I’ve worked for some great leaders throughout my career. However, there is one person who stands out as the best boss I’ve ever had. It was during a formative time in my professional selling career.  His name is Shawn Donovan.

Why? Well, no matter how much his leaders turned up the heat, it never rolled down hill to his team. Shawn’s calm demeanor wasn’t the reason why people were so loyal. Nor was it the fact that he was pretty smart. Let’s face it, at a certain level within an organization, everyone’s smart.

What separated Shawn from any other leader is that he put his people first. He stood up for his team when they didn’t have a chance to do it themselves. Whether it was the boardroom or the backroom, he fought the hardest when things were toughest. When you worked for Shawn, and did your job well, you knew he had your back.

When I talk with others who’ve worked for Shawn, many have a “he had my back” story. They also remember how hard he pushed. His support was unrelenting, but it had to be earned.

In my case, I was working a major deal for more than a year. It was more complicated than anyone anticipated, and it took much longer to close than expected. When the deal finally came in, it was not only the biggest one our company did that year—it was a game-changer for the entire industry, and it earned me a large payout. Sounds great, right?

Well, there was a complication that I learned about from a colleague who was in one of those backroom discussions. The Chief Sales Officer at the time wanted to reduce my payout as much as 50%. Shawn wasn’t about to let that happen. After a long and tense debate, he drew a line in the sand by saying, “Well, you’ll pay Chris what we owe him, or you can look for my replacement.”

How many people do you know would put their career on the line for yours?

I didn’t know this drama had played out until after I bought a new home for my growing family—something I was able to do largely because of that commission check. Not surprisingly, Shawn never told me about it. He didn’t want me to think negatively about the company or even his boss. Leaders who put their people first tend to choose humility over hubris. (I expect a call after this post asking me to take it down).

So, why am I telling this story now?

Sales is a game that must be played with confidence. When you’re at ease, everyone around you feels reassured. On the other hand, when a salesperson is scared everyone sees it—most importantly, the customer. Creating an environment of fear is bad for business, yet, too many leaders still operate that way.

I get at least a call a week these days from someone who is having the exact opposite experience with their sales leader than I did with Shawn. I hear the anxiety and frustration in their voices. It seems as if patience and foresight are rare qualities these days.

Sure, business is tough. Things are moving fast. Competition is fierce and global in nature. However, there’s no more pressure to compete today than in years past. Sales targets have always been hard to achieve. CEOs have always wanted better results and they’ve always expected them to come in sooner.

Enterprise selling is being stress-tested in this modern, digital era. Sales people on the front line, in the trenches, need our support now more than ever.  We need more leaders who take the time to develop their sales talent, who beg, borrow and steal the breathing room their people need to perform, and who are willing to take the heat.

Leading a sales team is often underappreciated. However, it’s an absolutely critical role in a vibrant, winning sales culture. If you’re a sales leader, keep finding the strength to stand up for your people. That little extra support you give might just create the biggest deal your company sells this year…and who knows it might even change an industry.

And Thanks Shawn. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Happy Selling everyone.

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