The dark side

Increasingly business leaders want to look at people’s ability to cope under pressure, derailers and the dark side because difficult times can severely impact your sales people.
How well can we manage ourselves, our teams and businesses in a crisis or tough times?


As sales leaders and managers we are on show and our actions often speak louder than our words. In challenging times this is even more evident. Under pressure, cracks may appear and our leadership is put to the test.


How do we cope under pressure? What happens to us when we crack? When placed under high levels of pressure, most people will rely on coping mechanisms or their strengths that help them manage in day-to-day activities, but due to the pressure they can actually become counterproductive tendencies.


We refer to these as “risk factors” and they can emerge as our dark side. These coping mechanisms can become detrimental to our ability to build trust-based relationships and affect our leadership and sales style.


As each leader is an individual, they must find their own way to manage and lead. However, when we are assessing and understanding our own and others’ behaviours, we often refer to personality style as a key reference point. While certain personality assessments can provide accurate and reliable predictors of performance, there is more to a person’s capability and satisfaction or a team’s interactions than meets the eye.


As a starting point we can take a look at three key areas when taking into account an individual’s potential contribution to a role and workplace performance.

  • Out in the open: Personality.
  • Beneath the surface: Motives and values .
  • Under pressure: Coping strategies, derailers and the dark side.

This does not exclude other important factors such as technical competence, experience, knowledge or cognitive ability. These play a critical part in a role or team, however given technical competence, experience, knowledge and appropriate levels of intelligence are sound for the task at hand, what else can impact the performance of you, your team and the business?


Although the personality or “out in the open” component is a crucial one, increasingly business leaders are also wanting to look at people’s ability to cope under pressure. They want to know about your coping strategies, derailers and the dark side.


I find people are fascinated with the “dark side” so I thought I would provide you with some insight into this topic and share with you some of the work we do.


The dark side: derailers & coping strategies


Sales leadership and or any people management role involves building and maintaining a high-performing team. Anything that detracts from our ability to build a sales team also detracts from our performance as a sales leader.


Coping strategies are the behaviours that we have developed over time (even from childhood) to cope with increased levels of pressure. This pressure can be due to change, high stress, boredom, multi-tasking, work overload, unhappy environment, or finding ourselves outside our comfort zone.


When placed under such pressure, most people will display certain counterproductive tendencies. We usually refer to these as “derailers” or our potential “dark side.” Under normal conditions these characteristics may actually be strengths, but when the demands increase, our reliance on these mechanisms can impede our effectiveness and erode the quality of our relationships with customers, colleagues, and direct reports.


When confidence turns into arrogance

A specific example of when a strength can become a derailer is when confidence turns into arrogance. It is a fair assumption that confidence can be one important contributor to a successful career in business and sales. To be “confident” means to have courage, to be bold, to be self-assured, and people are more likely to follow or believe in a confident leader.


However, this strength can become a derailer when we are under pressure as our self-assured nature goes too far and we stop listening to other people, become condescending, egotistical and make ineffective decisions.


This is not to suggest that all confident sales leaders will demonstrate arrogance, but this is one of several potential dark sides that could have an impact on our careers.


To give you something specific to refer to I have included the graph below, which represents a sample sales leadership team who completed a specific assessment tool used to measure these dark side tendencies. Confidence, as mentioned above, is categorised under Bold. If a person’s score on this scale or any other scale listed below is in the >90% category then this is an indicator that under undue stress or increased pressure this strength could become a potential derailer or “risk factor”.


The black line indicates the average trend across the group. As you can see, whilst no sore in the Group Average is >90%, the highest Dark Side is BOLD with two leaders in the high risk space zone. In fact, across the group of six leaders there are potentially 19 high ‘risk scores’ which could translate into derailing behaviours or actions should the pressure get too much.



It is very important to note that these characteristics can have highly positive implications and which we can master and turn onto our strengths. By identifying and being made aware of our leadership coping strategies or potential dark sides we can take the “right” action that allows us to develop further as leaders.


Gaining insights (by whatever trusted and validated means) into and applying corrective strategies about behaviours that could potentially undermine or inhibit your performance and ability to effectively build trust based relationships will assist you to lead people and your business more effectively and help you avoid putting you, your people and your businesses at unnecessary risk.


The research consistently shows that elite sales professionals engage in self appraisal and continuous learning. They are always looking for ways to be better. So in your quest for high performance don’t forget to look at the dark side.





Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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