Qualities Of The Top Retail Leaders

Qualities Of The Greatest Retail Leaders

Somewhere, once upon a time, I heard that there were 60 common attributes used to assess leaders in any industry – but there are nine qualities that separate the “good enough” leader [there are lots of these in retail] with the exceptional leaders [there aren’t nearly enough of these in retail].

Why are we swimming in a sea of mediocrity? My opinion – (1) Because retail organizations aren’t prepared to compensate top performers fairly because they are afraid it will hurt the feelings of the “good enough” and poor performers and then mayhem will occur [aka: litigation]. (2) Retail organizations are, mostly, uninspired, and – frankly – bad when it comes to recognition and appreciation. (3) Retail organizations don’t have a solid succession planning and/or career path planning process so they don’t know how to develop, grow, invest in the success of their top performers. So they just give them more work to do to support their underperforming peer group.

There are nine qualities that set truly phenomenal leadership apart from the flock of sheep average retail leadership that permeates organizations today that we are missing the opportunity to reward. They are:

Intrepid Retail Leadership

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  • Willingness To Take Calculated Risks: Great leadership adapts and adjusts to the changing landscape of the retail world. They understand that what got you here, won’t get you there and they develop and implement innovative solutions to drive results, daily. The best retail leaders understand with every fiber of their being that hope is not a strategy and each success is deliberate and developed for maximum impact and results.
  • Bias Towards Thoughtful Action: Truly effective retail leaders refuse to create or take part in sabotage by meetings or committees. They are persuasive and influential and their words and direction are a catalyst for action. They involve their team in the process for the most compelling, potent, and well-thought-through plan and they communicate their expectations clearly and concisely to the team. The team is then galvanized and ready to implement and create their own successful destiny.  Then they recognize and celebrate their results while everyone else in the organization is trying to play catch up.
  • Optimistic: They are optimistic for a couple of reasons – because they have consistently produced results that are best in company and they are ready to overcome obstacles that are ahead of them in partnership with their team. They pursue new opportunities with enthusiasm and function with agility, determination, and focus.
  • They Are Constructively Tough Minded: They are thick-skinned and perserverent, but not without empathy. They understand that they need to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer and the company but that are not always popular with their team. Through transparent and consistent communication they work with their teams to explain and clarify direction but understand they must proceed with a certain course of action.

Team Building

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  • Ability To Efficiently “Read” People: The best retail leaders understand their team as a collective unit and how each individuals works within that team. They do not spend countless hours overanalyzing it or kvetching about the ineptness of their team members. Each person inside the team knows their role and how it fits in with the objectives of the business. The team leader communicates to the group and the individuals in the most effective way. Great retail leadership builds a team of creative, hard-working, and passionate individuals who share a common purpose and they understand how to motivate that group of smart, unique, talented, and driven individuals to achieve strong and sustainable results.
  • Forward Thinking: Average and mediocre retail leaders spend their time complaining over past failures, assigning blame, being victims, and delivering little more than excuses as to why they cannot produce results. Great retail leaders have a solid plan in place and are looking to the horizon to determine how they need to adjust and reinvent their approach to the business tomorrow to achieve desired results. When they experience failure – they fix it and move on. When they have a toxic team members – they fix it and move on. They lead and guide their team to the daily evolution of retail.
  • Measured Emotion: Great retail leaders display their humanness. They are not robots. They maintain control on their emotions but absolutely understand that to effectively engage their team and their customer they need to be real people.
  • Pragmatically Inclusive: Great retail leaders understand that to get the best results they have to have the support of their team so they include and involve them in decision making – incidentally, they also develop decision making skills in their team members.  They are are great independent decision makers and can drive results but quickly processes information and creating a great plan to deliver results regardless of the hurdle.
  • Willingness To Trust: Great retail leaders understand the need to foster a culture of trust that goes both ways. They also know that one bad or dishonest person can put the entire team at risk and they act on that quickly.


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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8 thoughts on “Qualities Of The Top Retail Leaders

  1. All good points and especially-“Great retail leaders understand that to get the best results they have to have the support of their team so they include and involve them in decision making.”

  2. Great article Beth, very insightful and uplifting. I can relate to the point on being Optimistic and loved the point on Forward Thinking, but all very valued points. Thanks.

  3. Beth- forward thinking is very critical especially having the ability to both recognize and take action with a toxic team member. It only takes one member of the team to destroy the dream… but it is the leader’s responsibility to recognize and act!
    Nice article!

      1. Beth,
        Great read. So many important call outs. The two that really stand out for me would be having the skill to read your talent and forward thinkers. Great post.

  4. Great post Beth. What a reflexion about “Good Enough” and “Exceptional” Leaders!!!! I give thanks to my last company where I worked because I appreciate it had let me develop most of them the last 5,5 years. I am impatient keep improving. Your article encourage me and give confidence.

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