7 Regrettable [But Avoidable] Mistakes Retail Leaders Make

7 Regrettable [But Avoidable] Mistakes Retail Leaders Make

Regardless of what level of leadership you currently are in inside the retail industry there are challenges that exist that can bring you and your team’s momentum to a screeching halt. A valuable leadership competency in retail is to possess and exhibit a high-level of self-awareness – which, in essence, means that we have to frequently step back and assess our style to determine if we are leading our teams and our own performance in the right direction and if we are optimizing our team talents in the process. If we are not, we need to reinvent our approach and upskill our style.

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  • Not Providing Feedback: Regardless of where “Delivering Fair & Balanced Feedback and Performance Guidance” sits on our job descriptions, our biggest responsibility is to guide our team, grow their career collateral, uncover their latent talents, and recognize performance to drive productivity and engagement. Inside of that responsibility sits a lot of other “job description” components but we have a tremendous responsibility to our team members and creating a culture conducive to learning, development, customer experience, and phenomenal success.  Whether it is out of the need to be liked or we are just plain afraid of giving feedback, our inability to deliver fair and balanced feedback is hurting the business and the team.
  • Not Being Able To Articulate Meaning & Purpose of Projects/Tasks: As retail leaders we are driven by organizational process to create a laundry list of “to-do’s” for our teams and manage the directives that are sent from Home Office. Even in the candidate market we have hiring managers walk us through stores and talk about all the “misses” in a store [lights out, graphics missing, empty real estate, etc.] – an overwhelming and uninspiring focus and task list of things to do after the boss exits their business from a visit. There is very rarely ever a dialog about why these things are important to focus on [and quite frankly if you have hired the right store leadership team – these things are non-issues and you can discuss more important things]. Being able to bring meaning and purpose to even the most tedious and mundane tasks will help your team identify why something is important. Just because you understand it – doesn’t mean that others do [and being able to create awareness around, and define importance of, a boring chore is something that separates good from great leaders].

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  • Using A General Approach To Inspiration & Motivation: Simply putting up a motivational poster, sending a pedestrian motivational quote/image, giving a daily pep talk, or making recognition an expositional process in your day/week isn’t going to inspire anyone to do anything. It’s your job as a leader to understand what truly motivates the individuals within your team, and provide that motivation in all areas of the business. All too often we impose the style and manner of motivation that we are most comfortable with on others. Very rarely is a cookie cutter approach the correct approach. Some of your team members will be motivated by monetary rewards, public recognition, others by a thank you note, some will want time and attention placed on their career path planning. You can’t streamline communication or inspiration. You need to tailor it to your audience – be that an individual or a team. Getting to know and learn about the people that compose your team and how they fit into the aggregate will help you to shape your inspirational leadership approach.
  • Hiring The Wrong People: Hiring to the wrong or outdated criteria. When you fail to proactively recruit true talent, you are stuck hiring the best of the worst applicants and that is a myopic and dangerous approach in today’s retail environment. Everyone pays a tremendous amount of lip service to the value of hiring “top talent”, but still too many organizations and retail “managers” are “winging it” by asking a parochial list questions that increasingly sophisticated candidates are able to sail through. Most interviewing “managers” will let clichéd answers slip by without pressing for the candidate to articulate experience or asking for examples. Yet the best and most successful leaders know that the majority of their job is sourcing, selecting, and developing the right people to their team’s dynamic and needed critical success factors. These soft and quiet competencies are never determined by a résumé alone or by the traditional questions asked during interviews. It takes a lot of time and effort to put together a great, efficient, and cohesive team but the payback comes when you have team members that are focused on the business and understand the expectations  – and deliver on those things so you can invest your time into developing them to the next level. And according to Gallup82% of hiring processes don’t pick the right talent – it’s definitely time to reinvent the process.
  • Unable To Effectively Coordinate Initiatives: Great and effective leaders: (1) Set the right priorities; (2) Invite the right people onto the team who can deliver on those priorities; and (3) Create an environment where innovation and creativity can inspire excellence. Most aggregate retail teams are made up of distributed teams  -but still teams that share a common vision and compelling purpose that is built around business goals and objectives. When the leader can bring clarity and focus, and galvanize a team around those key directives and keep the organization’s processes organized and efficient it leaves time for important leadership commitments to take priority in the workplace and during visits. When it comes to establishing and maintaining this culture, there is a certain amount of innovation and risk-taking involved because this is a unique approach to growth and human leadership that requires courage and fearlessness on everyone’s part. However, the results truly stand-out among the average and “good enough” leaders that use hope as their primary business strategy.

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  • Trying To Do It All: This is a common issue especially for leaders who are entering into the next level of their career. One common motivation for trying to do everything yourself is a belief that you’re the only one capable of handling the task at hand. You can do it better or faster. You may see your junior level team members as unable to handle a responsibility due to a lack of experience or innate ability. However, if this is truly the case, you may have a fundamental problem in your hiring practices and team development abilities. You need to build a team that’s capable, a team that you can trust to handle tasks – even if they have to stretch themselves.  If they are capable but choose not to take on assignments because they don’t care enough to, you may need to do some restructuring, but before you make any hires or fires, take a deep look at yourself and ask if you’re holding onto the tasks yourself because you’re afraid of giving up control and making it difficult or not worth it to take on additional responsibility.
  • Hubris | Ego: As mentioned, one of the marks of the great leader is a high-level of self-awareness and also the ability to surround themselves with people who will be open, honest, and transparent with them and challenge them. People who are courageous and driven enough to be able to tell their boss what is and is not working for them. Weak and insecure leaders make sure they surround themselves with “yes men” and people who the “manager” can control and force into compliance. Great leadership seeks business partners who are the “yin to their yang”. Because strong retail leaders possess self-awareness they can identify talent that has strengths they do not, and they can leverage and appreciate those strengths and help support growth in their opportunity areas. Hubris is a reactive disorder – most of the time it is the manifestation of a successful streak that causes a retail leader to suffer the delusion that they cannot lose. Many good “managers” will, under bad circumstances, suffer from hubris— but they tend to recover when their luck runs out or their key business driver leaves. Great leadership is always looking for new ways to deliver excellence, knowing that they can’t/won’t rely on luck to determine their fate. If they achieve top results, they want to achieve even better results next week and they understanding they have to involve and embrace their team’s talents, knowledge, and suggestions in the process.


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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2 thoughts on “7 Regrettable [But Avoidable] Mistakes Retail Leaders Make

  1. Great article, you made very good points which are commonly found within some of our top retailers. The problem lies with the leadership within these said retailers, their needs to be a bigger focus on developing leaders to drive innovation and commitment to continued improvement,as opposed just management to drive compliance .Good has always been the enemy of Great.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment, Stuart. It’s is frightening how frequently I have conversations with retailers and these issues come up. I agree – if we focus on doing the right thing. embracing innovation, letting go of the “this is how we’ve always done it” way of thinking, and find out what our customer’s and customer-facing team members need and have to say – we would be in a much healthier place as an industry!

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