8 Qualities of An Emerging Retail Leader

8 Qualities of An Emerging Retail Leader

In retail, we have the unique and awesome ability to see so many emerging adults start their working careers in our industry. After a few years in retail it is fairly easy for us to identify the people who will probably stay in retail, who will use what they have learned in other industries, who is with us just to pay their monthly cell phone bill, and those who may be perfectly content in their current role and have no design on anything more – and that’s okay too.

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It is always thrilling, though, to identify people who you know will make great future retail leaders. You can just tell that they possess the personality, the inquisitive nature, the chutzpah to take on assignments and challenges that are new and exhilarating to them [that even some seasoned supervisors and assistants are not capable of doing]. Here are some of those qualities that make these emerging leaders stand out:

  • They Are Enthusiastic Achievers: Emerging leaders are smart and talented high-achievers in their current roles. They consistently produce higher quality and quantity of work than their peers, they considered subject-matter experts, and know how to attain results by their own accord and through others. They are driven to accomplish great things and share their secrets of success with their team members to help support their success.
  • They Display A High Standard Of Personal Ethics: These future leaders are reliable and responsible in their current role. They accept responsibility in mistakes and own up to any misses in their performance. They actively and courageously seek out feedback and take action on identified opportunity areas. They honor their schedule. These are employees that work their schedule and focus on their performance when they are in the business.
  • They Support Organizational Change: This is a big identifier of emerging leaders for me. Average employees shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes at change and they really don’t care about the “why” and the ultimate objective. If it means added effort for them – ugh! Emerging leaders are energized when change is implemented and explained, they want to know the goals/impact that the change is to have on the business, they are engaged in the process and embrace the new way of doing something. They are frequently influencers in their peer group and can help support the new direction. They are, even, likely to initiate new ways of doing things and are proponents of taking risks to further improve their store/department. They aren’t afraid to embark on new projects and opportunities, and may challenge the status quo.
  • They Have Great Energy: Great leaders are not “bored” by dealing with routine, mostly because can find ways to infuse newness and interest into what average employees consider mundane. Emerging leaders share this and they will crush their goals and “to-do’s” and ask for more.  These emerging leaders develop a sense of direction and can draw distinctions between what is important and interesting. They share thoughts and ideas with their leadership and are brave voice when surfacing ideas for improvement.
  • They Naturally Take On A Leadership Role: They may not recognize it but I have seen it time and time again – Emerging leaders not only show an interest in developing themselves and their own capabilities, but also have the ability and interest in mentoring and supporting other employees. Many have a natural knack for building talent and want to see others succeed and grow to their fullest potential at the same pace they are experiencing job satisfaction.
  • They Are Passionate Team-Players: Emerging leaders are collaborative, great teammates, and good communicators. They seek others’ input and opinions, use it to shape their ideas, and generate consensus. They have strong soft-skills and have emotional intelligence when it comes to dealing with others. They are well-liked and well-respected by their peers and get along with others easily. They want to know when they come in for the day how the team is doing compared to the week, what does the store need today [during their shift] to make the team successful. They are cheerleaders for the team and can galvanize action with their peer group. The are dedicated and committed to the success of their collective team.
  • They Are Business-Savvy: Though they likely don’t understand all of the business metrics or how one effects another they want to know how they are doing and they ask lots of questions because they understand the compelling purpose of the business is to drive business levers through customer experience. They are strategic-minded, show an elevated business acumen, and have an understanding of the larger goals and objectives of the business.
  • They Stay Level Headed & Support Order During Chaos: This is no secret – sometimes retail can become a little bit of a circus – emerging leaders don’t “stress out” in these moments – they support organization and overcoming the challenges to deliver results despite what their counterparts are doing. They deal with the reality of the business and the confusion and ask questions to clarify direction. They help to fix problems as opposed to complaining endlessly about them.  They also moved past the topics once they are solved and no longer relevant, as opposed to average employees who continue to talk/gossip about past issues. They proactively take action because they know in time of chaos solutions need to be created and decisions need to be made. Average employees see these challenges as stopping points and they will happily kvetch about problems while waiting for direction.

Though this isn’t a comprehensive list of emerging leadership qualities, these are the ones that I can quickly identify that  reflect someone’s intrinsic ability to be a great future leader inside our industry. Certainly I have worked with people who possessed these qualities but had absolutely zero designs on making retail their career but they have gone onto other industries and been very successful because of the core competencies we have been able to develop as business partners. These people, too, are worth the investment of time and attention.

“An Organization Will Never Rise Above The Quality Of It’s Leadership”

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How To Support These Emerging Leaders

  • Recognize Their Awesomeness: Tell them what you see in them. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and abilities and the impact that they have on the business and point out to them that the qualities that come naturally to them don’t exist in everyone and that’s what makes them special, valuable, and unique inside your team and organization.
  • Support Their Growth With Challenging Projects: Up-and-coming talent needs challenging assignments that stretch them to identify new opportunity and strengths. Assign strategic, high visibility assignments and projects to help create lean/efficient processes in your areas and perhaps in tandem with your executive team. The more exposure your emerging leaders can receive from senior leaders, the better.
  • Be Their Mentor: Don’t just take their skill and commitment for granted – especially if they are part-time. Invest time and attention to help support their growth. This will show them that they have a future with your organization and you truly value the qualities they bring to the business.
  • Provide Opportunities For Them To Lead: A million years ago I had a 15 year old employee in one of my stores who was an amazing communicator and she loved being in the spotlight. It is not surprising you can see her in lots of well-known movies today. She had an incredible way of delivering information and provoking buy-in and action, not only on her home team, but in the region so I would have her leave morning voicemails for the entire region. She was a part-time sales associate but she wanted to share her ability to inspire and lead and it was an amazing venue for her and it gave me an opportunity to shape and support her growth. Rising stars want opportunities to lead others and practice leading initiatives. Designate them as leads on projects or teams. Allow them to mentor or train other employees, such as new-hires. These opportunities will help build their leadership abilities to prepare them for future roles in your organization. And it builds trust.
  • Development & Career Path Planning: Because you have engaged in communication with these stand-out performers you can gauge their interest in growth in your retail organization. When they have expressed interest in growing with the company we need to create a development plan for them and, ultimately, a career path plan to show them we are invested in their future. Employees are twice as likely to stay with an organization if they are challenged and intrigued by their work – if we are investing time, attention and resources into them we need to maintain communication to ensure we are keeping them interested and engaged consistently with opportunity to learn and a passion for self-development.


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!

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8 thoughts on “8 Qualities of An Emerging Retail Leader

  1. Well said Beth, it is so important to continue the support for these rising stars and not to fail them.

    1. Thank you, Deb. I agree – when we can start to elevate the caliber of our junior leadership and encourage retention at a level that is historically high turn it will be a benefit for everyone. With some added time and attention we can set our best employees and our stores up for a great success. Enjoy your week!

  2. Thank you Beth, I was thinking how would i motivate my store managers to develop our new trainee managers and i came across your article. There will be nothing best then this. You made my day and been a guidelines on the succession planning of my 16 store managers. Thank you again.

  3. Thanks so much Beth, this is a great article and everyone in retail need to read this, if just to remind themselves of the basics of being a successful leader in the retail industry

  4. Great article and highly enjoy your insight. I would accept feedback from your fellow peers as well as any mentor that has input in their journey. Thank you

  5. Beth I’m just coming across this great article and wanted you to know how spot on you are with this. I myself am, DM emerging leader in CVS and can relate to all your bullet points. Thank you for sharing!

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