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Emotional Intelligence: the Hallmark of an Effective Sales Leader

5 min read
Updated Aug. 25, 2021
Published Oct. 16, 2019

You have a headache. A bad one. You know the kind—it sits behind one of your eyes and makes you feel like death.

Sure, your weekend rocked, but now it’s Sunday afternoon. The dread is mounting, and Saturday’s memories can’t soothe your anxiety over Monday’s to-do list.

It’s called the Sunday scaries, a cute term that describes a not-so-cute psychological phenomenon. And if you’ve ever hated your job or had a terrible boss, you’ve been there.

So, now that you are the boss, how invested are you in your team’s personal growth? 

Maybe you blow off weekly 1-on-1s sometimes. Or you get easily distracted when reps vent about their prospecting woes.

As standalone incidents, no big deal, right? No one’s perfect. But little things add up. And people leave managers, not companies. 

If you’re the least bit worried about your team’s happiness and growth, then ask yourself: As a sales leader, how strong is my emotional intelligence?

What’s the Big Deal About Emotional Intelligence?

Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ) as “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”

The piece goes on to explain what EQ is in greater detail:

  • the awareness to identify and name your emotions
  • the power to harness your emotions to think and solve problems
  • the ability to regulate your emotions and help other people regulate theirs

If that sounds like a tall order, it is. But the best sales leaders make developing EQ their priority and you should too. 

Jeff Seeley, CEO of sales and leadership training company Carew International, discusses why all effective sales leaders have high EQ

Jeff says, “Success as a sales leader begins and ends with the quality of our relationships…Yet, as I survey the landscape relative to sales leadership development, I worry about the lack of attention on soft skills and relationship building, and that we are overly focused on AI and CRM for leadership effectiveness.”

An EQ Manual for Sales Leaders

We recently interviewed Richard Park, SVP of Worldwide Sales at SurveyGizmo, for our podcast Hey Salespeople. Richard had a lot to say about EQ:

“There are intangible qualities that really great first-line managers have that I have seen…allowing their reps to perform greatly above and beyond what those reps thought they could do. The one that comes to mind is really having EQ and possessing empathy as a sales leader. When your reps know that you as a manager are invested in and care about them, I always try to quantify that. I tell managers, when you care about them and show concern for their career, development, and wellbeing, you’re always going to get an extra 10%. Just watch.”

As a sales leader, what kinds of investments should you be making in your team? Richard says:

  • Get to know your salespeople individually. Learn what matters to them.
  • Tailor development plans for all of your reps. There is no one-size-fits-all. 
  • Invest personal time in every team member.

Using this advice, the managers Richard coaches say their team’s performance improves noticeably.

When your reps know that you as a manager are invested in them and care about them, you’re always going to get an extra 10%. Just watch.” – Richard Park, SVP Worldwide Sales at SurveyGizmo

How to Train Your Brain for Emotional Intelligence

In our world, there’s no shortage of training on how to boost sales performance. Whether it’s prospecting, lead generation, upselling, ABM—you know where to get those skills. But what about emotional intelligence? 

Leadership speaker and executive coach Gordon Tredgold provides 10 tips for improving your emotional intelligence as a leader. Start here:

1. Listen twice as much as you speak

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus put it best: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

2. Respond, rather than react

Ever feel relieved the morning after you didn’t send a scathing late-night email? When confronted with a team member’s mistake, breathe for a minute and formulate a gracious response.

3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

As a successful sales leader, in your early career you did exactly what your team is doing now. So, dig deep in your mental reserves for some empathy, and use it when a rep needs help⁠.

4. Apologize directly if you are at fault

If you aren’t accountable for your actions with your team, you will erode their trust.

5. Don’t interrupt or change the subject

Both behaviors are dismissive. Don’t let your team members feel demoralized or unheard.

6. Be vulnerable

Don’t underestimate the power of vulnerability as a tool for connection. The more real and candid you are, the more comfortable your team will be in approaching you with anything.

7. Empathize with others

This goes back to #3. Simply put, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

8. Create a positive environment

When you cultivate an upbeat, positive atmosphere for your team, they will feel secure and emboldened to do their best work.

9. Ask don’t tell

No one likes to feel like they don’t have autonomy in their work. Asking your team members rather than telling them presents them with a choice. And that instills trust.

10. Praise more

A recent Forbes article says, “…according to Gallup, only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they have received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last seven days.”


Your sales reps have a variety of motivations to sell—compensation, climbing the ladder, acclaim—but everyone needs to be recognized in order to feel appreciated. Praise early and often when the occasion arises. 

If you’d like to dig deeper on the topic of emotional intelligence, check out this collection of articles, On Emotional Intelligence by Harvard Business Review.