What does it mean to be a leader?

April Sabral

/ Leadership

Developing Leadership Skills is an ongoing Journey for anyone in Retail Management.

Last week I was asked to define leadership versus management training my answer was this…Management Training is the technical skill meaning the role and responsibilities of running an operational business.

Developing Leadership Skills however is an ongoing journey of experience. Your leadership skills develop based on HOW you handle situations at any given moment.

You may experience learning how to complete a schedule for example in your management training program while part of leadership development could include communication training.

So to answer that question “what does it mean to be a leader?”

I would simply say….

It’s the art of balancing people versus process.

We know that leaders need to follow processes to manage work flow but without people skills managers will fail to gain willing followers that help them execute the process required, and without willing followers you are not a leader.

While some leaders are born naturally gifted many have to develop certain skills to grow into the leader they can be. Reading and learning about leadership is a process just like any skill development.

One of the hardest skills for any leader to master is having honest conversations with people.

WHY? Because managerial courage is a competency that takes time and experience to acquire.

Its one of those skills that most people don’t naturally have. So how can you gain experience without blundering through conversations that will actually inspire your team to work harder for you? And learn leadership skills at the same time.



Read and learn from the experts.

I know from personal experience it is easy to have honest conversations when providing positive feedback. However when it’s the opposite of that it becomes more challenging. You must address team members that are impacting the team, store, results and or customer experience because as the manager it’s your job.

There are many books and courses you can take to develop leadership skills and its important to do your research on different types of leadership training programs. While many provide theoretical philosophies on leadership there are others that can give you practical methods that can be applied and immediately change the way you lead.

Situational Leadership was one of the best management training programs I was fortunate to attend during my early years when I was as a manager in the USA. This workshop shows managers how to separate themselves and their emotions, judgements and assumptions from the situation that is currently happening that needs to be dealt with. The power of this allows managers to look at the facts and not the feelings and then provide relevant coaching and feedback in any given situation.

Why I loved this leadership development training so much was because it helped me reflect on my emotions and how they actually hindered me making decisions that were good for the business.

Emotions can get in the way of our objectivity. And the reason why Situational Leadership has been so effective for so many leaders for so many years is that it really allows you the manager to step back assess and approach with a clear method and then gain the experience necessary to deal with situations while encouraging your team at the same time. How it works is you match the situation on the chart below to your leadership approach. For example if you assess you are dealing with a D1 situation (meaning situation not person) then you will use S 1. As a manager you could be D1 or D4 depending on the situation at hand. Then as the leader you can approach each situation appropriately.


If you have not attended one of these workshops through the company that you work for you can always read this book that accompanies SL1. This is one of the best reads if you are starting off in management or even if you have been a retail manager for a while it will be a great refresher. Sometimes the simplest books are the most powerful ones. This is a management training book that every leader should read.


In this book you see how different scenarios couldplay out based on how the manger deals with it.

When you learn to curb the emotions and get to the point it will support your leadership be more effective and influential.

However there will still be times when you need to provide feedback and your emotions will get the best of you.

I still remember the first time I had to provide someone with honest feedback and how nervous I felt. It seems so long ago now after over 25 years in a supervisory role and like anything the more you do something the easier it gets. But if you had told me that back then it would not have made a difference to the way I felt the day I had to have my first performance conversation with an employee that was not performing. I put it off for days and weeks before I realized that if I didn’t nip it in the but it could impact the rest of the team.

It was either I allowed it to continue and run the risk of performing team members leaving or I had to just get on and deal with it.

When someone else’s performance becomes your performance its time to deal with it.

These were wise words one of my previous bosses said to me over 20 years ago. When you think about it like this it changes your perspective. This means you have to ask yourself when putting off that conversation that needs to happen. Am I prepared to be measured by someone else’s performance?

Most managers starting off in their retail career find it difficult to provide performance based feedback. It’s not the easiest thing to do however most performing employees actually appreciate their manager being honest. I truly believe most people want to do a good job.

There are tips to help you have these conversations and the more you have the better you will get, trust me after 25 years of holding performance conversations it does get easier.

Here are a few tips:

1. Stick to the facts not opinions

2. When someone takes you off track, bring them back to the subject at hand

3. Provide consequences in advance

4. Be clear with your expectations

5. Use the Job description as a tool to measure and provide feedback show them where they are not meeting expectations

6. Make sure managers know that their performance is based on the entire team

7. Provide timelines for improvement

8. Schedule time to discuss performance on a routine basis

Leadership takes courage. If you are not willing to have these conversations then you will never really be able to build a high performance team. Let’s break down the points above a bit deeper.

Stick to the facts: When gathering your thoughts to provide honest feedback its very important that all facts are provided and not your personal opinion. Opinions sound like this “its cold today” versus “It’s raining today” Cold is your own opinion to someone else it may not be cold, however rain is something that is visible and you can actually see it.

When someone takes you off track, bring them back to the subject at hand: This happens often. To spot when this is happening ask yourself what has this got to do with what I am addressing? People like to give many reasons as to why things have happened and it is important to listen however its even more important to bring them back to the matter at hand. If you feel thats it’s getting heated and confusing a good thing to do would be to take a break pause and come back to it. You can do this by saying lets take a 5 minute break and reconvene. Or simply state this is not what we are addressing today this is especially helpful when the person you are addressing blames another person or situation.

Provide consequences in advance: This is my favourite! Why? Because it really helps put the ownership on the other person to decide what they want to do. Simply said this could be letting the person know in advance that if something is not completed then they will have to work the extra hours to get it done. This might not sound like a consequence but it absolutely is as they will loose personal time and have to stay longer. What you are doing is setting a clear example if the task at hand is not completed. There are many other consequences but this is a good one it doesn’t have to be a written warning it could be something this simple. So think about what those mutually agreed consequences could be.

Be clear with your expectations: Simply put if you have already trained this person then you should be very clear with them. Most managers get stuck re training over and over gain. Once the training has been completed be very clear with the WHO not the HOW. What you expect from your team not HOW they get it done. This would sound like this ” I expect all leaders to execute the….To company standard” I expect you to provide your team feedback daily” you’re not telling them what to say you are simply providing the expectation tot he WHO not the HOW.

Use the Job description as a tool to measure and provide feedback show them where they are not meeting expectations: This is one of the simplest ways to use your tools and be clear. I used to make it a point to read my own and check if I am doing everything. I would ask my boss for feedback quarterly and have them show me where I could improve using the job description it makes it very clear.

Make sure managers know that their performance is based on the entire team: If you lead a team of managers as a district manager or department store manager then let your managers know that their performance is based on the entire team. Managers are only as successful as their weakest link.

Provide timelines for improvement: Set a timeline and let the other person know that it is their responsibility to update you if they are not going to meet it. I think the best people at this are project managers its because they are paid on milestones. Creating this behaviour in a team is one of the best things you can do. It empowers them and also allows you to follow up when necessary. I always ask “When do you thin you can progress that done by?” and then follow it with “If you don’t think you can reach the deadline agreed for any reason please update me on progress thanks”

Schedule time to discuss performance on a routine basis: Very important. Most managers say things like “We talk all the time thats why I don’t set up calls with my team to discuss performance they know where they stand.” You actually take the opportunity away to ensure your team members are very clear on their performance. Even though you may provide coaching in the moment do they really truly know where they stand on the scale of performance assessment. Setting time aside allows the team member to be prepared. Every day coaching is impactful but even more is taking time once a quarter to review job performance and development plans is such a worth while investment.

Also remember its important to have these conversations but also important where? Don’t have them in the corner of a stock room where every one else can hear you. Make sure you treat the person with respect and find a space that is quiet and located in a spot where it’s ok if the person you are providing feedback to doesn’ t respond well.

So may times I have seen managers provide feedback to their staff in the wrong place. They say that body language and tone is the most important piece of communication. So make sure you are thinking about this as well. Also make sure to touch base with the person you have had a conversation with before they leave for the day if possible.

Checking in and ensuring your people feel ok shows that you care. It also forces them to re connect which is very important before they go home.

Feedback is tough for some people to hear so make it your responsibility to provide it in the right way at the right place and at the right time.

Leaders have many different requirements and the art of developing these take time. I have learned that every person in a leadership role will only progress to a higher level of leadership if its something that they actually prioritize. Motivating and Inspiring a team is not an easy task. Retail is a fun place but also fast moving with new team members coming and going constantly. So taking the time to develop leadership skills is a commitment to yourself.

I have written a report that shares the ten most powerful tips for todays Retail Managers.

Retail Managers are dealing with more educated customers than in previous years, as the online shopping experience provides insight into customers to do their research in advance. T

Therefor teams and managers working in retail now need to know more now than they ever did.

What does it mean to be a Leader in retail today?

This special bonus report shares 10 Tips that todays retail leaders must master to have a successful career and lead a team.

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