How Retail Leaders Connect With Their Team

How Retail Leaders Connect With Their Team

One of the challenges senior field leaders face in their day-to-day role is how to connect with all of their team members to build an effective, cohesive, productive, and aligned team that is collectively committed to delivering excellence in the business. Unless we are District Leaders or Regional Leaders in a highly-saturated market – we have remote stores and teams that we need to energize and engage without, necessarily, seeing them more than two or three times per quarter. It is fairly easy to inspire and connect with teams that you see/visit frequently but it is so important to build time into your visit to inspire and get to know your teams you may not see as often.

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According to HBR, “Synchrony is a neural process where the frequency and scale of brain waves of people become in sync. Verbal communication plays a large role in synchronization, especially between leaders and followers. Synchrony between leaders and followers leads to mutual understanding, cooperation, coordinated execution of tasks, and collective creativity.”

Synchrony is built around three core leadership abilities:

  1. Presence: A leader has to approach the relationship by being their authentic selves. Being “present” starts with consciously deciding to “get in sync” with your individual team members and then the team as a whole. Great leaders who strive to connect and build relationships with their team take the time to understand what other people are feeling, to understand their points of view, and seek to understand what their team needs from them. This really can only be accomplished by observing the feelings in yourself and the other person without being judgmental or biased.
  2. Wholeness: People connect with people. Employees don’t want to work for an emotional glacier. In order for your team to connect with you and vice versa they need to understand who you are as a person – when leaders set aside time to engage in events/tasks not central to the main mission of the organization – they create an authentic and memorable relationship link with their team members. Retail Leaders who practice wholeness will elevate engagement and understanding around their initiatives because the individuals will realize it comes from an honest and genuine desire to support them.
  3. Resonance: So, this part is pretty interesting – “Adults who engage in “synchronous” movement to music later report liking each other better, remembering more about each other, trusting each other more, and are more likely to cooperate with each other compared to adults who engage in asynchronous movements“. It’s about how people “get” each other. The common interests, trust, and aligned vision of a team makes their commitment to each other greater and important to the team dynamic.

To successfully lead a group of people requires a mutual sense of trust and understanding between the leader and the team members. Human leadership requires involvement, meaning & purpose, empathy, inspiration, a real interest in the team’s success, and kindness. Strong retail leaders, who are committed to leading their teams and delivering excellence build professionally personal relationships with their team. They understand that allowing for this and supporting this environment is vital to developing the shared trust necessary to build a strong culture of accountability and exceptional performance.

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There’s Genuine And Then There’s Fake

There are so many different leadership styles [a truly dizzying number]. There are no right or wrong styles that retail leaders display – it’s really what works for them and what resonates with their team. The only thing that is wrong is to be a fake, false, or self-centered leader. If you choose to be a fake or disingenuous leader – don’t expect to have a team proactively driving for results or customer experience excellence.

Ideas To Connect Leaders To Their Team Members

There are some really effective ideas that have worked for me over the years that I have developed, some have been team and colleague suggestions, some have been happy accidents. Here are a few of those that have been beneficial to my team’s dynamic, alignment, and health:

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  • Plan The Week Together: Two weeks of each month I have my team tell me where they would like me to visit and when. There may be a Store Leader, Assistant Store Leader, or even a Supervisor that they want me to interact with for recognition, growth, or guidance. I make sure that I am getting their feedback and ensuring that I am considering their needs when I am planning my visit/travel schedule. They love this program because they are involved in and can coordinate having the right people that need exposure – in the right places at the right times as we visit stores together.
  • Play: There are lots of of great ice breakers to use for team gatherings. However, lots of them can be awkward for some of your team members and it’s difficult to engage introverts in unusual or off-the-wall activities at time. The moment you create emotional conflict for one or more team members you risk losing engagement from that person. I have found that playing more traditional games to build team work and encourage camaraderie is fun for everyone.  Versions of Pictionary, Cranium, Human Checkers, and Croquet [weather permitting] and other, similar games have been worthwhile to bring “reverie” to the team and keep everyone engaged in-the-moment and for future memory.
  • Team Dinners: Once a quarter I hold a team dinner and I ask the District Leaders to select a plus one from their team to attend this dinner with them. Once we have selected the guest list, I send formal invitations out, put together swag bags, order awards, and I prepare a five course dinner for the team to thank them, inspire dialog, enjoy conversation that is not centered around the mission of the business. It is a great way to get to know people on a professionally personal level and connect with people who will feel appreciated, recognized and inspired to take the memory of the event back to their teams. It is something that my team looks forward to and that I thoroughly enjoy and it allows for me to be transparent and authentic with my team as to who I am.


  • Follow Through: Every Single Time: One of the biggest fears in a team environment is that the retail leader will drop the ball, forget about their commitments, or renege on their promises. This is especially a fear for the remote teams. It’s a valid concern; and they are so anxious for the attention and support they get – we need to be very cognizant of honoring our commitments. Start by making it standard practice to say what you mean and mean what you say. And then do whatever it takes to fulfill your promises. If you consistently follow through, your team members will gain confidence in you and you will build credibility with them.

Strategies for Leading A Distributed Team

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  • Make Time With Remote Teams Count: Usually – because my most remote teams can’t be included in our quarterly team activities I plan in an extra visit day, quarterly, during these visits to host events, that are voluntary attendance, or do community work with my team in their area. This allows them the same attention and access that my local teams have and it allows them to feel like a part of the direct team and not exclusively a satellite team. I also optimize collaborative productivity platforms [Slack or ScribblePost] and leverage teamwork technology more with these teams so we can have real-time dialogs about challenges and bring clarity to communication. This make them feel connected and engaged with me as so we can build a great business partnership. Additionally, I use YouTube to share recognition videos with the teams to ensure they feel connected with who I am as a leader – and a person – and that is virtually impossible to accomplish via email and even sometimes phone – a link can be shared with the team to ensure your message is heard by all when it is convenient for them [especially if your area of responsibility covers a variety of time zones].
  • Source and Vet Candidates Who Can Successfully Work Remotely: This is a big opportunity in retail. We can’t hire Store Leaders who require an elevated amount of interaction and daily attention when it comes to delivering their results to run remote businesses. Hiring people that work remotely – autonomously, with great character, and that are self-starters is a non-negotiable. Our remote teams are often afforded significantly more latitude than teams we see with greater frequency. Working with distributed teams means doing things a bit differently and hiring to a different set of standards [critical success factors +]. You have to put a little more effort into many aspects of work-life, including communication  and vetting potential candidates to ensure they have the soft skills and quieter competencies to do the job well, with a fraction of the usual attention. An emerging leader is not the type who can easily thrive in this environment – they will likely struggle and become frustrated and create frustrations for you and their coworkers. You need someone who has the experience and skill set to deliver results without a lot of presence support from their direct supervisor. It’s a wildly different set of criteria when you need to create total cohesion in a market that has remote teams that need to deliver with the same impact to the bottom line their partner stores can.

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  • Consistently Communicate Your Team’s Compelling Vision/Purpose: An effective and dynamic retail leader knows how to provide hope. energize, and mobilize a team into collective successful action, which can come in the form of a vision. This is a challenge for all leaders in a world full of increasingly inattentive thinkers, compounded by retail’s unfortunate preference for hiring followers. But it’s infinitely tougher for someone who has to keep people focused on long-range goals from afar. Getting input and gaining an agreed upon focus on a unifying vision is one thing. Reminding people how their contributions tie into the organization’s goals and objectives is even more important when people can opt out silently and we may be unaware for several days or weeks. Successful leaders of distributed retail teams can help – by effective communication and presence [even the virtual kind] – team members stay focused with an elevated level of productivity.
  • Foster A Spirit Of Collaboration: This is more than telling people they must work together. It’s providing the tools, resources, availability, and support to ensure that everyone has access to the same information, they are aligned in direction and commitment to delivering excellence, and that they are connected with one another. So many senior-level field leaders try to keep their teams contained to the four walls they are responsible for and it creates challenge for the business. When team members know their coworkers and are invested in the success of the collective team they work hard to deliver results that will support great execution of all team initiatives. It is amazing how much team members want to support each other and how they participate in programs when given vehicles to do so [recognition programs, for example]. Not to mention the elevated engagement it creates.


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 | [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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2 thoughts on “How Retail Leaders Connect With Their Team

  1. Awesome post, I really agree with being present! It’s such an under valued and not talked about skill.
    Thanks will be sharing this with my team

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