Having worked in retail for around 15 years, from a Christmas temp up to Store Manager, I have came across some great leaders and some not so great and I’ve always made a conscious effort to learn as much as possible from the great ones. I believe that leadership skills are important not only in the workplace but in every day life too.
So, what makes a great leader?
There are many layers to being a great leader, but the most important one is good people skills. You need to be approachable and motivating to get the best out of your team.
Back in 2007 a took on the position of Suit Concession Manager at Burton Menswear. I had just left university where I had studied Clothing Design and running my own concession sounded perfect as I would have full creative control. My manager, Andrew was and still is one of the best managers that I have worked for. What set him out from the others was his ability to be assertive yet approachable. You always knew where you stood with him and he was very driven which would rub off on the younger staff. You could have a serious discussion about targets and then a funny conversation about the latest Rihanna song or what pub you were going to with your friends after work.
As well as being our manager and our friend he had a way of mentoring his team. He was never a manger who would sit in the office all day, he would be on the shop floor constantly merchandising, and pulling you aside to help, while training you at the same time, and if you weren’t pulling your weight (which, as young ones we didn’t always do) he would let us know.
After a year under his leadership I took a similar position at Jane Norman and then a Store Manager position at Quiksilver. Both jobs came with very little training but I was able to utilise the training from Burton. I realised that having a strong team was important, so I prioritised regular staff training evenings, nights out and one to one chats once a week. I absolutely adored by team and the friendship that we built at Quiksilver.
I fondly remember being a few months into my job at Quiksilver and serving Andrew as a customer and picking his brain about how best to run my store. It was almost like a kid seeking their parents approval.
Another part of being a great leader is enjoying what you do. You can’t expect your team to enjoy their job if you are always negative and complaining about the job. I’m not saying you have to be jolly at all times, but there needs to be a balance between complaining about the job and enjoying it and knowing how to manage your stress levels.
When I worked at Cotswold Outdoor I had the role of Admin Assistant and Local Marketing Rep. So I worked very closely with the store management team, I was the middle man or woman if you like between the store manager and companies/clients. We were the highest performing store in the whole of the UK, regularly supplying the big oil companies with clothing and outdoor enthusiasts with new kit and training advice, but even in such a fast-paced job I never saw my manager stressed. In fact we used to joke that he was possibly the most laid back person in the world, he would always make sure the kettle was on and that the team had a brew behind the till. On 5am stocktake days we would come to work in our pj’s and he would treat us to breakfast and coffee from the local greasy spoon. I feel that the positive effect and the strong team mentality was what made our store so profitable. I remember transferring to the Liverpool store with the aim of making the store more profitable but struggled with a team which weren’t as close and who didn’t have as strong a leader.
As leaders we need to look at our team like our kids. Train them, motivate them, find out what makes them tick and how you can work together to get the best out or them. That ‘lazy’ team member might be struggling with self-doubt, or might feel like they don’t know how to improve their skills. This is why regular chats are important, and not only in formal appraisals but informal chats too.