Let’s Talk About Great Retail Leaders

Let’s Talk About Great Retail Leaders

The European-based Centre for Organizational Research conducted several surveys on teams that ‘click’ and found that they always have a leader who creates the environment and establishes the operating principles and values that are conducive to high performance. The evidence for this is clearly seen in organizations where a leader who creates a high performance team moves to another part of the organization, or a different organization, and within 18 months they once again establish a high-performing team.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.28.59 PM

That is a pretty powerful thought – especially to challenge organizations to devise a strategy around recognizing, valuing and retaining their high-contributing leaders. It’s also a great warning to those that may think moving an ineffective leader into another area of the business hoping [hope is not a strategy] that they improve their performance.

High Talent Leadership Accounts For Only 18% of Leaders in U.S. Jobs

According to US News, “Only 18% of managers at U.S. jobs had “high talent” for leadership skills, including the ability to encourage accountability in the workplace, motivate workers and build relationships with them, according to a survey published by Gallup research and consulting firm on Thursday. The report, The State of the American Manager also showed 51% of U.S. managers are not engaged in their work, and another 14% are actively disengaged.” Here are some other interesting facts about leadership:

  • Approximately half of employees have left a job “to get away from a manager”;
  • Poor managers also cost the U.S. economy between $319 billion and $398 billion annually;
  • Only about 10% of managers showed indicators that they can “motivate every individual on their team, boldly review performance, build relationships, overcome adversity and make decisions based on productivity [A manager with little talent for the job will deal with workplace problems through manipulation and excusing action by relying on moldy policies and office politics to confuse their team into submission].

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.09.58 PM

Retail Today

The other day, 24/7 Wall St. published their report of the Worst Companies To Work For. Ironically, retail organizations represent only 8% of the “Best Places To Work For” lists but we dominate the “10 Worst Companies To Work For” list at 60% representation. In the most recent study conducted by  Gallup, Employee Engagement sits at a low 32.7%. And as identified by The Blanchard Company:

  • Less-than-optimal leadership practices cost the typical organization an amount equal to as much as 7% of their total annual sales;
  • At least 9% and possibly as much as 32% of an organization’s voluntary turnover can be avoided through better leadership skills;
  • Better leadership can generate a 3-4% improvement in customer satisfaction scores and a corresponding 1.5% increase in revenue growth;
  • Most organizations are operating with a 5-10% productivity drag that better leadership practices could eliminate.

Direct “managers” account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimates in the State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders. Which means WE, the direct leaders, have control over the engagement and productivity of our team [or lack thereof] – it’s not something that is dictated from elevated leadership interactions.

How Do We Fix This

I am passionate about retail leadership and bringing relevant and important information to our industry. As senior- and executive-level leaders – we need to commit to recognizing and rewarding our top performers and weeding out the “leaders” who are holding the business back. This means acknowledging that the leader is producing the results they choose to produce. Great leaders aren’t lucky – they are successful totally by design. The same goes for the bad ones…they choose to under-deliver and under-perform. They choose to hire bodies and “manage” them ineffectively. They choose to hurt the business through inaction, assigning blame, creating a toxic culture that is filled with challenge, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 10.10.37 AM

Great leaders commit to hiring talent to the critical success factors [or soft skills] that define – and are shared by – the top performers inside our organizations. They are dedicated to reinventing a succession planning process and career path planning programs to identify future and emerging leadership inside your organization. To elevate the business and deliver spectacular results consistently.

So how do we fix this? Hire great talent. Put together your critical success factors and source candidates with those qualities, hire candidates who can give you examples of their success and passion of these qualities. Find talented individuals who are aligned with your vision and values and are passionate about the purpose of your organization. Weed out the bottom performers who are hurting the business. Recognize and reward your top performers – they deserve it.

Quieter Competencies Of Outstanding Retail Leaders

  • Self-awareness: I covered this topic in a previous post about how great leaders are focused on their development and upskilling their expertise on a topic to elevate their performance. But this goes even deeper – self-awareness is also understanding their contributions and having a compelling reason to deliver better or stronger results. Let’s face it…at any given moment we can excuse our mediocre or “good enough” performance but it takes a committed, highly-productive, and effective leader to deliver results because there is always one overwhelming and propelling purpose – personal satisfaction, accomplishment, and pride in the work we do and the results we achieve. Great retail leadership delivers excellence and is committed to engaging, energizing, and delighting our customers, our team members, our colleagues, and ourselves because we are compelled to. I believe that is the primary factor in all great results – that the people that deliver them have a compelling desire and need to produce greatness – for themselves and the people they invite into the teams and they will spend the time and effort, mentally and physically, to deliver, guide, and support these results.
  • Awareness Of Others: The more self-awareness that leaders possess, the higher will be their awareness of the emotions of others around them. Great leaders build relationships and forge connections with all of their team members. Having an awareness of emotions, how they are created, how they are shaped in each individual, and how they influence people’s moods and behaviors will allow them to not take emotions of others, such as anger, personally. Great retail leaders have the ability to display authentic – but strategic – emotions for the sake of understanding and supporting of their teams.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.22.59 PM

  • Awareness Of Emotional Atmosphere: One mark of a truly remarkable is the ability to bring everyone together and inspire a team regardless of the situation at hand. They do this in order to be effective in their communication and motivate their team correctly. Tuned in emotionally, they are aware of the many factors that can influence the feelings of their employees and they can communicate to energize and mobilize their team to deliver excellence.
  • Ability To Anticipate Reactions & Proactively Respond: Intelligent leaders are savvy enough to anticipate how their employees are likely to react to situations and they don’t wait until after the damage is done to respond. If they are aware of challenges or frustrations ahead and they do what they can to openly to respond to them before they happen. Understanding that rumors can quickly spread and cause more damage than the actual event, they rely upon their emotional and social skills, and their passionate commitment to being honest and open, to support their employees through these times.
  • Their Ability to Reinvent & Reframe: Great leaders refuse to let their leadership style become moldy or stale. They are constantly working to evolve, grow, and model the appropriate behaviors that enhance the organization’s vision and value. They also have the skill set to reframe and bring new perspectives to obstacles and challenges. By encouraging innovative ideas they are supporting creativity and a hyper-solutions-focused culture and endorsing a culture of point-of-view diversity for their team. A great leader that can encourage and persuade their team members to carry on even during moments of crisis or chaos is a bonus for any retail organization. Remarkable leaders, however, intuitively know when a problem or challenge is actually rooted in an underlying problem with the business that needs to change and can make plans to engage their team to embrace the change(s) ahead.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.04.18 PM

  • A Great Mix Of Book Smarts & Common Sense: Remarkable leaders possess a unique and balanced combination of intelligence, a “street smarts,” which grounds the leader on a moral and common sense foundation and keeps them clearly aligned with the business goals, objectives, vision, and values of their role and the organization’s culture. Great leaders today differentiate themselves by their ability to navigate the complex and evolving needs of a global business and customer – and the technical know-how of their role – all while meeting the generational and diversity demands of talent that exist in retail. They have the ability to take dry and boring topics and explain them to emerging leaders and/or colleagues with a very polished professional pedigree – effectively. I believe that truly exceptional leadership comes simply from understanding the characteristics, qualities, and competencies of great leadership and executing them…better. Sure, knowing the technical aspects of your retail organization helps, but when you need to achieve results, traditional leadership soft skills and competencies will always prevail.


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!

View all posts by

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Great Retail Leaders

  1. This is a great read with real applicability. Great leadership at the top cascades down and most direct reports and indirect reports want to emulate or at least practice similar traits as their great leaders demonstrate within an organization. Weak leadership or a style that doesn’t drive excellence also can cascade down the organization in style and approach and minimally disengages those that can make a difference. The old adage that “retail is detail” remains true and building engaged associates pushing for achievements beyond what the competition can deliver remains a critical strategy for retailers – and it all starts with great leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *