Developing Your Inner Retail Leader

Developing Your Inner Retail Leader

I have this theory that most people get into Retail Leadership by accident. Especially, when I discuss entry into our industry among my circle of retail friends – we all came into this industry by chance or coincidence and found that we had an affinity for lots of aspects of the job and overall retail culture. I see amazing talent in retail very often that can absolutely be developed and encouraged to develop their leadership abilities for a long and successful career inside our industry. Creating a vivid, robust, and colorful culture can help our emerging leaders and our current leaders identify a potential long-term and successful career path which will support the health and growth of retail.

Your direct supervisor has a responsibility to you and to your colleagues to uncover the latent talents of all of their team members. They also  need to support the growth and career collateral of their team members – but people who thrive in retail also work hard to be successful because it brings them a great sense of personal and professional accomplishment. Retail can be a fun, challenging, and rewarding industry to commit to – if you can keep up with the changes and if you are passionate about, and don’t fear, change,  self-development, and evolution.

8 Ways To Develop Your Inner Retail Leadership

  • Identify Your “Why”: Retail organization must answer three things to create their brand: (1) What they do. (2) How they do it. (3) And why they are doing it. Most of us get into retail because it’s a job where we get to interact with customers, help them solve problems, and create a fun and memorable experience for them. We stay in retail because we realize that we can not only help, support, and delight our customers but we can do that with our coworkers as well. We do this through being supportive and engaging colleagues who are committed to building relationships and having fun along the way. It absolutely helps if we enjoy and believe in the products we are selling and the brand and executives we are supporting. But the compelling purpose of the most successful retail leaders is that they enjoy helping people be successful and are committed to experience and growth.

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  • Solicit Multi-Level Feedback: Ask your bosses, your colleagues, your senior-leadership how you are doing. What your strengths are – from their perspective. What your opportunities are. Though the feedback you receive may differ from your thoughts about your performance – be open to the guidance and really listen to the responses. Understand that they will come from a place that supports your growth and ultimate success. Being open to positive and negative feedback is the sign of a high-potential emerging leader – asking for it is the sign of a soon-to-be rock star retail leader!
  • Start Working As Though You Are At The Next Level: One of the most common misconceptions employees have about promotion decisions is that they’re based solely on performance in their current role. While that’s certainly a portion of the consideration process, success in one area doesn’t necessarily translate to success in another higher-level role. Become familiar with the requirements of the job you want, and determine what skills and competencies you need to develop to be successful in the next level. Then, talk to your boss. Let them know you’re interested in moving up, and ask for advice and a development plan on how to get there.

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  • Polish Your Soft Skills: Find out, by asking your direct supervisor, what the critical success factors are for the team’s most successful team members and how you can develop or learn more about those and how they fit in with the performance goals. More than hard skills your character will be a huge consideration in promotions. When you step into a leadership position you need to display and action things with empathy and passion. You will need to resolve conflicts and deal with toxic employees. You will need to model things like honesty and integrity. You will need to show you can inspire and motivate your team. You can model you possess these competencies -today – by taking on stretch assignments and projects that show your ability to deliver these soft skills. Modeling these hugely important skills today will help you establish your professional reputation to deliver excellence.
  • Show Your Willingness To Self-Develop: Most retail organizations have a finite amount of budget allocated to training and development programs, unfortunately. Show that you are proactively willing and able to upskill and learn new competencies, stay up-to-date on our evolving industry, learning about the organizational and reporting structure of your company will silently show that you are a loyal and interested employee who is, likely, committed to the purpose of the brand/business – not just the paycheck. Taking this a step further – being able to build collaborative working relationships with your peers and sharing your gained knowledge will show your bosses that you are a great team player, which is highly valuable.

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  • Use Your Knowledge For Good, Not Evil: When you are an emerging leader who is vocal about your desire to learn and grow – you will often be privy to information that others aren’t looped in on or simply don’t care to absorb When you have this additional information at your disposal, ensure you are using to approach your business with integrity and honesty. Trust is not only key, it’s paramount to success. That’s why it’s so critical for leadership to hire people who believe what they believe. Most people rise to the occasion when they are treated with a high degree of respect. Leadership doesn’t mean blind trust, it’s about giving people responsibility and making them accountable.
  • Know When You Are Overusing A Strength: Many leaders overuse their strengths – before they learn balance – compromising their performance and risking the loss of credibility.  The stronger your talent or skill in a specific area, the greater the liability it could be to you. A retail leader who has strong analytic skills likes to carefully examine all options before making a decision or waste valuable time pouring over reports. When you “overuse” your skill, you may become too cautious or over-analytical and miss important opportunities and deadlines. Assessing the pace or outcome of a project/responsibility – at times – requires a leader to step back and reinvent their is a strategy as it relates to their strengths. While you work, name the strength you’re currently using. Next, decide how much of that strength is needed for this task to be done well. Think of it as “adjusting the volume of music” – quiet for background music or loud for a mall-based retail store. Choosing how you’ll use your strength helps you decide how deeply to dig into details, how fast to push for change, how quickly to energize your team around the initiative, or how accurate you must be before making a decision.

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  • Don’t Fear Failure | Live To Learn: You cannot take yourself too seriously in retail. Bring solutions, try new approaches [even if you don’t know what the end result will be]. Use your resources, your mentors, and your colleagues to share ideas, ask for input and suggestions – take your initiatives to your direct supervisor and ask for their support. Great retail leaders will support your risk-taking and others will want in on your plan simply because that you involved them in its creation. This is an opportunity for learning – don’t fear failure if you’ve put together a plan you are confident in. If it happens to not work out, take a step back and determine how it could have been shaped differently to get the results you’d hoped for. Understand that “what got you here, won’t get you there” and recognize that creative approaches to overcome obstacles vs. following status quo is frequently the difference between achieving desired results missing your targets.


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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