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You Have No Control. At Best, You Have Influence (A Note to Sales Leaders)

You can tell your people what to do. You can tell them that they have to do it. You can even give them a goal and a quota. Ultimately, you have no control over the people that work for you. This is true even if you have absolute, formal authority.

At best, you have influence.

They Don’t Have to Follow

If you are a sales manager, you role is one of leadership. It’s true you have to deal with management issues, and it’s true that you have to serve your organization by ensuring that resources are effectively deployed and managed. But your success—or failure—as a sales manager will depend predominately on how well you do leading your team.

Leading well begins with an acknowledgement that no one has to follow you.

Sure you can fire them. You can replace them. Sometimes this is even necessary. But it doesn’t always fix what is broken. What fixes what is broken is often nothing more than understanding that you have only influence and then leading from that position.

You will never have control. No one has to follow you. They choose to follow you.

How do you lead from influence? I am glad you asked.

Be someone worth following

If you would have others do what you need them to do—and what they need to do for themselves—you have to be someone worth following in the first place. This is what influence is; it is being someone worth following in the first place.

If you can play only one note, the “do as I say, or else” note, it is unlikely that you will have many choose to follow. You may have power, but you will have little influence—especially with those who have the skills and abilities to produce the best results.

If you would be worth following, you need to provide your people with a compelling mission, a goal. If you want to be influential enough that your people achieve their goals, then you will provide them with a mission that provides meaning—and you will engage them in helping to determine how best to accomplish that mission. You will engage their hearts and their minds, their creativity and their resourcefulness.

Why should they follow you? Why should they be influenced? Who will they become by following you?

Care about your people first

If you want to be someone worth following, if you want to influence your people, lead from a place of caring.

If you care enough to really engage your people, especially their minds, their ideas, and their needs, you will soon find you have more people willing to follow. People follow leaders that they believe care about them and their well being. If you care enough to build your people, to build their skills, to build their capacity to succeed, and if you work to ensure their success because you care deeply, you will have a tremendous amount of influence.

Ensuring that your people succeed means leading, and you lead from the front. This means that you help them with the most difficult tasks that they need to complete to achieve their goals. This means you have muddy boots and that you get hands your hands dirty. It also means that you give them opportunities to grow, and you allow them to sometimes fail. Then you care enough to pick them up, dust them off, and put them back on another task that stretches them a little.

Influence comes from caring. Leadership is an act of love.

If You Would Have Your Number

If you would have your number, you will only find it through leading your people. You will find your becoming a person of influence, not a person of formal authority or power, is the easiest way to make your number. And it is far more fulfilling than relying on your formal authority, too.

If you engage your people’s hearts and their minds, you can influence them to do what is necessary so that they succeed—which is the only way you can succeed (they miss their number, you miss yours). If you care deeply, if you are willing to listen and to help your people succeed, they will listen to you and help you succeed.

Your people are your only asset. You have no control over your people. At best, all that you can do is influence them. At your best, you will. Work on being a person worth following.


How much control do you have over your sales force?

Which is a more powerful force, formal authority or influence?

Does anyone really have control of you?

What creates the kind of influence that will help you to produce the results you need?

Who influences you? Do they have any real control over you? Why do you follow them?

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  • MikeSheridan

    I agree with 99% of what you say above.

    To pick a nit, saying that as a sales leader “you lead from the front” is dangerous in that it conjures up an image of a manager as super sales rep charging the hill (and the team hopefully right behind). You will agree, I am sure, that instead of super sales rep, the manager should manage. This might be better accomplished by not leading from the front, but instead ensuring the team is fully equipped to charge the hill and watching for a strategic vantage point, ready to shore up their defenses where necessary.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I’ll take 99% anytime! 

      I agree with you completely on your point that the idea of leading from the front is dangerous if it is interpreted to mean that the sales manager tries to become “super rep.” It’s a recipe for failure. 

      It’s not always easy to disabuse a sales manager of the idea that they can go around charging the hill and closing deals for their salespeople, but it is a serious mistake for a sales manager to make.  

      First, if a manager has 8 reps with a $1M quota, their quota is $8M. The manager only makes her quota by ensuring her people make theirs. But it is ridiculous to believe that the sales manager can–or should–close $8M. That isn’t the job that they were hired to do (even though some will try). 

      Second, and perhaps the super-rep sales manager’s greater sin, is that by running around as super-rep, they aren’t really growing their team’s ability to sell well and succeed, which is the only real path to high performance. They build their team by teaching, training, coaching, and developing their people–their only real asset for producing sales results. 

      Are their deals the manager should be involved in? Sure. Some they should lead? Absolutely!  Managers lead from the front by being engaged with their people and by helping them remove obstacles to their success and obstacles to deals, not by trying to do the selling for them. 

      It’s an important distinction and the cause of many a failed sales manager. 


  • Linda Fredrick

    Great piece Anthony,
    And applicable to any and all management positions. 

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Linda!

  • Bruce Sallan

    You have no control period…control is an illusion. I like to say – especially as a married man and father of two teens – that the ONLY thing I control is what I eat for breakfast!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      And that’s only if you wife says it’s okay and you children haven’t already eaten all the cereal. 

      • Bruce Sallan

        Oh, you know my wife!?

  • George Roberts


    Nice blog and as some one who spent over 25 years in sales and an aging sales your points are right on… demonstrating real concern for the individuals who work for you,  leading from the front, treating people like you would want to be treated, being honest,  transparent and maintaining integrity in your dealings with your team, treating everyone equally all go a long ways towards getting things done through the people on your team which is the only true way to success long term as a manager and leader…

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, George!