The team was present, but definitely not listening. I was floundering in my effort to help them understand why we needed to change our entire sales process. I thought I could handle it. I thought my leadership skills were better than this. I was in my third month as a newly appointed sales manager, and maybe I just wasn't prepared. Maybe they weren't prepared either.

It felt like the point of no return. No engagement. I tried asking for feedback. I even tried a story. It turned into an example and backfired. Then our former VP of Sales and current CEO decided to step in. Great. Now I need to be "saved." How embarrassing.

His approach was unexpected. Instead of talking about mission and vision and effort, he singled out one person and asked her when was the last time she helped a customer. Then she told an incredible story about a client who couldn't get the database to sync with the online catalog, so she walked the client through it, she felt good, and the client thanked her.

Then the CEO asked a junior sales rep the same question. His story was even more impactful. The client was having trouble processing sales orders. Without having the sales orders processed, the client couldn't get paid. Our junior rep helped him figure out the issue and the client was thankful. The CEO continued down the line until everyone told a "success" story.

Instead of coming in and acting like a hero, the CEO listened. He showed concern. He helped them feel heard while giving them a chance to be part of something larger than just their job title. He listened.

Everyone was engaged. When the last person finished sharing, I knew what I had to do.

I asked them, "Do we want to continue to serve our clients like we currently do?" Everyone said "Yes." Then I explained that in order to keep helping, we needed to adjust our sales process, since the market was changing.

Everyone understood. The team was onboard. The team was sold.

Don't forget you're part of a team.

You can't lead people. Leading doesn't work if you think leading is telling and pointing and managing. The biggest problem in leadership is the leader. The leader usually thinks it is about themselves and the business, and forgets that leadership has nothing to do with them. Leadership is about the people.

You can lead yourself. You can encourage, motivate, and help others. But you can't lead people. People are not horses or dogs. Leaders often think they are there to manage a business, which might be true, but they are really there to motivate, inspire, listen, and sell.

All CEOs sell, but the best ones listen first.

What? Sales.

Yes. Sales. Selling. All of it.

Good leadership is just sales for an internal client. The product is the goal of the team. The solution is a cohesive team working toward the same vision with people who care and want to help others. Leadership is sales, and the best leaders sell the most. They sell a vision. They sell a dream.

The best sales people and CEOs in the world know how to listen and solve problems.

That's it. Nothing else needed.

To be an incredible leader, you need to be able to get the most out of every person you lead while driving business results. That comes from listening and then guiding through empathy, insights, and expertise.

Effective leadership skills are gained through a simple but difficult process. You must get out of your own way by letting go of everything you previously believed about leadership. Just learn to listen and show concern while still solving the most important problems.

Good leaders inspire. The best leaders listen. The greatest leaders help others feel important and wanted and part of a mission. You must listen to empower.

Being good at sales is really being a great leader. They are one and the same. You lead people to a better place. To the place they wanted to be all along.

Published on: Nov 17, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.