One of the most obtuse questions I am frequently asked by recruiters or hiring managers that contact me is “Do you know how to lead a team?” [or a variation thereof]. Upon hearing this, I take a very deep breath and instantly know the person asking has only glanced at my résumé or my LinkedIn profile – if they have reviewed my background at all. Following a very dramatic mental eye roll, I launch into my description of how I have been designing and developing effective teams for over 20 years [14 of those years I didn’t have company resources or tools for Learning & Development – I had to train, coach, develop my team members (up to 800) through dialogs, accessibility, inspiration, motivation, and one-on-one engagement] to deliver top company performance and profitability. For the past – almost – three years I have been a consultant – primarily supporting companies with L&D programs and strategies, I have worked with approximately eight companies in the US and Europe. These have been small, six location retail/restaurant venues with a total of 500 employees to larger – 200 location big box DIY stores with over 2500 employees [HQ & Field].During my three year adventure as a consultant, my success has been my ability to be an active, creative, and inspiring colleague to the executive team and company leadership and to be a motivational influence to my peers and coworkers throughout the organizations that I have had the good fortune to work with. I have never been able to work as a single unit inside a silo – I would fail miserably if that were the case. I am energized and humbled by working with and leading people to greatness. It brings an enormous sense of purpose to my day and accomplishment to my daily work and efforts. I practice the culture contribution – consistently – of being of genuine service to my colleagues in every business I represent.

When I mention unique achievements I have been able to add to my résumé over the course of the last two years, that is when I usually encounter the “teamwork” question in various forms. When I mention I have been published several times in business magazines, when I mention how I have spoken at three retail forums and leadership summits in 2018, the fact that my little Excellence In Retail blog [that I do not monetize] has exceeded 1.6 million readers, and through my blog I have written almost 300 articles with the objective of being a source of development, learning, information, and growth for people that are interested in their professional development. The myopic question of “Do you know how to lead a team?” immediately makes me wonder what type of culture the companies have:

  • Do people work in hierarchical silos in that organization?
  • Do they have an issue with leadership that lacks moxie, boldness, or the ability to deliver results?
  • Do they seek to only invite safe, homogenized copies of other people into their company?
  • Is there a profound lack of engagement in their workplace where people don’t support their colleagues?
  • Does innovation unsettle the leaders and executives in the company?

Why would the assumption be that because someone has accomplished things outside the status-quo of the usual candidate profile – things that are exciting and uncommon – not make them able or willing to effectively build and lead a team or work well with others? All of my efforts and professional objectives have been in the interest of making teams and individuals stronger, more enterprising, elevate engagement, and provide some tools and resources for companies and people to be…better.

Ambitious, intelligent, interested, involved, innovative, and impassioned leaders are pathologically focused on team and cultivating strong and beneficial working relationships at all times. They function without hidden agendas and are fierce about their growth and development and sharing what they have learned with others.  They are great communicators and can inspire and motivate people through action and example.


It would befit more hiring managers and recruiters to learn the principles of genuine and successful leaders [in conjunction with understanding the role they are seeking to fill] – to be able to ask questions and uncover truths that identify the candidates who are truly able to galvanize and embolden a team to deliver greatness, to contribute to the organizational culture, and to identify the next generation of organizational leadership. Though not a comprehensive list – here are some fundamental qualities of truly incredible leaders:

Is Leadership A Title Or A Series Of Behaviors?: I know a few people with a “leadership” title that is only that…a title. Leaders are people who take responsibility for making smart, courageous, and difficult decisions; they teach people to make thoughtful decisions, their support their people when they make a mistake. Leaders take action to drive change and improvement. True leaders are the ones who empower people to discover and unlock their potential. They support the career path of those they are lucky enough to mentor. The simple title of “leader” on someone’s business card or LinkedIn profile can’t do these thing. People are the ones to choose their leader. They do this by seeing that the behavior and words of the person guiding them is aligned, they believe in the integrity of the person they choose to follow. Real leaders shape a better reality, they are the catalyst for the culture contribution of the people they work with.

They Know The Best Way To Influence Is To Be The Example: A true leader embodies what the team stands for, and they are an active, accessible, and involved member of the team. Unlike weak and ineffective managers who tell team members what to do and talk about how busy they are; great leaders lead by example. Authentic and remarkable leaders know that their team is watching them at all times, they are listening to them, and learning from them. Especially during hard times when weak leaders cave and employ excuses and assign blame to “circumstances” to weasel out of delivering results. Truly strong leaders face obstacles with confidence, determination, and ownership. They create future leaders that will model these behaviors.

Leaders Work Hard To Make A Difference Every Single Day: When I recollect the greatest leaders in history – they have a couple things in common. The greatest accomplishment is that they all made a difference. They changed the world through innovation and action.  Leadership is not just setting ambitious goals and achieving them with your team. Leadership is not just brilliant public speaking or great communication skills. If you are truly an excellent leader, you have a list of accomplishments and improvements you have contributed  – maybe you have done these as a single unit or as part of a greater unit – but they are always for the benefit of others.

They Are Known As Experts:  It is not unusual to see fabulous leaders interviewed, quoted, sought after all the time. They become known for their expertise around their industry, their people actively tap into their knowledge, creating more learning opportunities for their organization and their team members. Truly effective leaders understand that becoming known as an expert is a big responsibility which means to instill and share their knowledge with those they are lucky enough to lead and influence.

They Focus On Purpose Over Profit: People are inspired by knowing that their hard work makes a difference beyond profitability.  People want leaders who see beyond the obvious and look to create wider reaching impact that extends into the employee’s personal career collateral. Great retail leaders show employees what they are capable of even before the employees are aware of it. It’s not about the profits for most employees [unless they have a stake in them] but it is about the growth and possibilities of how employees can excel, grow, and derive a sense of accomplishment from their efforts – the best of the best leaders help their team see this.

They Are ALL About Their People: It’s all about people for great leaders. Their team, their business partners, their customers, their boss(es). The best leaders put most of their time and energy into helping other people be more successful, by making connections, providing feedback, professional growth, challenging the status quo, courageously eliminating things that don’t add value, and through providing the resources and support they need. Fabulous leaders create meaning & purpose for their team members and in doing so give them alignment around the organization’s vision and values.

They Create A Team Culture Of Cohesiveness & Collaboration: Phenomenal leaders know their people are their most valuable resource. They embrace their people as individuals and contributors to a collective team and devote their energy to promoting its cohesiveness and collaboration each and every day. Strength, balance, consistency, and unity makes teams unstoppable. Even if this isn’t the culture in the organizations, great leaders makes this a non-negotiable for their team.

They Promote & Recognize Fearless Behavior: One of my most favorite professional and personal values of strong leader is “excel & improve“. Weak leaders are those who fear mistakes are inclined to always play it safe and follow the status quo. They are unlikely to summon up the intestinal fortitude needed to initiate change or innovation [they also have difficulty adapting to change, in general]. Great leaders encourage innovation and don’t penalize mistakes, people are absolutely more comfortable sharing ideas, trying new things, and offering unique solutions to overcome issues or obstacles. Building a culture that creates comfort around excelling and improving challenges people to deliver new ideas – to look, learn, and work outside their immediate area(s) of comfort and the best leadership makes it easy and safe to share ideas.

They Are Committed & Passionate Self-Developer: Remarkable leaders are passionate learners.  They are interested in and enthusiastic about learning new things or seeing things from a different perspective. They encourage risk-taking to achieve unique results for the business and their team and evaluate the results objectively. They know that “what got use here, won’t get us there” and they actively seek out information that will help keep their leadership style relevant, current, and highly effective.