Here’s why sales leaders make effective CEOs

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When I started my career in sales over 20 years ago, I quickly learned that there are specific skills that would help me stand out in a crowded field. Later, I discovered that these same skills would shape my leadership style and ultimately lead to my success as CEO — the position I currently hold at Digital Work experience (DEX), 1E.

Sales is a very useful background to have as a CEO, as many of the required traits and skills learned are directly applicable to the role and responsibilities of leading an organization. Here are my takeaways from my career in sales about what it takes to be an effective leader in today’s business environment.

Related: So, You’re In Sales But (Secretly) Long To Be A CEO. Here’s how to make that happen.

community building

Great leaders create an inclusive, purpose-driven community that makes people feel part of something bigger than themselves. We see this play out all the time at sales levels, where everyone comes together working towards a common goal. Business sellers instinctively understand that the value of team camaraderie is just as important as the product or market.

Building a community is all about people. You can have stars in an organization, but you don’t win with them alone. You win when you have a cohesive team working together. At 1E, we build a community based on good features, minimal politics, and making sure everyone feels part of the decision-making process. When you have a great community, you build trust in an organization and are able to get people focused on a common outcome.

A study by McKinsey and Company found that 70% of employees feel that their sense of purpose is connected to their work. Employees who feel a sense of belonging and purpose are more motivated and productive. This is essential for leaders to cultivate in the age of the Great Resignation, where burnout is more common than not.


To be successful in sales, you need to have a strong degree of emotional intelligence so that you can quickly and accurately read people and situations. This means you have a high degree of empathy to meet your customers where they are and understand any barriers to their success.

In the sales world, people with the most potential often fall short of their goals because they lack empathy and the ability to connect with prospects. The best way to relate to people and create strong bonds is through authenticity. This criterion also applies to CEOs and employees. Employees don’t want their leaders to do something – leaders need to be themselves to earn the trust of their workforce.

Authenticity in the face of adversity is also key. In sales, there will always be some obstacles that get in your way (ie, product delays), but the best salespeople are resilient. This is true for CEOs — failures are natural and often beyond a leader’s control, but employees will look to how a CEO responds to adversity and how they lead the company accordingly.

Related: Here’s Why So Many Successful Entrepreneurs Started in Sales

Creating meaning

The core responsibility of every leader is to create meaning. Everyone — regardless of their title or rank in the company — needs to feel important in their role. Similar to how a sales team operates, every employee needs to feel like they are part of a larger mission for an organization to succeed. At 1E, we love to foster a smart and healthy environment. Smart means we use good systems and processes and sound means we operate with minimal politics.

For example, we recently decided to discontinue a new product line after our teams had spent a lot of time on it. After analyzing the data, we concluded that it was not aligned with our business priorities and our customers’ needs. We knew this would be frustrating for the team, who spent countless hours on this project. To make everyone feel heard and important, before making the decision, we had a healthy discussion with the entire team about the pros and cons of moving forward. This allowed us to reach consensus while also letting each person feel that their opinion mattered. Moments like this continue to motivate people to show up and do their jobs every day.

Encouraging enthusiasm

Sales success at scale has a lot to do with continuous motivation and activation, but this is true for other areas of the business as well. Organizations cannot succeed if their workforce is excited to come to work every day. This enthusiasm should extend from big business decisions to smaller logistical issues.

Just like you can’t really sell something you’re not passionate about, you also can’t oversee anything effectively unless you’re passionate about it. Passion creates the energy and enthusiasm needed to motivate people in their work. Constant guidance and connection to an objective and greater sense of purpose helps spread that passion throughout an organization. At 1E, we are bound together by our mission to evolve the way technology is experienced by employees.

Related: How Howard Schultz turned an entry-level sales job into a coffee empire — and a net worth of $5.7 billion

Just as a sales leader harnesses the power of community, authenticity, relevance and enthusiasm to help their teams achieve a common goal, a CEO does the same to motivate an entire organization. As such, many of the core principles and values ​​of a salesperson directly translate to those needed to be effective in the CEO role.

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