8 Types Of Sales Leaders

Eight Types Of Sales Leaders

While most effective sales managers were once great salespeople, it takes more than just the ability to close deals to lead a well-performing sales team. Success as a sales manager requires its own unique set of skills. If you want to help your sales team achieve their maximum potential, you will have to become a cheerleader, disciplinarian, psychologist, and administrator.

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Sure it can be daunting, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Make your job a whole lot easier by adopting an existing sales leadership style. 

Eight of the most common styles include authoritarian, coach-style, democratic, laissez-faire, transactional, transformational, strategic, and bureaucratic. Below you can find a summary of each type:

Authoritarian Leadership Style

Do you think you always know best? Then behaving as an authoritarian may be your natural leadership style. Authoritarian leadership is a top-down management style where the sales leader calls all the shots without asking for or accepting, any advice from staff members. While this heavy-handed approach may stroke a sales manager’s ego, it is a turn off to everyone else. An authoritarian leadership style is rarely the most effective stance to take.    


Did you grow up playing sports and learned how to recognize the individual strengths of your teammates? Then you will be drawn to a coach-style leadership approach. A coach-style leader works hard to identify where each member of their team excels and then devises a game plan which uses each team member where the person will be most advantageous. The coach-style leadership, which focuses on building a team is the right approach for creating a successful sales department. 

Democratic Sales Leader

Everyone matters and every idea is worth considering, right? Believers in giving everyone a fair chance to be heard will gravitate towards a more democratic style of leadership. Sales leaders who manage democratically will still make the final decision, but not without everyone else having his say. This is an excellent sales leadership style because it is inclusive, but it can sometimes lead to resentment if someone experiences rejection. 


Are you in charge of an experienced sales team which gets the job, and you would prefer to avoid rocking the boat? Then a Laissez-faire leadership may be a good option for you. Laissez-faire sales leaders allow salespeople to have complete freedom to make decisions concerning the completion of their work. This approach can work for some sales departments but may result in less productivity and lower performance in others. 


If you believe financial gain or fear of being fired motivates people, a transactional style of leadership will make sense to you. Transactional sales leaders depend on an established system of rewards and punishments to get their staff to perform at their highest level. This works well in situations where intrinsic desires drive salespeople but sometimes results in people doing just enough to earn a bonus or keep their jobs. 


Those who are always looking to improve systems and methods will appreciate the transformational leadership style. Transformational sales leaders work hard to transform their team’s’ thinking and push them forever to do more when it comes to their jobs. Pushing employees to find new solutions and to go above and beyond convention can create an exciting, innovative working environment, but it can also prove to be demoralizing for some employees who feel they will never wholly master their positions.


Do you have a strong vision for your sales department and feel you can inspire your employees to embrace it? That is the heart of a strategic leadership style. Strategic leaders introduce changes based on an overall guiding vision and aim to encourage employees to share the company’s vision. Strategic leadership supports working towards a common goal, but offers little flexibility and doesn’t always address current business realities. 


If you are a ‘by the book’ type of person, you will find it easy to adopt a bureaucratic leadership style. In this system of leadership, the sales manager is typically open to staff suggestions as long as they are compatible with existing company policy. A bureaucratic approach to leadership is most effective in an established sales department with a history of performing well, but newer employees or those with want to try something different may feel stifled. 

What I recommend is thinking about your favourite past sales managers, what traits did they exhibit that fuelled you to reach your potential? What traits made you want to look for a new job? It’s understanding what motivates your team and what deters them that will help you succeed in your sales management role.

When we polled our community of sales leaders and sales professionals on LinkedIn, most sales professionals stated they preferred the Transformational and Democratic sales leadership styles. All said they couldn’t stand Authoritarian leaders.

While I know the above is true for most people, you also need to be able to adjust your style to the person and the situation.

I’d love to know, what traits do you feel make for a great sales leader? Join the discussion on LinkedIn with our leadership speaker or type your comment below.

Author Profile

Tom Abbott
Tom Abbott is the author of 'The SOHO Solution' and 'Social Selling' and the creator of the online sales training platform SOCO Academy. Sales leaders engage Tom for his proven solutions to building high performance sales teams that exceed targets and for motivational keynotes that energise their audiences.

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