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Surprisingly, one of the characteristics I see too many managers lacking is empathy. One would think otherwise, after all, most sales managers have been sales people at some point in their career. We would think these managers would have deep understanding of the challenges sales people face every day.

Perhaps there’s a switch, of some sort, that causes individuals to forget what it means to sell in today’s environment.

Perhaps it’s the seduction of sitting behind a screen, pouring through endless amounts of data, trying to find the magic answer to driving sales performance (the answers aren’t there–stop looking, though the data does provide clues).

Or maybe it’s the seduction of endless “important” internal meetings talking about strategy, performance–yet not doing much about it.

Perhaps, it’s the managerial title and the presumption of power or authority over your people.

Perhaps, it’s simply the distance from doing what it takes to sell every day, forgetting the challenges each sales professional faces in finding and engaging customers.

Great leaders, by contrast, are tremendously empathetic. Perhaps that’s one of the things that makes them great leaders.

They have the ability to understand the feelings and challenges faced by the people they lead. They are able to relate to them at their level, also sharing their own feelings.

Great leaders demonstrate their empathy by being actively engaged, constantly learning about their people, the challenges they face, their goals and ambitions.

They realize leadership has nothing to do with what you do to your people, but how you work with them.

Great leaders recognize that being empathetic is about having high expectations–of their own performance and personal example, and of everyone on their team. They align people on the team with the shared goal, working ceaselessly to assure the team has the skills, capabilities, tools, training, and coaching to achieve the goals.

They know the only way their and the organization’s goals can be achieve is through their people. Through empathy, they understand the challenges their people face, removing every barrier they can. They also recognize there’s a time when they and their people just have to suck it up. But they are there, with their people when those times come. It’s through their ability to empathize with their people, they collectively figure out how to overcome that which may seem insurmountable.

Being empathetic is pretty easy, it doesn’t demand any special skills or training. It starts with caring, it continues with active listening/learning, active engagement with your people. It’s accompanied by high expectations of each other, high standards of performance, a commitment to help people achieve those standards. It demands accountability on the part of everyone.

Would your people recognize your ability to empathize? Would they do whatever it takes to succeed, because they know you are there with them and will always support them.

It’s not tough stuff, but it is very rare.