Women in sales leadership: Advice to my younger self

Over two days on the 5th and 6th of April I had the privilege of chairing the 2016 Women in Sales Leadership Conference in Sydney, Australia. The theme for the event was “Advice to my younger self”.

We had over 20 senior sales leaders from around Australia presenting to a room full of women in sales and sales leadership roles from a range of industries. We had young women in their 20s embarking on their sales careers, through to many senior sales leaders with more than 30 years’ experience in sales and sales leadership.

Interestingly, unlike other sales conferences I have attended over the years, this conference was refreshingly different in that it was candid, open, and practical. There was no posturing for position or egos looking for a place to parade.

Instead, there was a climate of collaboration, care, support and compassion, which may be telling us that selling is finally transitioning from the blood sport that it was in the 20th century to a customer-centric team sport for the 21st century.

The women at this event definitely showed their commitment to helping themselves and everyone else sell better.

We covered a vast array of topics such as leadership excellence, authenticity and leading under difficult circumstances. We discussed how to juggle work and life including raising a family and leading a healthy lifestyle, change management, developing meaningful business relationships inside and outside of your organisation, mentors, resilience, navigating office politics, overcoming internal bias, communication, risk-taking and courage.

The speakers shared their personal career journeys and invaluable lessons learned from navigating their paths to senior positions in the business world. The various pieces of “advice to my younger self” that were shared really hit home with the audience and speakers alike.

The ideas, insights and wisdom that flowed across the two days were rich, real and deeply personal. I will attempt to highlight some in this piece and I am likely to write more on this over the next few weeks.

Here is my first take on the conference findings and the “advice to my younger self”:

There needs to be more visibility of women in sales, especially in sales leadership

  • While there are certainly more women in sales roles today, there are still fewer women in sales leaderships roles here in Australia than there are in the US for instance. There are still certain industries that fall behind in their representation of women in sales leadership roles. While all the women agreed that we earn our jobs on merit it was clear that more work needed to be done to raise awareness about unconscious biases that may be excluding talented women of sales leadership roles.
  • We need to work to increase representation of women in the public and private sector.

Get yourself a support crew

  • Many of the speakers highlighted the need to surround yourself with great mentors and other people who want to see you succeed.
  • Your mentors and support crew need to be able to give you honest feedback as well as a safe space to be listened to.

Having a successful career involves teamwork and insight

  • “You never succeed on your own” was a powerful message across the two days.
  • You are only as good as the team around you.
  • Build an A-grade team around you and recruit up and recruit outside of your expertise.
  • You don’t have to (and can’t) be good at everything so fill in your gaps with other talented people.
  • Work hard and do the right things for your team. Never think you are above anything – get down in the field with your team and pitch in when needed.
  • As Ashlee McCusker of Amazon Web Services said: “Never get caught in a vacuum alone”.

Passion, purpose, caring, embracing opportunities and hard work

  • We need to take care and pride in the work we do. As leaders we need to care about the wellbeing of our teams and community. Be a caring and authentic leader.
  • It doesn’t matter where you start your career, just start it and embrace opportunity. Be open to opportunity and make yourself available especially when you are younger and don’t have to worry about a family yet.
  • Love what you do; be passionate and eager to learn; show initiative, be diligent and hard working.
  • Louise Barrett, General Manager Sydney, Network Ten, reminded us of the insightful Ashton Kutcher speech that highlighted the importance of effort, being grounded and humility in forging a successful career and life.
    • Opportunities look like work.
    • The sexiest things in the world are being smart, thoughtful and generous.
    • Everything around us we call life was made up by people that are no smarter than you. Build a life.

The importance of values, authenticity, confidence and dealing with change

  • A consistent theme was being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being authentic.
  • Authentic leadership is about removing the mask and being consistent in terms of who you are and what you stand for: truthfulness, self-awareness, vulnerability, drive, leading with both heart and mind, service orientation, integrity, vision for the future.
  • It was agreed that we can’t always influence change but we can change how we react to it.
  • Our core values are demonstrated by behaviours and actions. We get to define ourselves every day and it’s up to each of us how we choose to do that.
  • Can a man or woman be brave if he or she is afraid? It is when we are afraid that we become brave.

You can’t have it all (whatever that means)

  • There was a lot of discuss about work and life, balancing families and careers and so on.
  • We all agreed that having a family and a career was a juggling act and that we had to be very good at prioritising.
  • Some of the speakers spoke about regrets when they put career above family, while others spoke about how they had to continually review their priorities to make sure they were working in harmony with their families, their careers and their personal priorities.
  • None of them said it was easy.
  • All of us agreed that flexible workplaces and practices and open minds make raising a family and having a career easier.
  • We all agreed that we have to make choices and look at our priorities regularly and choose what is right for us at the time.
  • One speaker gave us a great question to ponder to ensure that we did not lose sight of what was important: “What would you hate to lose in your life?”

There was so much more and I will look into diving deeper into these and other topics over the next few weeks.

I hope this gives you all, men and women alike, some food for thought about how women sell better in a 21st century world.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform www.salesessentials.com. Sue was the first in Australia to get Selling a university qualification and has written more than 600 blog posts and 21 e-books on sales and with her team produces the ‘must read’ Annual 12 Sales Trends Report.

Striving for better sales practices and improving sales teams and operations, Sue is a Sales Philosopher, Activist, Strategist, Speaker, Trainer and Adviser. Get to know her further on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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