What is a Selling Leadership Style?

A selling leadership style is a high task and relationship behavior approach to leadership that helps motivated but inexperienced followers develop skills. A leader who employs a selling leadership style provides structure or guidance, in combination with reinforcement and recognition, to accelerate task-specific growth and performance-related depth.

The key difference between the selling leadership style and the telling leadership style is the explanation of why. The leader has more open, two-way communication with the follower and explains the reason the task needs to be completed in the context of the bigger picture. The leader also listens to the follower’s ideas, answers any questions and continues to communicate the path forward.

What Does a Selling Leadership Style Look Like

The leader:

  • Provides specifics – who, what, where, when, how and why
  • Explains decisions and allows an opportunity for the individual to seek clarification
  • Allows for two-way communication
  • Makes the decisions and explains the individual’s role
  • Reinforces and recognizes incremental improvement

Key Indicators of When to Use a Selling Leadership Style

The individual:

  • Is interested and excited to perform
  • Demonstrates moderate ability
  • Is receptive to input and direction
  • Is attentive and enthusiastic
  • Is confident but lacks relevant experience

Situational Leadership® and a Selling Leadership Style

Situational Leadership® refers to a selling style as S2 (or Style 2). At The Center for Leadership Studies we believe that a leader needs to adapt their approach based on the current performance of the person they are trying to influence. Situational Leaders are routinely shifting between one of the four styles with each person they influence on a task-by-task basis.

Based on the above indicators for the individual, we would identify them as R2 (or Readiness Level 2). This means the individual is unable but confident and motivated to complete the task at a sustained and acceptable level. Once a Situational Leader has assessed an individual to be R2 for a specific task, the leader should provide the necessary direction and engage the follower in two-way discussion focused on the performance of the task at hand (i.e. “We Talk/I decide”, providing S2 leadership).

An Example of Using S2 or a Selling Leadership Style Correctly

A manager approaches a recently hired employee who has yet to attend a company picnic (but is excited about the prospect of organizing one) and provides detailed instructions on how to proceed in conjunction with ample opportunity to discuss the employee’s questions or concerns.

An Example of Using S2 or a Selling Leadership Style Incorrectly

A manager approaches a tenured employee who has successfully organized the company picnic in the past (and truly enjoyed the responsibility) and provides instruction on what to do and why the company picnic is so important.

Selling Leadership Style Training

Understanding the benefits of a selling style of leadership is relatively straightforward. Knowing both how and when to use one is significantly more difficult! In that context, the real job of any leader is to identify what style of leadership a follower needs for a given situation. Consider Situational Leadership® as a timing mechanism that helps leaders determine when to do what in that regard. Proper leadership is more important now than ever before!