jacoby’s styles as a framework, we can discover which sales management style fits certain situations, as well as what happens if a manager were to over-rely on that style or neglect it.



Jacoby describes directing as the most autocratic management style. Essentially, you tell the salesperson what you want done and how to do it. This is frowned upon in everyday circumstances, but Jacoby recommends it as an approach with new sales people or in “top down” situations where authority really needs to be established.

Hubspot utilizes a infographic from Microsoft to describe six dynamic sales leadership styles. The two that most heavily incorporate directing are the “General Manager” and the “Team Captain.

The General Manager is one who is highly-focused and detail oriented. Their directive approach to management can be perceived as emotionless at times, but demonstrates his or her investment in high quality work and getting things done in a timely manner, leaving little room for misinterpretation or dispute.

The Team Captain uses directing to a lesser extent, as they “wouldn’t ask their team to do anything they wouldn’t do personally.” However, they are also determined to stick to an agreed upon plan, and prove effective at uniting diverse personalities toward a common goal.

The disadvantages of directing too much are fairly obvious, as one who directs too heavily perpetuate hostility from their team members. Microsoft’s research indicates that General Manager types are often less open to feedback and prone to overwork, while the Team Captains of the world are also at risk of making quick enemies with their persistence, and also being inflexible.

Harvard Business Review describes these kinds of managers as “Teflon.” They get the job done, but don’t always stick around to cultivate personal bonds with their team.


Jacoby describes the management style selling not as literally selling, but rather persuading the team to go a certain direction. This is good for introducing new concepts or presenting your team with a challenge.

The Microsoft infographic describes the persuasive manager as the “Star Player,” who always knows exactly what to say to close a deal. In terms of management, this translates to always having the right terms to motivate and persuade your team.

Harvard Business Review warns that such a charming and gregarious demeanor, while great for a sales call, can be perceived by co-workers as overconfidence. Early on in a management position, the selling management style could also indicate that a manager is still operating from the mindset of their previous positions in sales.



Participating is the most open and honest management style. It involves focusing “open communication, and a two-way exchange of ideas.” The participating manager is always open to feedback, which is valuable in coaching situations and also during the development of improvement strategies.

Microsoft uses the image of “The Veteran” to describe this leadership style. The Veteran is one who is in the trenches with their team, and thus cultivates intense loyalty and personal bonds. The advantages of this are clear for morale and for the motivation of a team.

However, if always remaining intensely personal, the Veteran runs the risk of burning out quickly as it becomes harder to distinguish between personal and professional life. Harvard Business Review also uses military terminology to describe these kinds of managers as “Sergeants,” who while beneficial to their team, can often sacrifice their own best interests.



Jacoby writes that delegating is “empowering salespeople with the freedom to do their jobs” or to improve. It is best used with those who have demonstrated great ability, or could use a little more confidence in their ability. It’s also a must during a time crunch.

Microsoft describes the delegator as “The Coach,” who is future focused and empathetic. Such is a manager that aspires for each member of their team to reach their fullest potential. This kind of manager is more comfortable with risks and failure, as long as they can manage the outcome.

Harvard Business Review reveals two sides of The Coach: the Mentor and the Micromanager. The Mentor ranked as the most valuable management style in their study, no doubt for its well-roundedness of determination to succeed with a personal touch.

The Mentor and Coach must be wary of the tendency to Micromanage. Delegation can be difficult if you’re in a time crunch, and it can be terrifying to pass on tasks that you believe you could accomplish seamlessly (even though you realistically don’t have time.) So the desire to manage failure has to be balanced by a healthy faith in your team


Which One Are You?

Hopefully you see a little of yourself in each of these. If not, which management styles could you bring into play more often? Which ones do you need to take a step back on? If anything, the wide variety of leadership styles show that the best practice for management is self-reflection and analysis.

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