Obstacles To Great Retail Leadership

Obstacles To Great Retail Leadership

I don’t know that there is another industry that allows for reinvention or professional evolution as much as our industry does. And that is a great thing. It affords us a great opportunity to frequently assess where we stand and react if there are any leadership obstacles we are running into as we lead our teams. Here are some of the most common challenges we face to being an effective leader to our teams and inside our organization – food for thought if you are taking on a new role or if you are struggling a bit with your team and aren’t seeing movement/improvement as quickly as you hope to:


  1. Ignoring the usefulness of mistakes: Mistakes are necessary for growth and they are never fatal in retail. When you find yourself feeling low about your leadership, don’t try to ignore it.  Rather, embrace it as an opportunity for your growth and your team’s growth, reflect on how to avoid similar challenges in the future, and use the lesson to avoid or quickly fix the challenge next time. Mistakes allow you and your team to use creativity and innovation to find solutions. Sometimes mistakes can improve team performance, trust, and your team’s ability to deliver solutions. Make it okay for you and your team to fail sometime. When you don’t you impede creativity.

  2. Giving rewards that possess no meaning: Rewards are fantastic and most leaders recognize their value. But there needs to be meaning and thought behind them What outcomes were they designed to produce? Were they meant to aid learning, increase motivation, increase loyalty, or reward performance? The tricky thing is that people with certain other stuff going on for them don’t actually register rewards. Give them as recognition of contribution, connect the action/result with the reward and ensure it has meaning to the recipient and that it is something they will value.

  3. Refusing help: Most emerging leaders encounter this obstacle in the early stages of their careers. We all need help in order to learn and sometimes because we are legitimately in need of assistance.  Eliminate the use of the phrases like “I know” and “I’m okay” from your vocabulary…it’s impossible to know everything and impossible sometimes to do everything and even if you think you know or believe you can manage everything – seeing topics/resolutions from other’s perspectives it always a helpful learning tool. Commit to learning and self-development through seeking answers and accepting help when offered. You are genuinely available to help others when they need it and it always feels rewarding to help a colleague. Your colleagues have the same altruistic motives when they offer their assistance.

    4. Not being accessible: If your team starts every conversation with “I know you’re busy but…” – you may be coming across as a little inaccessible or as a cold leader.  As retail leaders our job is to be available to our team – being there for our team is our job…if we are not available or accessible to our people we have a greater issue with setting priorities. When you have an empowered, talented, and smart team members they will not be calling you endlessly or at terrible hours. If they do have to reach out outside of traditional business – you know it is because there is a significant issue they need your support on.

5. Not getting out of the way: This is a potential obstacle in one of two ways (1) if you have to be involved in the minutiae of your team’s performance or to drive productivity through your presence you are not hiring talented people, you’re not developing them, and/or you need to reassess your leadership standards or (2) If you have hired the best talent and you empower them and allow them the autonomy that smart, talented, and resourceful people deserve, you are stifling your people and not giving them their best chance. That is all the leader – either scenario – and needs to be fixed.

6. Being a boss instead of a business partner: A person’s professional reputation in an organization is a significant driver for them. In fact, a small rise in our status activates our internal reward circuits. Activated reward circuits are a very good thing for motivation, loyalty, learning, and effectiveness. Unfortunately, when your team members see you as “intimidating” instead of their business partner/mentor/coach [and you wield whatever “power” you believe the word “boss” allows], this generally activates a status threat response, which has a slew of counterproductive side effects. People are very sensitive to their own reputation and invest a lot of time and energy, often unconsciously, trying to elevate it through their performance and results that garner attention/recognition. Great retail leaders recognize this need of people and help build confidence in their team by being a support to them.

Leadership isn’t about you – it’s about your team.

7. Overwhelming need to be their buddy:  Effective leaders understand unpopular views are necessary occasionally. However, sometimes, the need to be liked interferes with the ability to see two steps ahead from where the team is and effectively navigate the team and the individuals to the next level of performance and success. Trust me – even if you encounter personality challenges with your team but you support them, you develop them, you recognize them, and you respect them – they will absolutely reciprocate the feelings of respect and support. Be a kind human being and your team will respond to that.

8. Lack of role credibility: To effectively lead a team to deliver results in a specific area, you must have enough expertise in that function to be credible – especially in a new role or with a new team. People become quite uneasy when a leader does not understand the fundamentals of the work or if they are unwilling to roll up their sleeves and dig in to a project side-by-side with their team. In a broader leadership role, expertise in every function is not possible or needed.  What is needed is the highly competent execution of the leadership process, team talent,  and organizing and defining goals, priorities, decisions, resources, and objectives. Leaders must keep the wider view in balance and communicate it with clarity and consistency.

9. Not adapting to the changes in our industry: Retail business changes quickly. There are always new priorities and expectations of both the organization, our team members and the customer. Effective retail leaders engage in the deliberate act of setting down the tools and resources of the past and picking up new tools for the present to maintain relevance and to be able to educate their team on them.  This process can be difficult. It requires courage, communication, patience, and the willingness to learn. You will teach your team a valuable lesson by understanding that embracing change is what right truly looks like.

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10. Failure to create team unity: Leaders are often responsible for helping build unity through shared objectives and an understanding of the core values between staff members. Teams that do not work well together often take a lot longer to complete even the most routine tasks. It can take a bit of time for workers to develop trusting relationships with one another, and the role of the leader is to set the proper framework to encourage these relationships to grow and thrive. Employees do not need to become each others’ best friends, but they do need to be able to work effectively with each other. This does not always come as naturally as some might assume – but a great leader can help people identify their aligned purpose.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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