Many sales reps believe the path to a successful career has to include a leadership role, but
that’s not necessarily true. In fact, most sales reps can have very successful and respectable
careers as individual contributors — and many will be much happier than their peers in
91% of millennials aspire to a leadership role, for example, but a 2019 Inc. study found that only
10% of people are natural leaders. Leadership consulting firm DDI found that accepting a
leadership role can actually trigger regret; 18% of workers in a leadership role regret taking the
role, and 41% say they have doubts about whether it was the right move.
In sales, there is one manager for every 8 to 12 individual contributor salespeople. This ratio
gets significantly lower as you move up the chain of leadership. This means that leadership
roles are competitive, and before you decide to pursue one, you should think about whether it is
the right fit for you, and whether you are ready for the additional stress of working toward that
goal. You should also consider whether obtaining that role will be detrimental, instead of
beneficial, to your own success. Many reps, for example, are far more productive when they can
focus on their own success and not have to worry about a team.
Leadership roles are not the only measure of success in sales. Sales reps should measure their
career progression by their increasing quota responsibility and increased earning potential,
including equity as their roles become more senior. You should also look at the increased
product complexity of what you’re selling, and whether you are moving into increasingly
The key to deciding whether to pursue a leadership path is understanding what motivates and
drives you. If you have a natural calling to lead, advise and mentor the people on your team,
you may have a natural leadership tendencies. But most people actually don’t have these
tendencies, and are far more comfortable focusing on their own work. It’s important to have the
self awareness to know the difference. If someone without a natural inclination to lead accepts a
leadership responsibility, they won’t necessarily feel happy or fulfilled in their career.
In the sales industry especially, deciding not to pursue a leadership role won’t hurt you.
Companies and employers are always looking for rockstar individual contributors, and there are
limitless opportunities to expand your career. By remaining an individual contributor, you should
find yourself on the road to making more money, trying out different industries, and selling
different product types. You can push the career needle without sticking your toes into the
leadership pool. You may find that this decision makes you happier and more successful.
Want to know more about choosing the leadership path? You can check out our 5 Signs That You’re Ready to Be a Sales Leader and make the decision that’s right for you.