There is no doubt that people should celebrate recognition in the form of promotion. When you become a sales manager, or a VP of Sales it says a lot about you, your accomplishments, and your organisation. What one does with their new role and opportunity is what separates leaders from promoted minions.
In my experience as a participant in the corporate world, and as an observer with a unique seat in the stands, is that there are a number of things that make for good leaders, there two that are must if you are going to lead and have people willingly follow.
The first is leading from the front, rather than behind a desk. This involves two things, one you can fake, the other you can try, but people see it. Many get to the position by survival, which is after all a skill in a competitive environment like sales, but not necessarily a success factor for revenue growth. We have all met that VP of Sales who has risen with the tide, or their cheaper version, the one that just managed to hang on to the dick as the tide was washing over him. These are the people with 20 years tenure, unfortunately, the same year 20 times over, rather than 20 years of evolution, personal growth, and the resulting wisdom. You can’t learn a lot while keeping you head down, while sales is war, you gotta come out of the fox hole to win and grow. But you can always impress the 80%, with war stories from back in the day.
The part you can’t fake is synthesizing and extrapolating from years of real experience. More importantly, the ability to share that with a member of your team, and educate them without “bossing” or telling them how you did it. Context is key, leaders understand that and use the situational context of their reps’ currently reality to educate and help that individual grow, and win the right deals.
A dividend of the latter, is it hones the next generation of great leaders. The risk of the former is the same, except the result is the next generation of inept manager/executives.
The second trait is accountability. Managers focus on keeping their people accountable. Which is a real challenge when they see a manager not a leader. Leaders understand that they are accountable for the success of their people, they strive for mutual accountability, leading with themselves.
I recently encountered a VP of Sales (by title only, habits: manager), faced with a negative situation he blamed everyone in sight. First it was his admin who messed up, then it was the manager, finally the rep. Never in the discussion did he consider his role in the blunder. He literally used his team as a human shield from facing the situation he created and was responsible for. He expected his people to be accountable for his failure. Would you follow this guy in to battle? Not that you could as he was firmly strapped to his desk.
The leaders I respect are not the ones who ask what are you going to do to improve, but the ones who ask: What do I need to do for you to help you succeed?