Leaders, Don’t Play Super-Rep! When Helping Your Team Actually Hurts

Some of the most common and innocent interactions between sales reps and their managers can also be the most harmful.

For example, reps often come to their leaders with questions like:

“My customer went dark on me. What should I say to get them back to the table?”
“This customer is asking for a 30% discount to get the deal done. Should we agree?”
“I asked for a discovery call but the customer just wants a demo. Should I push back?”

Many sales leaders earned the opportunity to manage teams of their own because they were top-performing individual contributors. So if you find yourself in that position, it might seem natural and even efficient to quickly dispense answers and advice from your vast stock of experience when reps bring you sales or deal-related questions. And the research agrees.

A large-scale study of 2,000 global leaders found that frontline leaders such as managers and supervisors were more likely to engage in a directive style of leadership than their more senior counterparts — favoring instructions over collaboration.

The problem is that this style of leadership can have unintended, long-lasting, and negative consequences on team performance. It’s also an issue that can become further exacerbated when leaders find their teams tracking behind their goals, especially during high-pressure quota periods.

When the stakes are high, leaders can be tempted to go down a dark path, usurping full control over their reps’ deals and taking on the role of “Super Rep” in an effort to save the day.


Warning: Don’t Play Super Rep!

Donning your cape, pushing your way into your team’s deals, and taking on the role of the “Super Rep” when things aren’t going according to plan may seem necessary on the surface, but engaging in this behavior repeatedly and in the wrong way can have negative consequences, including:

1. Stunted Learning

If you constantly rescue your sales reps, not only will you condition them to be rescued, but they’ll also struggle to learn essential skills for overcoming obstacles. Give them room to navigate tough situations with your guidance, not by assuming total control.

2. Strained Trust

Taking over deals can make your team members believe you don’t trust their skills and experience. This creates unnecessary tension and leads to decreased team morale and loyalty, ultimately limiting your growth and development as a leader.

3. Limiting Your Impact

As a sales leader, you should spend your time on activities that help you scale your impact across the team. When you become too focused and involved in individual deals, you reduce your focus on process improvement and creating the strong infrastructure needed to set your team up for long-term success.


The Best (and Most Boring) Way to Help Your Team

As I discuss in Chapter 1 of The Sales Leader They Need, one of the key traits of great leaders is also the most boring; predictability. But it can also be a key trait of those who fail to motivate and inspire their teams.

Leaders who are predictably directive often succeed in conditioning their teams to either wait for their orders or come to them for every single decision. This results in a decline in their initiative and overall engagement and longer decision cycles, sitting at odds with everyone’s objectives. By contrast, a predictably collaborative coaching style can both save leaders time and boost engagement. And the approach is simple.

Over the years, when a team member came to me with a problem and asked, “What do you think we should do?” my favorite and highly predictable response was, “I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”

By conditioning reps to bring leaders not only problems but potential solutions to them before we dive in and help, we build their sense of resilience, autonomy, and creativity.

That’s why one of my most memorable leadership moments was the first time a rep came to me for advice and opened with, “David, I have a problem that I’d love your advice on. Now, I know you’re going to ask me what I think we should do, so let me explain the problem and how I’m thinking of solving it.”

If your goal is to become the type of leader your team would fight to work with again by helping them grow and unlocking their discretionary effort, predictably biasing toward the collaborative mode of coaching is the approach you’re after.


Counterpoint: When Is Directive Coaching OK?

When I was interviewing for a vice president of commercial sales role at Salesforce, the EVP of our division, Tony Rodoni (who graciously wrote the foreword to The Sales Leader They Need), asked me a powerful question about the balance of directive versus collaborative coaching. He said, “David, I know as leaders we strive to coach our reps and lead them to the answers they need. But under what circumstances do you think it might be OK to just tell them what to do?” Indeed, there are periodic instances when directive leadership makes sense. For example:

1. Security, regulatory, or compliance-based scenarios

When there are strict rules and guidelines the team needs to follow, being more directive ensures the team both follows those rules and appreciates their importance. These might include things like the protocols for executing and processing sales agreements, making changes to legal terms and other official documents, or human resources procedures related to recruiting or termination conduct.

2. Sales process and methodology

Most sales organizations have a defined sales process and methodology that the team must follow. In some instances, members might require guidance and direction on how to execute the process effectively. In others, leaders may be instructing team members on precisely how to implement these frameworks in an online platform. In these instances, a directive leadership style can help to ensure the team is following the right steps and using the appropriate techniques to drive revenue.

3. New or inexperienced team members

When new or inexperienced team members join the team, they may need more guidance and direction to understand how to do their job effectively. Many procedures, directives, and instructions are often provided in the form of onboarding and enablement resources. But in many cases, it’s reasonable for leaders to give these reps more hands-on direction in their early days. As the team member gains more experience and confidence, the leader can shift to a more collaborative coaching style.

4. Urgent, time-sensitive, and critical situations

When urgent and critical situations arise, such as a negotiation roadblock on a large deal hours before the end of a quarter or a major customer threatening to cancel their contract, there may not be time for the team to brainstorm and come up with a solution. In these situations, it’s reasonable for leaders to be more directive by providing clear and immediate suggestions or solutions.


As a sales leader, it’s essential to recognize the delicate balance between helping your team and hindering their growth. Resisting the urge to play Super Rep and adopting alternative strategies empowers your sales reps, strengthens trust, and positions your team and organization for long-term success. Reflect on your own leadership style and consider implementing these strategies to unlock your team’s full potential.

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