How To Support Emerging Leaders [And Why It’s So Important]

How To Support Emerging Leaders [And Why It’s So Important]

I have spent the majority of my professional life in the retail industry. I am slowly extracting myself from being exclusively designated as a retailer and voraciously working on some self-development initiatives that will support my skill set and core competencies that are transferable and compelling to different industries. I am currently working with four organizations – two inside of retail and two outside. My resume has always been difficult for retail to digest, my diverse experience inside our industry has absolutely worked against me [as it relates to being desirable to retailers (and more specifically, their ATS)] –  but as I am being contacted by a variety of organizations and exploring opportunity outside of the retail industry it seems as though my competencies, reputation, and unique experiences resonates with many different industries and brings value to new roles and organizations. It is a very interesting shift in values and speaks to how other industries embrace experience, innovation, and enthusiasm over retail’s ability to see value in these things.

Lots of our retail partners and team members also have the ability to do more, be more, contribute more both inside and outside the retail industry and they need to be ready – and possess the courage – to move outside of their retail comfort zone as dictated by the changes we are experiencing on a daily/weekly basis.

State Of Retail Today

If you are active on LinkedIn, there are days when it seems like we are reading a column of employment/retail obituaries. You are also seeing lots of posts that have a similar feel to personal ads*; people who are out of work or soon to be out of work, publishing a generic list of skills/competencies, and desperate to find a new job.  [*Especially with the upcoming LinkedIn option to “see members nearby who have also opted in, it will be easier to meet up when you’re at a conference or out for lunch”].

According to The Atlantic, “Department stores, including Macy’s and JC Penney, have shed nearly 100,000 jobs since October. Employment in New York City clothing stores has fallen three years in a row, the longest period of decline on record, going back to the early 1990s.”

The fact of the matter is – there are A LOT of truly talented and smart people inside retail and as retail leaders we need to coach and lead them to develop and embrace marketable and varied skills  that will support their success and growth both inside retail and outside this industry. It’s important because retail evolution is permanently changing the dynamic of the roles inside brick and mortar retail and the many of the usual roles are vanishing/dissolving inside both corporate and field retail and we are not preparing most of our emerging and developing leaders for their next chapter. As retail leaders of any level it is our responsibility to teach these marketable skills to our team members who are open to learning and committed to their personal development.

How To Support The Future Of Our People

Most of us have been taken under someone’s wing throughout the course of our careers. We have shared our expertise with our team members through modeling behaviors, storytelling, coaching, and by crafting a great team of innovative, collaborative, and driven people to learn the skills  and deliver the end result our organization needs us to. We are mentors whether or not that title has been formally assigned to us.  It is now time to become focused mentors for our willing and able team members (I say this because not all team members have aspirations of anything greater than today – far too many are unwilling to develop – and should you choose to invest time into them, they can become energy suckers. Investing time into your truly fabulous team members is a much more effective and – ultimately – fulfilling process).

There are certain competencies that I specifically work on with people who have demonstrated the desire and openness to learn and develop:

  • Help Them Uncover | Identify Their Motivation: I always ask people what their “purpose” is. If they can’t identify and articulate their “why” then they certainly can’t expect anyone else to be able to. Motivation is a two-way street in the workplace but it starts with the individual. There always needs to be an element of soulfulness around an individual’s purpose and their desire to achieve something greater than what they have accomplished so far. Regardless of industry, jobs always have high points and low points and every single person needs to own their own ability to push through the difficult times and find value in the challenge and to work towards improving their circumstance/outcome.  This is a huge lesson we can teach our team members in retail that will benefit them regardless of where they are today or where they may land tomorrow.
  • Allow Them To Work Through Their Mistakes: Mistakes are simply an opportunity to learn [for reasonable and rational people]. However, there are lots of people who refuse to or feel paralyzed when it comes to taking action for fear of making a mistake. People have to possess the confidence to make decisions and if it is not the right decision, own it anyway, and they need to work their way out of the situation. It is one of the single most important ways we can empower our employees in a skill that will benefit them tremendously in their future.

  • Give Them Room & Resources To Pursue A Passion Project: Passion gets stifled and extinguished when leaders or executives in an organization [or our friends or family, in our personal life] tells you something is impossible, not important, or you’re simply just not supposed to do it. That’s when people lose faith in themselves and in their organization.  Who are we to tell someone that something that excites them isn’t important?!? I’ve always liked giving people a safe space to experiment. All industries need people who are free-thinkers. The world needs innovation. The world needs rebels. This is a game-changer and can be a catalyst for the people that have dreams but lack the support and confidence to pursue them – the belief that it is awesome to be a dreamer and a doer because you might just create things that this world must have…is there anything greater we can give our people?
  • Give Them Exposure To Reality: As effective leaders we can make almost every aspect of our job and our skill set seem like second nature. Like we were born with competencies and qualities that make us really good at what we do with very little effort. So few our our direct reports or junior level colleagues recognize how much work and time goes into how we plan, manage, and execute our daily activities. Take them through a day in your life. Do not spoon-feed answers to them – have them find the answers. Support them through their challenge but allow them to make tough decisions, communicate and initiate change, have the tougher conversations with team members. They need to have these experiences in order to appreciate the amount of development and courage it will take to own their progress to the next elevated level of their career(s).


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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