Great Retail Leaders Are Emotionally Resilient

Great Retail Leaders Are Emotionally Resilient

Emotional resilience: it’s the armor you need for modern life. Those of us who have been in retail for a while recognize the value of being resilient. As we see our industry take new shape and evolve daily, emotional resiliency has become a soft skill that is necessary to react to and overcome the obstacles we encounter daily at work.

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself.

Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.” – Hara Estroff Marano

Resilience is, essentially, a symptom of emotional maturity and intelligence. It’s also just an optimist’s common sense saying: “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger”. One of the great things about the competency of resilience is that it can be taught to those who don’t naturally possess it which makes it a unique soft skill.

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I am not a fan of the word “stress” – because I think too many individuals in retail choose to use their unwillingness to action challenges with this word – but I recognize it is a “thing” so for the sake of this post I will say, teaching your team members how to overcome “stress” and use the organization’s guiding principles to drive their decision making and next steps can help support a healthy culture. Also, as a retail leader, modeling how to handle and overcome the daily business impediments we face and sharing those stories will help bring clarity and direction to this competency for our team members. By developing this soft skill you can elevate productivity on your team, improve absenteeism, and improve team morale [according to a study by The Work Foundation].

7 Traits Of Emotionally Resilient Leaders

  • They Understand That Adversity Doesn’t Define Them: This is a big one for retail – we all know those coworkers who are constantly stressed and always a little behind because they have so many issues in their area. This becomes their reputation and professional brand. Resilient retail leaders understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the current state-of-mind they are in while overcoming an obstacle. Their personality may be slightly altered as they are working through their challenge but they would never allow “stressed” or “chaotic” to define their professional identity. Meaning – once the situation is solved, they will not longer kvetch about it, they don’t reference it, they don’t spend hours/day commiserating over it – they move on and continue on their path to excellence.
  • They Keep Great Company: Emotionally resilient retail leaders seek out and align themselves with other resilient colleagues. They proactively will support the crisis-driven peer, when possible, but tend to keep their distance with those that love and attract “drama”. Supportive people give each other the space to work through their challenges. They tend to be amazing listeners and know when to offer just enough encouragement without trying to solve all of our problems with their advice.

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  • They Are Pathologically Self-Aware: Sure, being happily “clueless” can get us through tough days but it’s just about as effective a strategy as using “hope” to hit our objectives for the day. Self-aware leaders understand they are responsible for setting the tone for their team and have a heightened awareness around the environment they are creating. They also understand that everyone who may be present during moments of challenge will share their experience and the self-aware leaders understand this is a guidance-by-example moment. This does not mean that we need to be emotional glaciers but when you practice resiliency and understand how your reaction in this moment will predict the future reaction(s) from your team – we meet the challenge with the appropriate level and catalog of emotions.
  • They Are Accepting That Challenges/Disappointment Occur: Resilient leaders – and even highly-cohesive teams – understand that challenges, impediments, and bad things happen. Teams that practice emotional resilience can support each other and band together to get past the challenge and then celebrate their win. They also use these moments to identify future possible obstacles and are determined to learn to avoid or mitigate the impact challenge this event caused to their day.
  • They Practice Mindfulness: Most of us are human beings that seek out distractions when we are overwhelmed. Things like – binge-watching “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” on Netflix; having a deliberate, but regrettable, “snaccident” with an entire box of imported French Macarons. But resilient people deal with the moment at hand and are compelled to work through the issues they are facing to overcome them and move on to better and more interesting challenges that will help them deliver on their goals and objectives. They take a moment to assess their course of action and then move forward with the strategy and the people they need to fix whatever the issue is. Or they seek out their supportive colleagues/mentors to “vent” for a bit and then they move on.

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  • They Have A Menu Of Self-Soothing Habits: Most resilient people have a mental list of ways to work off some steam through good habits that can mentally refresh their perspective in the face of adversity. Whether it’s listening to your favorite song, going for a run, reading inspiring news, talking to your best-friend, taking a fun group-selfie with your team, watching people struggle to parallel park, whatever it is…there is always a way to bring levity and perspective to a situation that makes it seem worthwhile to overcome and resilient people get themselves to a place where it seems silly not to just get it done and put the disappointment behind them.
  • They Consider The Possibilities: They do this by looking at the disappointment/challenge from different perspectives and soliciting points-of-view from their team and colleagues. Great leaders who practice resilience don’t work inside a silo. They involve their team in the solutions of team challenges. They know that by solving every issue for their team they are teaching them to be phenomenal…followers. Great retail leaders who are committed to teaching and modeling the competency of resiliency understand that they need to inspire their team to embrace this skill in order to develop it. What better way then to have them offer solutions, suggestions, ideas about the topic that is creating a challenge for the themselves and their colleagues and see how their ideas can help make the business better.

4 Ways To Build Resiliency In Our Team Members

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One of the the challenges with soft skill development is, frequently it is difficult to put into a neatly packaged program because it is a skill that is natural in most people [or at least the people we find that are aligned with our critical success factors]. But, as a I mentioned, there are some things you can do to encourage the learning and development of resiliency for your team member(s) that may have this as a growth opportunity:

  • Live To Learn: The more you can leverage challenges/disappointments as opportunities to grow and evolve, the more resilient you are likely to be. Disappointment comes to all of us at life and at work – it’s inevitable. What naturally resilient people do is immediately look at the problem and say, ‘What’s the solution to that? What can I learn from this?’ Looking at disappointment or challenge as an opportunity to learn and problem-solve — and building the skill set, perspective, and the habit of moving toward solution instead of running from the issue — goes a long way in developing resiliency. Creating a culture that encourages risk-taking and making it safe to fail is how a great leaders support this competency.
  • Find The Silver Lining: I recognize that sometimes this seems impossible when disappointment strikes but to give yourself a few moments to find something of value inside the issue will help put a positive spin on the challenge. When not-so-resilient people face difficulties all of their emotions turn negative and it [the issue] becomes an excuse that usually bleeds into every area of their performance.  Resilient people, on the other hand, tend to find some sort of silver lining in even the ickiest of circumstances. While they certainly see and acknowledge the bad they’ll find a way to also see the good and they are okay letting the positive and negative emotions sit side-by-side. Both of these ultimately create their compelling purpose to overcome the negative stuff. You may need to help your team member, initially, find the benefit of their disappointment but once they get the hang of this resilience thing – they will be able to identify it on their own and even help others out at some point.

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  • Find The Humor In The Situation: As I mentioned earlier, being able identify the funny-crazy, funny-ironic, or just funny part of the situation will help make it not-so-overwhelming. Attacking a situation with humor and willpower – combined – makes a person more powerful than sheer determination does. The resilient person can identify the ironic or funny parts of a situation, which creates a feeling of ‘This is so crazy. I can totally beat this…I refuse to let it beat me’. Encouraging your team to take a step back and look at the humor of the situation will support the creation of solutions and will support the most conducive approach for overcoming challenges.
  • Take Time For You: In retail we are constantly trying to prove our value and worth to everyone. We are always working to please others: our customers, our bosses, our colleagues, our team can be exhausting. (Nevermind our lives outside of work.) We don’t, generally, build time into our day to focus on ourselves. Our daily habits that are selfish and exclusively focused on our own health and well-being count: When we’re caught up on sleep, eating well [yes, stop and have a lunch outside the store, office, or your car] and keeping a cool and calm head, we’ll be less fragile and less likely to succumb to an unhealthy and weak set of emotions following a disappointment. Supporting work/life balance, teaching them how to manage their time and prioritize effectively, and how to proactively identify obstacles on the horizon and create a strategy to overcome or mitigate its impact is hugely valuable to developing this quiet – but necessary and valuable – competency in our team members.


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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4 thoughts on “Great Retail Leaders Are Emotionally Resilient

  1. Beth you are so right. I have been in the retail business for 44 years and have several thousand connections in our industry. I have never met a retailer more than 5 years old that does not face problems. It is what you do with the problems and how you do it that will define you. Take the challenges head on, don’t put them on the back burner, those are the things that will boil over.

    Good luck in your writings.


    1. Thank you so much for the comment, Rich! Yes – I agree – it’s when we choose to turn a blind eye and “hope” the issue resolves itself that we do serious damage to the business and to our reputation.

  2. Definitivamente interesante y espero que lo traduzcas para que más gente en el mundo pueda tener tus apreciaciones tan valiosoas

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