May 9

Leadership Accountability in Sales Burnout


Sale Leadership Awakening
Sale Leadership Awakening
Leadership Accountability in Sales Burnout

In this episode of the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast, Steven Rosen and Colleen Stanley discuss the impact of burnout on performance and productivity and offer strategies for leaders to create an environment that decreases burnout and stress. They emphasize the importance of time management, setting clear expectations, and recognizing and celebrating achievements.

“When you have greater workplace social support, which comes from mentoring, somebody paying attention, making sure you’re not going it alone, your resiliency goes up.” – Colleen Stanley

Key Takeaways:

  • Burnout and stress are prevalent in society, and sales leaders must recognize the signs of these in their salespeople.
  • Sales leaders can help salespeople avoid burnout and stress by focusing on time management, setting clear expectations, and providing recognition.
  • Salespeople can take ownership of their own well-being and self-management by being aware of their response to stressful events and focusing on what they can control.
  • Community and workplace social support is important for managing stress and preventing burnout. Mentoring and building colleague relationships can provide support and increase workplace meaning.

Follow Colleen Stanley on LinkedIn

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[Transcript] ​


[00:00:05] Colleen Stanley: Hi, everyone. I’m Colleen Stanley. Welcome to the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast. My co-host, Steven Rosen, is joining me today. We’ve got a good topic today. 

[00:00:22] Steven Rosen: This is important, and sometimes, as we’ll talk about, we forget. It really goes to the heart of empowering our employees to do and feel well.

[00:00:33] Colleen Stanley: Yes, the topic we will discuss is a leader’s role in helping their sales teams avoid burnout or dropout and manage stress. In fact, Steven, I really appreciated the data points you sent me. A 2020 Spring Health Study on COVID-19 showed that 76% of employees were burned out.

[00:00:55] Colleen Stanley: Many studies still say people are stressed out. So, knowing that we play in the sales world, where performance is everything, what can sales managers do to help their salespeople avoid burnout and dropout and manage stress? Because, let’s face it, burnout and stress can significantly impact sales performance. 

[00:01:11] Steven Rosen: It’s a reality we can’t ignore. Burnout and stress are pervasive in our society. This is a challenge that we, as sales leaders, must address head-on, especially considering the unique pressures of the sales world.

[00:01:20] Steven Rosen: But when performance is off, and I’m probably just as guilty as most sales leaders, I don’t think the first thing is burnout. If I’m coaching someone and the rep is having challenges, the first thing is, ‘Okay, are they making their calls? Do they have the skill? Do they have the will? Are they getting out there and doing what they need to do?’

[00:01:34] Steven Rosen: It’s crucial that we don’t overlook the personal aspects of our team members’ lives. When coaching leaders under stress, I often ask about their sleep and coping habits, as these can be signs of their well-being.

[00:01:52] Steven Rosen: If we’re not getting our night’s rest, something is going on. Are the employees being absent more frequently? They need to understand that as part of being a leader and having that relationship with your salesperson, where’s the person at? So, if there are performance or productivity issues, we need to tease out what’s really going on.

[00:02:14] Colleen Stanley: Well, it isn’t that interesting because I know that would be my natural default. Let’s look at your activity plan. Are you targeting the right-to-ideal client profile? Let me hear your value proposition. They’re not saying that those things aren’t important, we’ll address that later, but it is important that you simply might have somebody who is in more of that burnout stage.

[00:02:36] Colleen Stanley: You shared something with me in our prior conversations: When you’re burning out, was it called executive dysfunction? You can’t even access the smart part of your brain. 

[00:02:45] Steven Rosen: That’s really well put. I was fortunate enough that I was in the pharmaceutical industry, and we sold central nervous system drugs for depression. There was one factor, which was called executive dysfunction.

The Importance of Recognizing Burnout and Stress

[00:02:55] Steven Rosen: Because your brain is impacted, you’re having challenges planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to details, and managing your time. Managers need to recognize that stress—I mean, stress is the biggest killer that we face in general—triggers some of these things where the employee is just not on the ball. 

[00:03:22] Colleen Stanley: This sounds awful, but we think they’re lazy. They’re not; they can’t access that smart part of your brain because I know when I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I move at half speed the next day.

[00:03:36] Colleen Stanley: So, it’s interesting that you and your former industry actually had a name for it. 

[00:03:39] Steven Rosen: Well, sometimes certain drugs help activate that, and sometimes people go off and need to be recharged. Of course, the leadership role is ensuring we don’t lose our people to stress.

[00:03:50] Steven Rosen: I would have to assume that most managers who’ve managed through COVID, if you remember, were very much focused on how people were feeling instead of making calls or being productive. Initially, we had to change back to what we normally do and even help employees. We do all types of training and sales, right? 

[00:04:11] Colleen Stanley: What can they do from that skill piece? First, you said to recognize that this may not be an activity issue. But then, let’s go to the other side. What are some things they can do to create an environment that decreases burnout and stress? Do you’ve seen one, two, or three things when working with sales leaders?

[00:04:28] Steven Rosen: One hundred percent. It could be stress management courses, workshops that everyone in the organization can benefit from. One of the biggest issues people experience burnout is when they feel overloaded with work. There’s just too much going on, and some of that comes back to effectively managing your time and some strategies because there are many things in every single job we do when we’re breaking it down into buckets.

[00:04:57] Steven Rosen: This is a very simple approach. We have revenue-generating activities, which, at the end of the day, you want to do more of. We have job-related activities, which sometimes are things you have to do. Then, we have this pile of stuff, and when you start to look at it, there are lots of what I call time-sucking activities.

[00:05:14] Steven Rosen: You want to eliminate those because you want to spend your time and energy on what will make a difference. 

[00:05:19] Colleen Stanley: For the manager, it may not be teaching one more selling skill. It sounds like it’s teaching priority management productivity skills because it’s called working smarter, not harder if they can get their days back in control. That actually is going to decrease their burnout and stress. 

[00:05:37] Steven Rosen: One hundred percent. Also, there are simple things we can do as leaders. When you’re working hard, recognizing your salespeople doesn’t cost you anything. 

[00:05:46] Colleen Stanley: Yes. 

[00:05:47] Steven Rosen: Then we feel good about what we do, as opposed to what we’re doing, doing, doing, and then we feel bad and more stressed. This includes setting clear expectations: How many calls should they make? What are the expectations? If I work on a weekend, can I take some time off during the week?

[00:06:03] Steven Rosen: I’m at a conference for three days. One of the biggest things that I think is incumbent upon leadership, not just from a burnout perspective, but one of the biggest levers we pull is setting quotas. If we have unrealistic quotas and people don’t feel they’re achieving, my high achievers would be pulling their hats.

[00:06:23] Steven Rosen: ‘I’m doing everything I can, Steven, but I’m not hitting quota. ‘ This can lead to a cycle of negativity, the feeling that you’re not doing enough. 

[00:06:31] Colleen Stanley: You know what? It’s interesting. The quota is either not set correctly, or they haven’t taken the time to do that tedious work.

[00:06:40] Colleen Stanley: You go through the numbers, how we’re going to achieve the numbers and analyze, and as a result, maybe the quota is fair, but they don’t know how to get there.

Creating an Environment that Reduces Burnout and Stress

[00:06:50] Steven Rosen: What does a leader do in that case? They have to help show them the pathway. What are those critical success factors that are going to make a difference? Coming back to time management, focus on the key revenue-generating activities. 

[00:07:04] Steven Rosen: Colleen, I’ve talked a bit about the leadership role, and we know it’s not just incumbent upon the leader, although the leader can make a tremendous difference. How do you see salespeople taking responsibility for their own well-being and self-management to effectively deal with stress and the pressures of their jobs? 

[00:07:26] Colleen Stanley: I’m glad we’re talking about that because I’ve seen sometimes where a salesperson or any employee shows up to the company and says, ‘Make me happy.’ That is just not called life. Can you imagine being married and every day you ask your partner to make you happy? 

[00:07:41] Colleen Stanley: This is where I have this core belief in philosophy and experience that if we can understand that we own the part of the reason that we’re burning out, stressing out, and being simply aware, and this comes from all the experts like Angela Duckworth and Grit or if you look at Dr Paul Stolz and the Adversity Quotient, a lot of the time, what you will hear is the consistent theme is the stress event. The event isn’t causing burnout or stress; it is your response. 

[00:08:23] Colleen Stanley: Steven, I’ll give you a crazy example. When I was a VP of sales, we had this lovely incentive trip to Austria, right? We were leaving the United States, and a snowstorm was recurring in parts of the country. So, we got to our hotel in Austria, and it was really interesting watching the stress response. Some reps were stressed out. Their luggage hadn’t made it. It was lost, so they were getting anxious.

[00:08:40] Colleen Stanley: However, I had another set of sales reps whose response was entirely different. I remember one rep coming up to me and saying, ‘Ah, lost luggage, underwear, highly overrated. I’m hitting the bar.’ No, it was the same event, but there were different responses. 

[00:08:57] Steven Rosen: You know what, it’s a great story. If I can share one with you, we had a sales meeting when 9/11 hit. Someone came running in and said what happened. They were crying, they were upset. We decided to cancel the rest of the sales meeting and send people home because we thought the world was ending, right?

[00:09:13] Steven Rosen: We didn’t know what was happening. Some of us stayed on, and I didn’t have to fly out as it was based relatively close to my house. We decided for those who stayed on, we were going to party like it was 1999 despite all the craziness going on; we had bottles of tequila, and we decided we were going to have fun because we couldn’t control the events around us, but we can have at least try to have fun together. That became a memorable moment. That is so true; some people were crying and upset. It was upsetting, but some people said, ‘You know what? We can’t control it. We’re going to have fun.’ Maybe that’s a good way to deal with stress.

[00:09:48] Colleen Stanley: Choosing your response is a really extreme example, right? Because that was a scary, tragic time. Some people may not agree with what you guys decided to do, but guess what? It’s what got you through that event, right? This ownership takes the EQ skill of self-awareness and regard and the ability to admit your strengths and weaknesses. 

[00:10:10] Colleen Stanley: Part of owning is knowing what you should say no to instead of saying yes. So, this is where you’ve talked about it. 

[00:10:24] Colleen Stanley: Are we aware of high-revenue activities? I actually brought it up here for our conversation today. I’m reading this book called 10X is Easier than 2X by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy. They discuss a principle we’ve all known for a long time: 20% of your effort will probably yield 80% of your results, right? 

[00:10:45] Colleen Stanley: But let’s discuss why we don’t do it. We’re also caught up in the busy, unproductive bucket, so we don’t slow down and maybe analyze our win-loss analysis. That’s entirely in your control. So, when you slow down to analyze, where am I winning? Where am I losing? Maybe you have to slow down and actually ask somebody else for advice on blind spots.

[00:11:05] Colleen Stanley: So, sometimes we are not doing, and I’ll refer to another book called Deep Work from Cal Newport. We’re not doing the deep work that produces big results. Again, deep work means you’ve got to carve out 2 to 3 hours in your day, whether you’re a sales leader or salesperson. So, we sit there and go, ‘Well, I can’t do that. I’ve got to answer emails. I’ve got to do this.’

[00:11:28] Colleen Stanley: Well, that’s what Cal Newport would call transactional work. That is not a big value work. If we only do value work, we’ll be less stressed because we’ll start getting better results in less time.

[00:11:47] Steven Rosen: That is beautiful advice for everybody regarding slowing down to speed up. 

[00:11:53] Colleen Stanley: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:11:54] Steven Rosen: You know, and having some thinking time to actually look at what is essential and what we’re doing. You’re right. Sometimes, we run so fast we can’t even tie our shoelaces. 

[00:12:04] Colleen Stanley: Well, we’re running many meetings, but are they quality meetings versus quantity meetings? That could be on the sales leader. What are you measuring? Are you measuring the quantitative meetings or the quality of the meetings? I’ve seen managers expecting their team out 5 days a week.

[00:12:19] Colleen Stanley: I don’t know where you’ll have time to plan, but I would rather see reps plan good sales conversations, either with existing clients or new prospects, than just run, run, run, run. One of the themes I’m seeing and hearing as I’m out there is that quality will be more important than quantity, but when you’re doing quality, that also decreases stress because you’re getting better results. 

[00:12:43] Steven Rosen: It sounds like a lot of it has to do with mindset. If you feel good about what you’re doing and in control, you’ll prevent those high levels of stress, as opposed to feeling like a spinning top. 

[00:12:55] Colleen Stanley: That’s just one more point there. That’s a common theme in all of the studies on resiliency. Focus on what you can control. For example, one of the reasons reps get stressed out is that they don’t spend enough time practicing. How many reps do you know, and even sales leaders, let’s put them in this category, who spend enough time practicing? 

[00:13:13] Colleen Stanley: Now, practicing is the only way to achieve mastery. When you achieve mastery, sales become much easier, and it becomes much easier to manage a masterful team. We’re the only professionals sitting there and saying, ‘Well, practice isn’t real. It makes me uncomfortable.’ You know what? Well, do they get uncomfortable being burned out all the time?

The Role of Salespeople in Managing Burnout and Stress

[00:13:34] Colleen Stanley: This is another, have some self-awareness. Part of the reason you’re burned out is you’re not as good as you could be. 

[00:13:41] Steven Rosen: I thought you were on the employee side. What you’re saying is ownership, demonstrate, and make them aware of themselves. If they’re not self-aware, they’re running and doing things that don’t make sense.

[00:13:50] Colleen Stanley: You’re all practicing on your prospects, and that’s not a good way to get a quality outcome. 

[00:13:55] Steven Rosen: I love it. You’ve talked to me several times, and an essential factor that sometimes we don’t catch on to is the importance of community for many reasons, such as the feeling of belonging. Talk to me about the feeling of community and the importance of community in terms of dealing with stress. 

[00:14:12] Colleen Stanley: Well, again, Steven, you know, I do a lot of reading. I am lucky I like to, but that’s a theme I’m starting to see more and more of as it relates to building more resilient people and teams. It may start rolling back a lot of years. 

[00:14:26] Colleen Stanley: I grew up on a 500-acre Iowa farm. There are two seasons in farming, and they are similar to sales. You plant the seed, prospect, and then there’s harvest, which is getting the crops out, and that’s the equivalent of hitting a sales goal. 

[00:14:41] Colleen Stanley: Well, it would often happen. Mother Nature sends rain, storms, and hail, so you put in tremendously long hours. I never heard my parents say, ‘Oops, bad year. We’re not going to get the crops out.’ They were thinking about how they trained us without knowing it, and you have to get the crops out.

[00:15:01] Colleen Stanley: Here’s where the community comes in. You know, after putting in long hours, this is two or three months of 18-hour days, they would go over and pick up the phone, call a neighbor who was still working in the field, trying to get his crops out, and the conversation would be, and Lanny Miller was one of our neighbors.

[00:15:19] Colleen Stanley: He said, ‘Lanny, we’re coming over. We see you’re in the field. We’re going to help you get your crops out.’ That’s a community because, think about it, they’re sitting there helping somebody else achieve the sales goal and get the crops out. How much better would we be if business sales cultures adopted helping others get their crops in? 

[00:15:41] Steven Rosen: Yeah, community, tribalism, and elders were some of the terms. It’s a great example. 

[00:15:48] Colleen Stanley: In companies, one of the expectations I would hope managers set is that if you are one of the more experienced individuals, you will be a mentor and be very happy about it. No one gets to where they are alone. So, if you can have mentors, what that also has been shown to do — and this is from some of the research by Dr. Seligman and Dr. Kellerman — when you have greater workplace social support, which comes from mentoring, somebody paying attention, making sure you’re not going it alone, you’d have a 40% higher workplace meaning. Then, you connect that with another set of data they have: when I have a higher sense of my work matters, resiliency goes up by 23%.

[00:16:32] Steven Rosen: These nuances have a tremendous impact on performance, well-being, feeling good about what you do, and having a good life.

[00:16:42] Colleen Stanley: Exactly. I was presented with this big budget when I was promoted to VP of sales. I had no idea how to look at the budgets. I was drowning. The mentorship came from me, from our CFO, who would sit with me hour after hour, explaining the numbers. What do you want to look for when you see this number off of the balancing?

[00:17:03] Colleen Stanley: You know what? He was busy. I wasn’t a direct report to him, but he was taking the time to mentor me. Mentors matter because when you don’t have to go it alone, your resiliency will go up, and that’s that workplace social support. 

[00:17:21] Steven Rosen: So sometimes, it goes the other way, right?

[00:17:23] Steven Rosen: Where you have a mentor or friend, and we complain to them or come to the commiseration friendship. 

[00:17:30] Colleen Stanley: Okay. 

[00:17:31] Steven Rosen: Talk to me about the commiseration because it could go the other way if everyone is complaining about something and creating greater stress.

[00:17:37] Colleen Stanley: You know what? I am so glad you brought up that point. So, it’s called a pity party. But the problem is the people RSVPing are all whining, complaining about what they can’t control, and you literally catch their emotions; the term is emotional contagion.

[00:17:52] Colleen Stanley: It’s the late Jim Rohn, who has a very famous quote that says, ‘You are the average of the five people you hang with,’ so when you start looking at why you’re stressed and burned out, I start looking at who you’re hanging around with. What’s the old saying, fly with the eagles, not the pigeons? I don’t know. I don’t have the birds down, right? 

[00:18:10] Steven Rosen: Birds of a feather flock together. 

[00:18:13] Colleen Stanley: Yeah. People who like to commiserate gossip are not starting to listen. Are you talking about solutions or problems? That can be a big way to continue accelerating your burnout.

[00:18:27] Steven Rosen: It’s not just about picking friends or having a mentor. It’s about picking the right ones who can lift you up. 

[00:18:36] Colleen Stanley: Absolutely. At this point in my life and career, I purposely prioritize learning more. I’ve been a toxic person in the past, always complaining, and that’s why I’m so passionate about helping people see things differently. 

[00:18:49] Colleen Stanley: It does not serve you well. I am at a point where I get rid of toxic people. I don’t want to manage it mentally, and I know the outcome isn’t going to be good because it’s very easy to get into blaming, excuses, and victimhood. Research shows that a victim mentality leads to higher stress and burnout.

[00:19:09] Steven Rosen: Those are great points. Community is important. It gets nuanced that you want to have people who can help you lead you along, make you feel like you’re not alone, and help you get solutions. If I were to look at what we talked about, which is really, really important, especially if one of your salespeople or yourself as a sales leader is experiencing burnout.

[00:19:31] Steven Rosen: One important thing to remember is that it’s a shared responsibility. 

[00:19:35] Steven Rosen: You know, I talked about leadership’s role; I believe leadership has a big role if you eloquently stated that self-awareness, well-being, and self-care are also incumbent upon the sales rep.

[00:19:49] Colleen Stanley: It’s my job to get sleep. If you’ve had a one-year-old, we’ll give you a break. 

[00:19:55] Steven Rosen: It’s shared. Part of what really helps, and I know we didn’t mention it, is that honest communication is also important. This is what’s going on in my life. Having the confidence to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m really having a challenge here.’ That makes it easy for your sales leader, right? Some people just don’t connect the dots and figure it out. I’m telling them to try to figure it out, understand their people, and realize there’s always more to performance than just the initial thoughts.


[00:20:23] Steven Rosen: Colleen, what big takeaway would you like our listeners to leave with? 

[00:20:28] Colleen Stanley: I love that you said it’s a shared responsibility. In my years of teaching resiliency, I’ve seen that if you don’t own it, you can’t change it. That’s where I lean a bit more because I can’t change another individual but can change myself.

[00:20:46] Colleen Stanley: The other thing, and probably just an add-on with community, is that as a sales leader, I encourage everyone to keep having your regional and national sales meetings. Zoom is great; we get a lot of work done that way, but nothing replaces face-to-face meetings.

[00:21:02] Colleen Stanley: When you look at happiness in the workplace, Gallup has said this for years: if you have a best friend at work, think about where many of those best friends came from. You go to the meeting, and then you’re having lunch, dinner, or maybe after-hours activities, and that’s where many of those friendships occur.

[00:21:18] Colleen Stanley: I remember a few years ago. I was working with a growth company, and the CEO was having two meetings a year, and they were getting pretty large. I asked the CEO. I said, ‘You’ve got two meetings a year. These are pretty expensive,’ and he looked at me and went, ‘Well, you know, Colleen, I’m an accountant by training, and I’ve done the math by getting people together, meet and greet, have fun. If I prevent two people from turning over, I have paid for my meeting.’ That’s community. 

[00:21:46] Steven Rosen: That’s great math too. 

[00:21:48] Colleen Stanley: Yeah, that is great math. Sometimes, when we’re not having face-to-face meetings, we look at the P and L the wrong way: airfare, hotel rooms, food, and beverage, but we don’t look at, ‘Okay, somebody had a hallway conversation. Somebody had a mentor conversation.’

[00:22:01] Colleen Stanley: Somebody, to use your words, just left recharge. There isn’t a line item for that revenue. We often miss the return on investment that face-to-face communication and meetings can have. 

[00:22:15] Steven Rosen: All I can say is you save the best for last because you’re right on. As a sales leader, you’re fighting or trying to push the CFO or the general manager to remind them of the importance of bringing people together and the power of that from a team perspective, from an emotional perspective, and a connection to the organization.

[00:22:32] Steven Rosen: You saved the best insight for last. So, let’s not forget people what sales leadership is; let’s bring people together, let’s congregate. Thank you for listening as we wind up another great session, at least in my opinion and Colleen’s of the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast. We hope you’ve gathered at least one, two, or three valuable strategies that you can use to prevent one or two of your people from experiencing burnout and its negative impact.

[00:23:09] Steven Rosen: Let’s prevent burnout and increase sales. Thank you for joining us!


Colleen Stanley, emotional intelligence for sales and sales leadership, executive sales leadership, knowing and doing gap, sales leadership, sales leadership coaching, sales leadership development, sales management training, Stanley, Steven Rosen, the sales leadership awakening podcast

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