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Adaptive leadership for SDRs

Using the management tool, Situational Leadership, you can adapt your leadership style as your SDRs’ skills grow. Let’s find out how.

SDR’s aren’t the same in month four as they are on their first day at your company. So, you can’t try to manage them in the same way. To turn them into SDRs that excel in their role and are ready to progress, you need to adapt your management style to match their stage of development. However, this can be difficult. How do you know how what level they’re at, especially if they’re more competent at some tasks than others?

Situational leadership

Situational Leadership is the answer. This management tool, devised by Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in 1969, is super useful for all roles and all skill levels. Today though, we’re going to talk about SDRs.

I’ve found Situational Leadership particularly valuable for SDRs, as it measures two things –competence and commitment. You can break down competence into motivation and confidence. These components change quickly in SDRs.

Development levels D1-D4

Situational Leadership identifies four stages of development:

  • D1: Low competence, high commitment – an enthusiastic learner
  • D2: Low to some competence, low commitment – a disillusioned learner
  • D3: Moderate to high competence, variable commitment – capable but cautious
  • D4: High competence, high commitment – self-reliant achiever, ‘the manager’s dream’

All SDRs start at D1 on their first day. If you’ve ever been involved in onboarding SDRs, you’ll know that eager, bright-eyed look they all have. That’s what I’m talking about!

However, they don’t stay at D1 for long. Nor do you want them to. You want to move them as quickly as possible to D4, so they are producing excellent results with minimal guidance from you. The problem is the stages in-between, as well as the fact that once you have a D4, you have to keep them at that level.

How to manage each stage of development

Luckily, Situational Leadership sets out a way to achieve this. When you adapt your leadership style to match your SDR’s stage of development, you can manage them in a way that helps them level up.
Managing D1s is quite simple. They require direction. They are fresh in their role and new to your company, so you need to tell them what to do.

D2s are slightly different because while they are still relatively new to the job and lacking in skills, they think they know more than they actually do, especially compared to the new starters. Directing them will cause frustration, but they will respond well to coaching.

D3s still need to improve their skills, but their commitment is growing as they can see the relationship between skills and success. They need support rather than direction or coaching.

Finally D4s; their competence is high, so they require little direction. However, they need to be challenged in order to maintain their high commitment. The best way to manage them is through delegation.

Adapting by task

At a recent workshop for SDR leaders, we spent a long time thinking about the SDRs we manage and where they rank on the Situational Leadership scale, as well we as how we manage them. That’s where we came across a small problem.

No one is perfect at everything. You may be great at tennis but struggle to cook a three-course meal, for example. SDRs aren’t perfect at everything either. The role of SDR is a combination of lots of different jobs, from cold calling to booking meetings to entering data into the CRM. Few SDRs will be at D4 level for every task.

Career Path

For this reason, you have to adapt your leadership style by task, not by individual SDR. Your goal is to improve their competence, maintain motivation and build confidence.

What style are you?

To sum up, to move SDRs from D1 to D4 on the Situational Leadership scale, you need to be mindful of where each SDR is on the scale for each task, then adapt your style to match.

How do you do this? Sometimes it can be as simple as the way you phrase something. For example, think about the differences between the phrases below.

  • “Since you haven’t done this before, would it be helpful if I provided you with some direction, resources, and information?” (D1)
  • “Since you’re still learning, and may be discouraged, would it be helpful if I continue to provide you with some direction? And I’d also like to hear your ideas.” (D2)
  • “Since you know how to do this, what you need me to do is listen, rather than give advice, right?” (D3)
  • “I know you’re taking the lead, but I’m here, when and if you need me” (D4)

Over to you

Now, we’d like to know what you think. If you’re an SDR Manager, do you use Situational Leadership to help upskill your SDR team? What are your tips for identifying and managing SDRs at different stages of development?