As a young almost-college graduate, I didn't think of myself as a leader. I was a performer. I did the work, but I wasn't a leader. Then after just five months, I was told to lead a sales team. All of the sales reps were much more experienced (eight to 12 years older) and knew the business much better than I did. I was excited and very scared.
I struggled, I made mistakes, and because of me, so did the team. Eventually, I learned that the cause of my problems was my lack of focus on what really mattered: the type of relationships I was building with my team.
When you have better relationships, productivity, innovation, and results all go up. Relationships need to be made a priority. Relationships take real work. The return on investment is more than worth it.
What I learned as a new sales manager has helped me build teams ever since. Here are seven ideas to build better relationships with your team that I had to learn the hard way, hopefully, you don't have to:
1. Show gratitude and appreciation.
Every person needs validation. The more you show appreciation to your team, the more trust and loyalty you will create. Appreciate both results and effort, since both needed for long-term growth. What you appreciate gets repeated. So find the behaviors that are driving winning results and make sure everyone knows how thankful you are for them.
Once I began to show appreciation, everything I said was valued. It was night and day.
2. Schedule time for every person.
You will do what gets scheduled. If relationships are important to you, schedule the time. A quick five-minute phone call goes a long way. Your relationships will notice. More importantly, they will remember.
Since my team was only five others, I scheduled on my calendar 10 minutes per day with each team member individually. Those conversations were eye-opening and it was in those discussions where I learned how to focus on others in a way that mattered to them.
3. Serve first, teach second.
When you are focused on others two things happen: they notice that you care, and you learn more about them which helps you lead them better. The more you serve someone the easier it is to care for them, to understand them, and to ultimately lead them. Once you are consistently serving them, you will then know how and what to teach them.
Once I started serving, every sales training started to have a real impact.
4. Focus on the problem, not the individual.
There always will be complications. Individuals make mistakes. Focusing on the person will never get you or your team the desired outcome. Look at the situation and tie actions and outcomes directly to an event, not a person or character trait. This creates better unity and collaboration.
My worst moment came when I blamed a colleague for a lost deal. I was wrong. It is never one person's fault, and even if it is, there is never a reason for blame. Accountability is about finding solutions for a better future, not focusing on the past.
5. Stay positive, show enthusiasm.
Emotions are contagious. Better results are always produced when you believe you can find a solution. This doesn't mean you gloss over challenges, or ignore real problems. It is about having a mindset that allows for belief in the desired outcome no matter the obstacles. Be excited about the work and you will win over your team.
My mood was the team's mood. Whatever you want the team to feel, you need to show it.
6. Over-communicate everything.
Every good relationship is built on open communication. If you hide or mislead your team, they will do the same to you. The more people feel included, the more loyalty you will earn. Open communication takes time, time to develop the cadence and trust needed to consistently share. Encourage sharing by sharing first.
Once my team felt included, I was trusted. Trust is everything.
7. Deliver more than promised.
Leaders should always lead from the front. The more you deliver and the more results you produce, the easier you will be to follow. Every broken promise hurts your influence. Focus on your daily interactions and your work product and your team will focus on theirs.
For me, this wasn't just about the sales results, but included commitments to coaching, to mentoring, and problem-solving.
Teams are built by individuals. People work better and feel more fulfilled when they have meaningful relationships. When you focus on the individual you will have better, happier, and more productive teams.