10 Signs Of Cowardly Retail Leadership

10 Signs Of Cowardly Retail Leadership

Retail leaderhsip is not for the weak. Every day we need to make risky or courageous decisions and give strategic and sound direction to our team that will shape the way business objectives are met today and in the long-term. Some of the things we do on a daily – if not hourly basis – are:

  • We are ensuring our teams are filled with the right people and they are in the right places;
  • We are guiding and developing growth of our individuals and teams;
  • If we have team members that are struggling – we have to be proactively working on a process of improvement with a Plan B going, in the event that we need to take action on a greater scale;
  • We have to be spectacular at our jobs and identify/anticipate trends to plan our week, month, quarter goals;
  • We have to model and lead with agility and adaptability;
  • We have to re-prioritize our day at the drop of a hat based on the shifting needs of the business;
  • We have to maintain a passion and commitment to the customer experience delivery in our area of responsibility;
  • We have to take action on any impediments or obstacles we experience or our team needs support through;
  • Taking swift and immediate action on toxic elements that intrude on the business day;
  • We need to be fully accessible and available to our team and business partners that need us;
  • And…we have to be able to clearly and with direction, influence, and enthusiasm – energize and engage our team.

Retail demands are many and not everyone can adapt and adopt the necessary skills to lead with courage, consistently. How people behave and the actions they take is far more important than what they say. When there’s an obvious disconnect between leadership rhetoric and our reality [as we so often see in retail], you’ll quickly create a drained and demoralized team or organization riddled with distrust and consistent challenges. That’s not surprising after all – if you are not leading and approaching your business with fearlessness, integrity, and a pathological desire to succeed – why should your team?

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Retail leaders are human. We can enthusiastically read every leadership book or blog, but our insecurities will prevent us from absorbing some lessons because some of the things we are reading couldn’t possible apply to us!!  Right?!?  As retail leaders we view ourselves as masters of our destiny and our team’s destiny – when we are delivering results. If we are not –  we will rationalize away whatever contradicts and impedes our success. In cases of cowards, blind spots are blessings. They keep us sane because “we didn’t have control over that ‘thing’ that prevented us from delivering greatness”. These moments to excuse under-performance save people from fully knowing how weak they really are. Real courage is a mentality that’s reflected in our day-to-day lives and actions. It requires tremendous awareness, openness, perseverance, and self-evaluation.

Qualities of Cowardly Retail Leadership

A cowardly retail leader is one who takes the easy way out, puts off critical decisions or pretends not to notice problems that need to be dealt with. They invest their time in bemoaning the past or worrying about the future. Cowardly leaders see only the information that agrees with their beliefs and blame others rather than take responsibility for failures. These people frequently blend into the background and usually take inventory of the people who are performing below them to see how many people have to be “managed” before attention is turned to them.

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  • They Frequently Take The Easy Way Out: These are retail leaders that avoid taking bold, decisive action because it makes them uncomfortable. They look around to see what others close to them are doing. If it’s too difficult or scary – then, they rationalize why they didn’t do what needed to be done. Generally, such rationalizations boil down to fear. It’s easier to avoid taking action [at least in the short term], but it’s also the path to mediocrity and stagnation. There is no doubt that action drives results. A plan alone won’t drive results, willpower alone won’t drive results, and not even goals alone drive results. Action drives results.
  • They Evade Hard Issues: You’ll hear every excuse under the sun…“This isn’t the right time.” “There’s nothing I can do.” “I inherited this problem.” Sure, there may be more immediate priorities. At any given moment, there’s always 20 super important things that need to be done in retail. But cowardly leaders are afraid to even bring issues up. They won’t decide, advocate, or even take ownership of issues that exist in their area of responsibility. These leaders live in the short-term, putting off painful action; allowing the problems to fester; using hope as a strategy; and praying the day of reckoning will hit after they are gone.
  • They Accept Only Information That Aligns With Their Beliefs: We have a human tendency to ignore or shrug off information that contradicts our beliefs about the world, especially our negative beliefs. If we believe someone doesn’t respect us, we will see only those behaviors that support that impression. This tendency is so strong that it blinds us to contrary evidence. As long as we don’t see other possibilities we don’t have to take action or we don’t take fair and balanced action. These are the leaders who will, frequently, give their team members the silent treatment when they don’t align with their leadership style or if they demand more of their leader.
  • They Consistently Assign Blame: This is an energy-draining, counterproductive, and weak way of dealing with difficult topics or results. Blaming someone else puts you in the position of a victim because “it” happened outside your control. Therefore, you “can’t” take action to change your circumstances because someone else caused the issue. Blame-based leadership seeks to identify the bad guy so that there is someone to absorb the problem. If a person can be identified, then everyone else can breathe a collective sigh of relief.  For example: If it’s operations fault, then the field teams can’t possibly be responsible for the outcome. Right? WRONG! Acknowledging that you are ultimately responsible for the results of your team and your actions – this creates a level of freedom not experienced by those who choose to blame others – and it is empowering! Courageous leaders are driven by, even obsessed with, the imperative commitment to eliminate excuses and they will ALWAYS deliver great results.
  • They Are Afraid To Deal With Toxic Employees: Most retail leaders have no qualms about dealing with the people who are causing challenges in the business with the other employees. What separates the courageous from the cowardly? Watch what happens when one of their team members threatens, steals, violates, conceals, lies, or makes an unforgivable error? Sometimes, being courageous requires leaders to manage performance behaviors of their friends. Cowardly leaders will, frequently, sweep it under the rug and/or label the whistleblowers as the malcontents. Make no mistake: If they won’t confront their people when challenges arise, they won’t hold themselves accountable either.

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  • They Solve Their Team’s Problems: Problems and conflicts are a part of business. Learning to solve these problems is a big part of leadership and developing future leadership.  Your employees will face obstacles and challenges in their business, and in the same way they need to figure out how to accomplish results, they need to find their own solutions. Cowardly leaders are, usually, unable to hire the best talent in the market so they are hiring people into roles they are not ready for. Because of this, they are forced to keep up with the issues that arise by issuing answers and dictating resolution. They don’t have time to guide and develop the team to what right looks like, let alone empower their team. In this atmosphere the cowardly leader’s team will depend on them to step in and solve issues always. This “leadership” style also communicates to your team that you don’t have confidence in them. Courageous and strong leaders empower and develop their team. They create a safe place for their team member’s to fail, learn, and try again – but they provide tools, resources, their support, and are accessible to their team to support them.
  • They Don’t Connect With People: You see this disconnect when employees voice concern or leave an organization. Organizations fail to understand why people are leaving – even though it is usually because of their “boss”. So everyone begins to disparage the screening process or that the exiting person lied in the interview about their commitment or capabilities. Or, they shake their heads, labeling the departed as having unreasonable expectations or “not aligned with our culture.” But when the most respected people start jumping ship, it’s probably time for leaders to look in the mirror, adjust their approach, and start understanding the value of connecting with their team and understanding [and being able to articulate] how each individual contributes to the team. THAT kind of leadership takes real courage.
  • They Use Policy & Procedure As A Weapon: Great and courageous leaders understand there are lots of “gray areas” in policy and procedure. They also recognize that existing, stale, and antiquated policies sometimes come across as parental and/or condescending – which is not conducive to recognizing innovation and risk-taking as positive attributes or that they are even encouraged in your organization. In addition, many policies tend to cater to the lowest common denominator in the workplace and if we are committed to hiring top talent and asking them to give us 100%, we should be treating them as the smart and savvy business partners they are. Cowardly leadership relies on these parental policies to “manage” performance and to memorialize what they perceive as a way to control behavior. Cowardly leadership fails to identify or possess intuition and instinct as a form of intelligence – mostly because they lack common sense so they rely on these stale and moldy “handbooks” to identify what is acceptable or not and manage to the black and white words.
  • They Are Too Busy To Be Bothered: Cowardly leaders frequently seem to have more meetings, more calls, more emails to read and send, and more of everything else to obsess over – leaving a smaller amount of time to participate with or support their team’s development and growth.  This is an excuse as to why they aren’t accessible or present. Cluttered mindsets and work styles are clear signs a terribly disorganized and disconnected person. Being so busy gives them an excuse for not being a part of their team and their results. Fearless leaders understand the importance of – and are driven by-  being involved and actively supporting their team’s growth. Their people are their priority. Their customer’s are their priority. They will ensure they are present and available to always support those initiatives.
  • They Refuse To Grow or Change: “I’ve always done it this way.” Can you think of a more terrible phrase coming from a leader? When leaders grow too comfortable and self-promotional about their strengths is exactly when those strengths become weaknesses. The status quo is so tempting to cowards. Great leaders – truly great leaders – understand that what got you here, won’t get you there. The retail industry is changing faster than anyone can imagine. Eventually, these leaders will be exposed for falling behind and only have historical value. Leadership requires the humility to see that alternatives aren’t threats. And that today’s retail landscape means survival of the most adaptable, agile, and enthusiastic change leaders and innovators. When people don’t continue their professional development and fail to see the evolution of the customer experience and the changes of the organization’s goals and objectives they are setting themselves and their teams up for failure. Most times, when someone is a “manager”, they don’t align with this evolution and they make themselves irrelevant through their lack of adaptability.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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One thought on “10 Signs Of Cowardly Retail Leadership

  1. These are great Liz. What I see time and time again is lack of courage. Without courage to address uncomfortable and challenging situations – our teams suffer.

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