Doctor of philosophy

Introduction: - (Topic of Research)

The success of a person's promotion or recruitment into the various levels of sales management is vital to an organisations sales performance (Dubinsky, A & Ingram 1984). While success in a sales management leadership role is determined by many elements, one area that has been under-researched is the identification of which traits may determine and assist in identifying potential candidates from the sales team to successfully transition into sales leadership roles. A distinction is made between characteristics of leadership styles, i.e. transformational or charismatic which are adopted by people already in leadership positions, (Den Hartog et al. 1999; Larsen & Rosenbloom 1999; Thompson & Thach 2007) and those of leadership traits which suggest the potential for a leader to be developed. (Oyinlade, Gellhaus & Darboe 2003)

"In today's rapidly changing business environment driven by human capital, knowing which qualities to look for in future leaders is undoubtedly a key competitive advantage" (Dries & Pepermans 2007)

An organisations sales force is often the highest cost centre within the business. (Zoltners, Sinha & Lorimer 2008) noted a USA study that 20 million people were involved in selling and of that, 75% were in the business-to-consumer area. Sales force cost in the US averaged 10% of a businesses revenue & with an estimated cost per annum of USD. $800 billion it was 2.5 times the 2006 USA spend on advertising. Markets are changing both domestically and globally. Customer numbers are reducing and the remaining customers spend is increasing; competition is increasing and becoming global in location and focus (Conger & Kanungo 1994; Tansu Barker 2001). Leadership can now be held by different levels of a sales team. (Ingram, Thomas N., LaForge & Leigh 2002; Flaherty et al. 2009). The recognition of leadership characteristics early in a person's tenure or at the time of appointment, even at salesperson level, will provide the organisation with the opportunity to optimise their investment.

"Flatter organisations, semi/autonomous teams and knowledge-based workers challenge the 'traditional' view of hierarchical leaders possessing formal authority". (Connell, Cross & Parry 2002)

Research is proposed to be undertaken across 3 levels of a sales department hierarchy, commencing with the salesperson, to determine if there are similar leadership traits and if those respondents with similar traits and trait profiles also rate high on behaviour-based performance measures (Piercy, Cravens & Lane 2009).

While significant research exists on traits and behaviour-based performance, to either single level test groups or salesperson to sales manager dyads, no research has been found into trait similarity or its relationship to a person's level of behaviour-based performance. Nor has any research been found that considers these issues across 3 levels of a sales organisation. This research will extend the current body of knowledge by applying an empirical study of these issues across multiple organisations from the business-to-business (B2B), business-to-reseller (B2R) and business-to-consumer (B2C) markets and will provide practitioners an additional tool in the identification and evaluation of new and existing potential sales team members for leadership development. It is an aim of the results of this research to provide an overview of aggregated behaviour patterns across the sample.

Private Interest:

During my career I have seen many examples of salespeople whom after promotion to sales management positions have been unable to successfully transition. In fact I have promoted some of these unsuccessful people and on occasion been the person unsuccessful in the promotion. Too often, the reasons behind a promotion were not based on the person's demonstrated facility to lead; rather their achievements in the field were used as criteria or in some of my cases the person had been 'recommended' by senior management. The results of some failures were quite difficult for the person promoted, but often the resultant issues within staff morale and the customer base were harder to overcome.

What judgements were used by the decision makers and was there some constant that all decision makers used? I have often wished there was a more scientific way to assess a persons potential to maintain high performance outcomes as they move through their careers. It is the goal of this research to provide a practical application to assist in answering that question.


Field of Thesis

  • This research lies within the leadership field based on trait theory.

Thesis Topic.

"A study of Leaderhip behaviour traits: Are similarities present in a sales hierarchy and the relationship to their individual behaviour-based performance?"

Focus of Thesis

This focus will be on investigating the relationship between leadership characteristics and behavioural performance within sales departments in the Australian operations of selected organisations in B2B, B2R & B2C industries. Special interest will be placed on identifying if similar leadership characteristics are common to all sales levels and across industries.

Explanation of Thesis

It is important for management to understand the relationship between leadership characteristics and the behavioural activities of members of the sales team.

Organizations' expend a considerable resource on members of the sales team and the return is often gained over many years of continued employment and potential progression through the organization.

Review of Literature:

Leadership styles:

As indicated in the introduction, this thesis will not focus on leadership styles as they are representative of people who have already attained leadership positions. This research seeks to determine the existence of similar leadership traits that will help to identify the potential within sales team members to attain 1st level, or higher, sales positions. While this thesis does include a study of current sales managers at 2 levels within organisations, this inclusion is required to allow examination of the similarity of leadership traits rather than what style those managers demonstrate.

Leadership to traits:

Current literature notes that salespeople who have a high behaviour-based performance have a high level of interaction with their manager through behaviour-based control systems (Grant & Cravens 1996). It is suggested that the same links are present in observing a sales managers behaviour-based performance and their links to senior sales managers.

Is it the role of the sales management team to identify salespeople capable of leadership and to actively promote and develop?

The acquisition of skills required for most positions not only sales, while able to be provided externally in a theoretical sense, is traditionally gained through a person's tenure with an organisation. The responsibility for the development of these usually befalls the managers of the employees department. Due to the nature of the sales role, at all levels, this is especially true.

"The sales manager must identify behaviours and activities that foster high performance, and then provide leadership and guidance to reinforce productive behaviour."(Harmon et al. 2002)

Dubinsky & Ingram (1984) surmised that a sales manager's role is more complex than a salespersons role and providing these skills after appointment can be costly in both time and cost if the appointee proves unsuccessful. They further noted that;

"The sales force within the firm typically provides the largest pool of sales management candidates and, developing sales management candidates is often a specific job responsibility of sales managers". (Dubinsky, A & Ingram 1984)

As salespeople who demonstrate high behaviour-based performance have higher interaction levels with their sales managers, then the sales manager is uniquely positioned to observe and analyse their behaviours. Drawing from Dubinsky and Ingram (1984), it is proposed that the sales manager is the natural point for which a person's leadership potential can start to be identified. They are in constant interaction. Within the dynamics of a sales team environment the sales manager should be able to observe salespeople who assume leader roles.

"A leader is a person who consistently influences and develops individuals and teams over time towards a worthwhile purpose, whereas leadership occurs as a moment-by-moment process that may arise from anyone to achieve a valued outcome". (Robbins et al. 2002)

Hollander's, 1992 work suggest that leadership is the outcome from a series of leader qualities and it is these leader traits that will be focused on. The focus on traits is based on the proposal that a person's traits will stay relatively stable, even when they use different styles of leadership. (Zaccaro, Stephen J. 2007). However, this premise does not suggest that a persons attributes are fixed or un-trainable, rather that they are consistent.

...we define leader traits as relatively stable and coherent integrations of personal characteristics that foster a consistent pattern of leadership performance across a variety of group and organizational situations. These characteristics reflect a range of stable individual differences, including personality, temperament, motives, cognitive abilities, skills, and expertise". (Zaccaro, S. J., Kemp & Bader 2004)

Trait Research:

Research statement:

Organisations have significant interest in the successful transition into leadership roles, via promotion or external recruitment, of personnel through the sales department hierarchy. The research will focus on understanding the similarity of leadership behaviour traits between members of the sales team hierarchy, and their relationship to individual's levels of behaviour-based performance across 3 levels within a sales department hierarchy. This research will provide an insight into the identification of leadership potential and aid organisations in their selection and recruitment objectives. The focus of this research will be on the areas of trait-based theory and the behaviour-based performance activities of salespeople and sales managers. This research begins by reviewing trait-based theory and it's suitability to this study and is followed by an overview of the research on the use of behaviour-based performance as an organisational performance measure.

Trait theory.

While the promotion and / or recruitment of people into sales manager roles continue (Dubinsky, A & Ingram 1984; Ziyal 1995; Anderson, R et al. 1997), the successful transition of those people into 1st level or higher level sales leadership roles will be of critical importance to an organisation (Ziyal 1995). Trait-based theory proposed that leaders were possessed of traits that set them apart from non-leaders. Early papers suggested these traits were; innate, inherent or immutable (ref - who!!), however recent literature has reconsidered the heritability aspect and the potential for traits to be trained or developed, rather suggesting that while traits maybe similar, how a person uses them is distinctive. (Bartol & Martin 1991; Bolden et al. 2003; Zaccaro, Stephen J. 2007).

A review of quotes allows the changes in thinking to be visualised;

Get some from the early authors - originals..

"...we define leader traits as relatively stable and coherent integrations of personal characteristics that foster a consistent pattern of leadership performance across a variety of group and organizational situations." (Zaccaro, S. J., Kemp & Bader 2004)

"Trait is used broadly here to refer to people's general characteristics, including capacities, motives, or patterns of behaviour. Trait theories did not make assumptions about whether leadership traits were inherited or acquired. They simply asserted that leaders' characteristics are different from non-leaders". (Kirkpatrick & Locke 1991)

"Traits are distinctive internal qualities or characteristics of an individual, such as physical characteristics (e.g., height, weight, appearance, energy), personality characteristics (e.g., dominance, extroversion, originality), skill and abilities (e.g., intelligence, knowledge, technical competence), and social factors (e.g., interpersonal skills, sociability and socioeconomic position)". (Bartol & Martin 1991)

Some studies have shown both leaders and non-leaders having the same traits, and concluding there was no difference between measured results between leaders and non-leaders. Additionally, some research could not explain the issues regarding situational factors. This resulted in the approach being considered less effective and research efforts waned from the late 1940's. (Mello 2003) A resurgence of interest occurred in the late 1980's following the application of modern statistical analysis methods to previous research and some new studies. The review provided robustness to previous conclusions supporting the value of trait theory. - may need to remember to put down what each says individually?? (Kirkpatrick & Locke 1991; Brewer 1997; Zaccaro, Stephen J. 2007). While critics were generally quietened, there are still articles pointing out shortfalls in the theory, but the areas of concern do not appear to have changed. (Bolden et al. 2003). One notable addition has been the questioning of the effect of subordinates on leaders (szyl & Wallace . Hollandeer..)

The re-examination of trait-based theory suggested that;

Situational elements were not as significant as initially thought;

'Taken together, these studies provide solid evidence that leaders who emerged in one group situation also were seen as leaders in different groups with different members, and across different situations, requiring different leadership responses'. (Zaccaro, Kemp & Bader, p108. 2004)

The presence of the same traits in non-leaders was not a reason to dismiss results. Even within leaders, the presence of these traits does not suggest that they are leaders or are able to become leaders.

"While research shows that the possession of certain traits alone does not guarantee leadership success, there is evidence that effective leaders are different from other people in certain key respects". (Kirkpatrick & Locke 1991)

Of more interest was the acknowledgement by many researchers that while non-leaders 'may or may not' have the same traits being studied; (Robbins et al. 2002) the leaders studied 'did' have them. (Robbins et al. 2002)

To state that having these leader attributes predetermines success may not be well founded. It is suggested that how the organisation allows and assists the person to develop may define if they can become a manager that is capable of leading. Consideration of elements such as an organisations culture, personal characteristics and available promotional opportunities will play a role in how the leadership characteristics are 'enabled'. Ershler, 2007 when reviewing leadership in the educational field, suggested that while the right selection can be made, if the person is not nurtured and supported by the 'community', in this case organisation the selection may fail.

"At best, educational leaders selected and nurtured from the community can only mirror the community standards and values. The fiction has been that educational leaders are often viewed as capable of achieving educational wonders and social change without the necessary support mechanisms from the community." (Ershler 2007)

Why consider trait similarity for leadership?

While training for sales team members is commonly noted as important in surveys of sales team members (ref xx). Anderson et al, 1997 noted that 57% of the sales manager respondents in their survey indicated no training existed in their organisations. Research on training in sales departments indicates that leadership development training differs according to hierarchal level. While this is expected, and probably correct, there is no evidence that the training is structured in a manner that promotes the development of skills required for a participant to progress to the next level of leadership, rather it focuses on the leadership skills encased in their current roles (ref-xx). As this type of leadership training is not available it is suggested that having the opportunity to analyse via trait similarities may provide organisations with y Without leadership training to As leadership training This supports the suggestion

Which traits?

A content analysis of 25 research articles and books, over the period 1972 to 2007, provided a list of over 100 traits that were identified with leadership rather than leadership style or type (Appendix 1). The number of traits included in the analysis was subsequently reduced to 79 by the writer, where similar meanings were determined. The sheer number of traits suggested by the writers supports earlier comments by researchers on this subject that almost anything could be a trait. Of note within the content analysis is the number of psychology, organisational behaviour and human resource documents that have been the source. This finding continues to support the limited existence of research into leadership traits by the sales and marketing journals.

A larger content analysis may result in an expanded group of traits, but it is not expected to find any significant difference from the items that make up the top 25 from this review. However, inclusion of any trait in the study can only be accepted if they are able to be tested through a questionnaire. Therefore the final list of traits for the study will be able to be tested and they will have been agreed for inclusion by a series of 'expert panels'.

Of significance is that none of the traits listed received higher than (11) proposals, 45% support from the researched articles. Support falls away quite rapidly with each trait receiving less than 30% support after trait number 10.

  1. Intelligence / cognitive level
  2. Credibility / Honesty / Integrity
  3. Leadership & responsibility / desire to lead
  4. Behaviourally adaptable / flexible
  5. Decisive / decision maker
  6. Organisational knowledge (incl. admin)
  7. Motivation - intrinsic
  8. Group / team task supportiveness
  9. Communication skills
  10. Ambitious / ego drive
  11. Group task knowledge
  12. Vision / conceptualisation
  13. Self-confident
  14. Interpersonal relationships
  15. High energy
  16. Empower
  17. Emotional control / maturity
  18. Creative
  19. Assertive / Firm
  20. Tolerant of stress
  21. Persuasive
  22. Dominance
  23. Alert to social environment / respectful
  24. Task motivation
  25. Risk taker / opportunistic

It could be concluded that any trait or group of traits are acceptable to test a population, however the traits chosen must have some relevance to the sample population, i.e., they are based on the behaviour activities of leadership and that they allow a meaningful answer to be concluded from the research. Hence, the traits selected must be both relevant and measurable. Research articles incorporating sampling have used a minimal numbers of traits for testing Deeter-Schmelz & Sjoka - 2 items, Rozell, et al., - 1 item, Furnham et al., - 2 items. Desktop research articles have generally incorporated more, Ershler - 8 items, Zaccoro - 6 items. While these numbers may be appropriate for their specific studies, it is suggested a larger group of traits is required to enable categorisation and to rank them according to presence in each sample from the population.

Populist contibutions.

As noted by (ref xx), a google search for "leadership traits" will return significant numbers of articles - Google 90,600 and Google Scholar 5,100. Searched without the parentheses this number increases to 538,000 and 862,000 respectively. A consideration of these contributions may be valuable for comparison against the list of traits gained through a literature review. One contribution suggests the following 18 items, and it can be seen that the majority of this list match those from the content analysis top 25 items.

  • Adaptable
  • Ambitious
  • Caring
  • Confident
  • Convincing
  • Courageous
  • Creative
  • Curious
  • Decisive
  • Discerning
  • Empathetic
  • Ethical
  • Fair
  • Honest
  • Innovative
  • Persistent
  • Responsible
  • Self-directing

Leaders & Followers:

Is leadership 2 way?

Research articles on the subjects of both leadership and trait theory are now noting the 2-way nature of these areas. There is recognition that a leader cannot lead without followers, in fact even a leader is a follower to someone. (Hollander 1992) and the existence of traits in a subordinate that have a similarity with their leader makes for better leadership (ref xx). Hollander further suggests that subordinates who do show a similarity may be provided with support in their moves to higher positions.


The identification of trait similarity across a hierarchy is critical in this research; they provide one of the signposts, in this case the leadership behaviours, which are useful for management in identifying potential talent for development into sales management roles.

Methodology & Methods

"if leadership is defined partly in the eyes of the followers, then perhaps a better way to judge leadership success is to ask subordinates to rate their level of satisfaction or the effectiveness of their leader"(Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy 1999)

  • Research Question 1.

Do sales team personnel, across all levels, who rate high on behaviour performance have similar leadership characteristics?

  • RQ2
  • RQ3

Research Orientation.

The research will have both qualitative and quantitative elements.

Research Methodology

A multiple case study approach will be used, consistent with...

Expert panel for agreement on leadership characteristic constructs.

  1. Literature review.
  2. Academic panel
  3. HR professional's panel.
  4. Practitioner panel.
  5. Combined panel (groups 2,3&4)

Pilot study to test instruments - Qualitative.

A single large organisation will be invited to participate.

Face to face interviews will be undertaken by 3 separate interviewers and some selected participants will be provided questionnaires. The method is to determine interviewer bias as well as determining how robust the questionnaire is when participant undertakes alone. The latter is necessary as the quantitative study will be large in numbers and must be done via self administered questionnaires.

Self assessment for leadership characteristics designed around questions focussing on agreed characteristics from expert panel/s and using measurement tests drawn from...

Research Paradigms.

Information Sources.

Data Collection Techniques.

Data Analysis Techniques.

In this area the research question/s & hypothesis are usually defined...

To determine if characteristics mediate between the leadership behaviour activities of 2nd to 1st level sales managers and the leadership behaviour activities of 1st level sales managers and the selling behaviour activities of salespeople and if so what is the strength of those relationships.

Test if there is a linkage between leadership behaviour activities and characteristics.

Leadership characteristics;

  • H1: - There is a set of identifiable leadership characteristics capable of being applied to all levels of a sales department.
  • H2: - The characteristics are able to be categorised.
  • H3: - There is no difference between the characteristics at any level within a sales department.
  • H4: - There is a positive relationship between leadership characteristics and behaviour performance.
  • H5: - High levels of behaviour performance, at different levels in the sales department, will demonstrate similar category of leadership characteristics.
  • H6: - High levels of behaviour performance for each industry type (B2B, B2R & services) will demonstrate similar category of leadership characteristic category.
  • H7: - 2nd level sales managers with high levels of behaviour performance will have more 1st level sales managers and salespeople with high levels of behaviour performance and all levels will demonstrate similar leadership characteristic category.

Dependant on results of cluster analysis for leadership characteristic categories and behaviour performance, this matrix may be depicted differently.

Research Limitations.

Scope of the Research.

This research will focus on the sales departments of Australian operations.

Not in scope:

  • Organisational culture.
  • Leadership effectiveness
  • Leadership efficiency.
  • Management responsibilities.
  • Personal characteristics.
  • The training / development of people.

Why is it worth doing: - THE ISSUE

Limitations / qualifications of research.

Structure of Thesis:

Research Action Plan:

Description of Proposed Data Presentation and Analysis:


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