Tag Archives: Level 5 Leadership

The Challenge of Taking Over Leadership of a Retail Team

You’ve landed the management gig. Let me start by saying congratulations. But before you get too carried away, it’s important to remember that (at this time) you’re nothing more than an outsider. That means you’ve got a lot of impressing and learning to do.

It’s also worth pointing out that resignations can follow structural changes, so you might find a few unwanted letters on your desk when you walk into your new office. Combine that with figuring out what’s what, and you’ve got one hell of a challenging road ahead.

In any event, there are some things you can do to bring yourself up-to-speed quickly and ensure your team accepts the recent change.

Successful businesspeople sitting at conference or seminar during lecture

Successful businesspeople sitting at conference or seminar during lecture

Start by gathering information

You can’t just walk into your new role and act like you know everything because we all know that isn’t possible. Plus, that fancy title you’ve just been awarded isn’t going to be enough to win over an existing crowd. If you want respect, you need to earn it.

The one thing you can do is gather as much information as possible and start teaching yourself about your organisation and team. You should learn:

  • Your organisation’s values, mission and culture
  • The company procedures and systems
  • Workplace expectations
  • Performance standards
  • What your team actually does on a daily basis
  • The exact role of each team member
  • How the work actually gets done

It’s crucial to start off on the right foot and be prepared to ease the transition period for everyone involved.

Make a great first impression

Management changes in any company can make existing members of staff feel uncertain and apprehensive. When you first walk through the door, you can’t blame your new team for questioning whether or not you’re going to be a great person to work with. There’s only one person that can prove you are worthy of the role and their approval – and that’s you.

It’s likely that your personality and management style will differ from the person’s shoes you’re filling. That’s perfectly fine. Having said that, you need to show everyone that you’re happy to be there. Make sure your body language reflects that of a leader who genuinely wants to learn the ropes. You also need to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut in terms of making important decisions early on.

Establish rapport one-on-one

Getting to know each employee as a person will help to form some trust and enable you to learn the fundamentals of his or her job. It also helps to put your new team members at ease with you as a person. Meet one-on-one and start by asking questions about their current tasks and responsibilities within the company. You can even ask about what they’d like you to bring to the table as a manager and any issues that have been hindering them before you arrived.

Once you’ve established a bit more about their role, ask them about their family and hobbies. You can also share some of your own stories and personal interests. It will show that you care about getting to know them, which in term, can lead to staff members being more open with you. Just make sure you make the time to meet up often with every person, especially in the first few months.

Hold team meetings

It’s a great way to grow your team and bring in fresh thinking, which are two things everyone in your organisation can benefit from. Holding regular team meetings also gives your team the opportunity to speak off the record and in front of each other. You can encourage interaction with some simple questions, such as:

  • What changes would you like to see in the team?
  • Are there any things you wouldn’t like to see changed?
  • What do you expect from me?
  • Do you feel you need further training in your role?

These are all important questions to ask when taking over an existing team. You can add to them and ask your staff whether there are any other things they’d like to discuss in your meetings. As time goes on, your brainstorming sessions will change – but always ensure your meetings are about work only and not the personal traits of any employee.

I should also point out that you absolutely must take notes during group meetings. You might find that certain individuals make comments that would be good main topics for future meetings or valuable points that you’d like to follow up on in one-on-one sessions.

It’s a lot of work, isn’t it? However, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can build a strong and loyal team when you manage your staff well from the get-go. Good luck.

4 Leadership Lessons You Need to Learn Fast

Recently, I came across this article about the Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. Some of you may not know this but I graduated from Clemson University so I was interested to see how the coach of Clemson’s football team applied the principles of Good to Great to achieve success.


There are great leaders and there are bloody awful leaders. As for the rest, they’re merely inbetweeners. Now, I don’t know about you, but I know which part of the bench I’d want to sit on. Not the left or the in the middle. I’d only want to be on the right side of that leadership bench.

While you can’t get a degree in great leadership, you can learn valuable lessons through experience. Even better, you can learn the fundamentals of leadership very early on in your career. And – quite frankly, the earlier you learn, the more likely you are to have a better and more successful future.

Constant improvement

Did you know that when he became Clemson’s permanent head coach, it was Dabo Swinney’s first head coaching job? Obviously, the man had a lot to learn and that’s what he did. In his first three seasons coaching the Tigers, Swinney lost 16 games. In the following five years he’s only lost nine games. And in the last two years he has only lost one game each year and has vied for the championship one year and won it the next.

A great leader will continuously develop and improve in many ways throughout their professional career. However, you need to have a real desire for constant self-improvement. As a COO or Director, there will always be new things to learn that will help you mature and evolve. But that’s not all. You also need to challenge every member of your team to keep improving.

I mean – how else do see your company reaching new levels of success when you don’t allow room for growth? When you push yourself and your team, you’ll also notice a boost in positive energy, which will motivate everyone to keep reaching for excellence.

Surround yourself with star players

One thing that Swinney is famous for is accepting a lower starting salary so that Clemson could afford top coordinators. Here’s a man who was willing to sacrifice his own paycheck to ensure that he surrounded himself by the best and brightest minds. The best part though is that Swinney took advantage of those minds. He didn’t micromanage or try to tell them what to do; he just let them do what they did best.

The same rules apply to your business. Surrounding yourself with the best tech, marketing and operations experts means that you won’t need to constantly worry that everyone is doing their job. You can trust that everything is running as it should.

That doesn’t mean you should have favourites by the way. The moment you make it obvious that you prefer your top performers and start to ignore everyone else, you are going to land yourself in tricky territory. It’s perfectly fine for your employees to make mistakes and slip up every now and then. You just need to help these lower achieving individuals become star players.

Set expectations for your team and offer guidance to anyone who struggles. A great leader will know how to bring out the best in every member of their organisation. Plus, it shows that you care about them being happy in their work. Yes, surround yourself with star players, but don’t ever be put off by helping others to get their bums on that bench too.

Always be positive

Unless you’re a Vince Lombardi, Nick Saban or Bill Parcells, it’s unlikely that you can inspire and lead your team with fear and intimidation. If you can, that’s great, but otherwise, keeping a positive attitude like Swinney is the best approach.

Even when your company is going through a rough patch, kick the bad times in the teeth with some fighting spirit. If everyone else around you can feel your negative vibes or see that certain obstacles are getting to you, then they’re likely to behave in the same way.

Think about it. Can you picture a great leader who is well-known for being negative and fearful? Would you want to hire or work with someone like that? Always be unfailingly positive, regardless of how good or bad the situation. Of course, you need to be realistic and understand the brutal facts – the tough times are there to challenge you, but when you smile in the face of your troubles, you’ll learn how to navigate the bad times, and in turn, become a stronger leader.

Leave the ego at home

As Theodore Roosevelt once said; “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This statement is absolutely true. If you’re only concerned with getting credit when things go right, then you are never going to be a great leader. And anyway – no one expects you to be perfect. Nor should you expect your team to be the same.

Make sure you always put your self-interest at the back of your mind and show your people some support. This is especially important when your team has achieved success, even without your help. The same can be said for when something goes wrong. Have a little compassion and take responsibility for any bad decisions and anyone affected by them.


Setting the path for Greatness

Have you ever thought about the stories behind the great retail businesses you see? Many people think great organisations are often overnight successes with outstanding facilities and teams to make it happen. I can assure you that very few great retail businesses get to where they are now without persistence. Their transformations come from persistently and consistently building their retail empires for many years.

Ambitions concept with businessman climbing stairs


With so many Australian retail companies clueless to the fact that fads and gimmicks rarely work to jump-start their success, it’s no wonder they fail miserably in business. If you aren’t prepared to put in the time and effort it takes to go from good to great, then you’ll just end up in a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be a doom loop fool

Author on the subject of company growth, Jim Collins discovered during research that good to great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. So why are an alarming number of retail companies taking all kinds of detours in the hope of reaching their desired destination? It makes no sense to me. However, there are a few things that you need to look at.

The doom loop is a concept created by Collins that involves reaction without understanding, new direction, no build-up of momentum, and disappointing results that lead back to reaction without understanding. Think of it as a vicious cycle. You frequently attempt to launch new promotions with great fanfare to motivate your team and fail to produce sustained results because of the underlying problems. Waste of time, right? You bet your last dollar it is – and there’s your doom loop.

When you combine superficial solutions (such as promotions) with no understanding of your underlying issues, the doom loop occurs. Often, short-term solutions that have a temporary impact just end up making the primary problem worse. Don’t be a doom loop fool.

Be a persistent flywheel

Collins uses the metaphor of a flywheel to represent great companies that have momentum. A flywheel requires many small pushes to get it running in the beginning, and with every push, it gradually increases in speed. The breakthrough moment is when the speed begins to work for the organisation. No significant push can be identified as the one big push that makes a good company launch into greatness. Instead, it takes daily persistence and discipline.

The flywheel will only continue to move when your retail company:

  • Recruits the right people to help keep pushing
  • Engages in Level 5 Leadership
  • Understands your Hedgehog Concept
  • Stays focused on a disciplined culture
  • Faces the brutal facts
  • Provokes thought and action
  • Refuses to stop the momentum from building slowly

It’s all about every member of your organisation wanting to be on a winning team while contributing to producing sustainable results that keep them motivated and excited because their hard efforts pay off. When your co-workers see that you have a plan developed from understanding, they’re more likely to want to be involved and help you achieve great things over time.

Companies that fall into the doom loop try and skip all the key steps to achieving the breakthrough moment and jump in blind. All quick fixes result in is a forward and backward movement that can’t deliver and last. Ultimately, you need the right people on your bus to begin with and the discipline to follow the flywheel approach to set a path for greatness – and stay on the right track.

A Culture of Discipline

Why You Should Create A Strong Culture Of Discipline

Have you ever worked for an organisation and wondered if it’s the lack of leader and worker discipline that has prevented it from rising to the next level? I have – and I’m not alone in my thoughts. Business expert and author of Good to Great, Jim Collins has stated: “a culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.” After all, great retail companies that grow and continue to succeed are led by self-disciplined leaders who encourage a deeper culture of discipline.

businessman thinking and looking in night city


I’m not talking about dictatorship or forcing behaviours and rules. No one likes a tyrant. It’s about creating processes and systems within your company that keep your workers motivated and focussed on ensuring you build a strong foundation of discipline as a team.

However, the breakthrough point can only be reached when you achieve a seamless culture of disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.

Disciplined people

Regardless of how small or large your organisation and your management structure, discipline must start at the top of your retail chain. If there’s a lack of discipline at the head of your team, problems among staff can easily escalate. It’s always up to leaders and CEOs to set the right tone and culture of a business – which is why it’s crucial for you to adopt Level 5 leadership qualities.

Level 5 leaders are humble with huge ambition for their organisation rather than themselves. Not only are great leaders proven to be better at creating a culture of discipline, but they also praise their workers and take personal responsibility when the shit hits the fan.

As a leader, it’s up to you to build discipline in both thought and action by setting clear expectations, reviewing performance, and rewarding disciplined behaviour. You also need to provide those who are unwilling or even unable to help you sustain such a culture of discipline with a one-way ticket off your bus.

Disciplined thought

In my last article, I talked about the Hedgehog Concept – and how retail businesses who are like hedgehogs are able to transform the complexities of a business into simple and profound solutions. The Hedgehog Concept also involves setting a simple business strategy to ensure accelerated growth through three key questions including:

  • What can you be the best at?
  • What drives your economic engine?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?

You need to be honest and disciplined in answering all three questions without being distracted by outside opportunities to find your Hedgehog Concept and stay within the three circles. It takes disciplined thought to understand the three circles and say no to anything that doesn’t fit within them. Without disciplined thought, you won’t create anything great at all.

Disciplined action

To ensure you successfully execute your main business focus and strategy, it’s essential that you take disciplined action. Be sure not to confuse reactive action for proactive action, though, or you’ll end up like many good and average companies that struggle to see long-term growth plans succeed. Start with a ‘to do’ list and a ‘stop doing’ list.

Ask yourself – which actions best support the Hedgehog Concept and which ones don’t? It’s up to you to figure out and strengthen the discipline to do the right things and eliminate anything that falls outside of the Hedgehog Concept’s three intersecting circles.

Essentially, you need to stop:

  • Making rash decisions
  • Trying to expand your business without the right strategy
  • Trying to rival your competitors for the sake of it
  • Hiring people that don’t fit with your disciplined culture
  • Undertaking anything that doesn’t meet your long-term growth plan

You’ll initially need to do some experimenting to build a culture of discipline and responsibility, as well as define specific goals. On-going analysis of your strategy is also key to ensuring your retail business stays on track and you can establish any minor problems before they become too big to rectify.

Ultimately, in order for your business to work, all three concepts must pull in the same direction. But remember – a culture of discipline is not just about action. It’s about building a culture and team of self-disciplined and passionate individuals who engage in disciplined thought and ignore opportunities that fall outside the three circles. Only then can you take disciplined action to ensure the flywheel (your retail business) can really take off.

Don’t Ignore the Brutal Facts!

Never ignore the brutal facts surrounding your organisation

How do you usually react when one of your team tells you that they think there’s something wrong with your business? Are you the type of leader with a tendency to react badly to criticism? Or the type who wouldn’t think twice about brushing off your staff member? If you answered yes – then quite frankly, you’re a bloody idiot.


Your employee could be right, and you should want to know about any issues that reflect badly on your company. After all, you aren’t always going to know everything. You need to face the brutal facts, instead of ignoring or brushing off the people who try and help improve your business.

The Harvard Business Review presents a good case study in which the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? ignored the advice of his VP of Finance who was cautioning their growth, because the VP was a quiet man and seen as “meek”. As a result, the CEO and COO ignored his warnings, the company expanded too quickly and eventually ran out of cash.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that successful organisations are built on an open communication culture. I’ve shared the four key ways to confront the facts of your current reality and determine corrective action without being confrontational.

  1. Lead by asking questions

It is impossible to make great decisions and change when you only push your thoughts and ideas on to others. If you want to be respected as a leader, you must encourage open and effective communication by asking probing questions at the right time. Show your team that you care about their opinion and throw questions at them that require careful thought and focus. The aim is to get honest answers that may highlight any obstacles and problems with your company.

That said, nothing positive can come from someone who is unwilling to listen to answers they do not want to hear. Remember, most of your workers will be nervous about speaking up and sharing the brutal facts with you. Regardless of your opinion, you must work collaboratively as a team and concentrate on where you need to be rather than what got you to where you are now.

  1. Create an environment where honesty is valued

Being heard is very different from being confident enough to say what you think. Every person that works for you should be comfortable to share their honest thoughts – which is why you need to encourage healthy debates. I’m not talking about arguments and differences of opinions that will put your team in a bad mood.

Just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t give you licence to boss people around. Your job is to demonstrate control when confronted with the brutal facts and guide your workers in a productive environment where conclusions can be reached – and you can all move on. Nothing shows authority more than motivating your people to engage in debate and dialogue without coercion.

  1. Investigate problems without pointing the finger

When things go wrong, most managers like to assign blame to protect themselves from being seen as a failure. Pointing the finger and embarrassing others is why these people will never become great leaders. No one can expect to honestly learn from blunders and avoid repeating the same mistakes when they are in denial about how they came about in the first place.

In the words of Dale Carnegie – “Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Whatever the situation, take responsibility for mistakes, analyse failures, and learn from them to ensure success further on down the road. One of the most effective ways to deal with a problem is to openly discuss with your team and decide, together, what needs to happen next.

  1. Create invaluable mechanisms

The greatest thing about creating an environment that allows colleagues to communicate problems without repercussions is finding out metrics and facts that can’t be ignored. Did you know that 54% of employees feel like they don’t regularly get respect from their employers? When you invite all the members of your organisation to raise a red flag when something is about to go wrong, it makes everyone feel valued and respected – and helps you identify potential stumbling blocks.

It’s crucial for every member of your group to feel like they are part of a team and can contribute to solutions – and never want to give up. When you know what you’re fighting, you can stand up to it and take action. Whatever the truth, you can still retain faith in your ability to succeed and have the edge over your competitors when you embrace a climate that energises people to communicate.

Do Australian retailers practice great leadership?

Written by Mike Holtzer for Inside Retail

Do Australian retailers practice great leadership? By ‘great leadership’, I’m referring to the concepts from one of my favourite books, Good To Great by US business consultant and lecturer, Jim Collins. Collins describes a level five leader as, “Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.


This says a lot in a few words, but using this definition of a great leader, I don’t believe there are currently many great leaders in retail in Australia.

In addition to the various other stages of taking a good company and making it great, Collins defines what level five leadership is and why it is so important. He uses detailed in-depth analysis of companies that transformed from ‘good’ to ‘great’ over a 15-year period. The list of companies analysed is very impressive.

A level five leader never lets their ego get in the way of successfully transforming a business. They put the long-term success of the business ahead of their own achievement. A proper leader makes decisions that benefit the long-term transformation of the company, instead of short-term decisions that have a short-lived benefit and the glory that goes with it. This can be an issue with Australian retail leaders that is sometimes exacerbated by private equity firms and public companies.

The mirror/window notion is a key concept for level five leaders. They look in the mirror, at themselves, when something goes wrong and blame themselves. When things go right, they look out the window and credit other people for the success. They do not crave the attention and the celebrity status of success.

Often times, people outside the company or industry don’t even know their names. Think of the most successful companies and see if their leaders are front and centre, or if they put the company front and centre. Look at some of the troubled or failed retailers and see if there was finger pointing at who was at fault.

The willingness to set up a proper succession plan and understanding when the business would be better served by a successor is an important aspect of a great leader. The best ones don’t care that they get credit for the success; whereas lesser leaders actually take pride in the fact that the company would fall apart without them.

Level four leaders are effective leaders who push towards a clear and convincing vision, but they lack the humility needed to achieve true greatness. Their egos get in the way of transforming a business. They typically have short-term success and even some great transformation triumphs, but fail to transform companies in the long run. Think Al Dunlap (Scott Paper) and Lee Iacocca (Chrysler). Collins’ Good To Great outlines many examples of these types of leaders.

There are five levels of leader in all. A level five leader is a combination of all of the levels. With stoic resolve, they do whatever it takes to make a company great. As an apt description, a level five leader is referred to as a ‘plough horse’ and a level four leader a ‘show pony’.

It is no small irony that the determination and motivation that gets people into positions of authority often conflicts with the modesty that is required to be a great leader. Many business owners and boards mistakenly believe that they need a CEO who is larger than life.

You will find a potential level five leader where you find extraordinary results and no person is singled out taking all of the glory. As former US President, Harry S. Truman, put it, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit”.

A level five leader has a blend of personal humility and professional will, where they channel ambition into the organisation, not the self. They are not high flyers or larger than life. They look in the mirror when something goes wrong and look out the window when giving credit.

Now, based on this definition, do we have great leaders in retail in Australia?


Retail Concepts Using “Good to Great”

Here is a simple take away cheat sheet that I use when presenting the six concepts of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and how they relate to the Retail Industry. It is not meant to be a deep dive into the book (some of my upcoming blogs will dig deeper into each concept), but rather a quick reference on the six concepts and a few important points.

Remember the Fly Wheel Effect – all of the concepts work together to achieve the results – there is no miracle moment – it is an evolution. We implemented these concepts at OrotonGroup prior to the major turnaround in the business 10 years ago.


Level 5 Leadership

Personal humility and professional will. They channel ambition into the organisation, not the self. Not a high flyer or larger than life. They look in the mirror when something goes wrong and look out the window when giving credit. Comfortable that they may not get credit for success. Many Australian Retailers achieve Level 4, but few achieve level 5.

First who, then what!

Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Begin with who, rather than what and the transformation will be easier. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. When you need to make a change, make it quickly. Retailers need to have the correct structure with the right people. Nepotism has created issues within several Australian retailers. Only hire friends or relatives if you can separate business with personal.

Confront the Brutal facts (The Stockdale Paradox)

Admiral James Stockdale survived 7 years in a Viet Cong POW camp by hanging onto two contrary beliefs – His Life couldn’t be worse at the moment (the brutal fact) and his life would someday be better than ever (unwavering faith). Be brutally honest about your current situation, but never give up. There are several retail examples in the past few years that demonstrate what happens when you wait too long to confront the brutal facts.

Hedgehog Concept

You need to be the best at your clearly defined niche. You cannot be all things to all people. The intersection between – what you are passionate about, what drives your economic engine and what you can be best at. A Fox knows a little about many things. A Fox is complex. A hedgehog knows only one thing very well. A hedgehog is simple. Department stores struggle with this whereas specialty stores often find this niche and thrive.

Culture of Discipline

Companies build rules to manage a small % of the wrong people which in turns frustrates the right people. A great organisation is high in entrepreneurship and high in discipline (a blend of magic and science). Get everyone going in the same direction with the same goals – communicate.

Technology Accelerators

Technology is not a fix to problems. It helps you achieve a great strategy, but it isn’t a strategy in itself. Use technology to truly differentiate yourself with competitors if warranted. Get the basics right with technology, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Aussie retailers love the concept of technology, but few do it well. If you choose to spend on new technology, make sure that you use it completely – if you collect data – analyse it and adapt your behaviour.


Being a leader vs. being a boss

Throughout your life and professional career you will come across two kinds of managers – leaders and bosses. It doesn’t matter what level these positions are – the managers that rule, scold and are overbearing are more likely to fail, whilst the managers who lead will be successful. Share a vision that people voluntarily want to follow, and you’ll never have to ‘boss’ anyone.

Being in a management role, you oversee a team of employees performing daily tasks and activities. It’s up to you to resolve any issues, hold employees accountable and make sure that the job is being performed to the best possible standards. The issue frequently found is that managers are ineffective leaders, thus resulting in unhappy employees, jobs finished in a poor/rushed/pressured manner leaving a high turnover of employees.

As a manager, it’s imperative to embody the role as a leader rather than a boss. I’ve previously touched on the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. One of the key philosophies I focus on ‘level 5 leadership’.

Great leaders surround themselves with people who support them in all aspects of their careers. It’s important to encourage and display your values through your behaviors and actions. People are more likely to trust and follow leader’s motives if they practice what they preach, after all actions speak louder than words.

Level 5 leaders blend personal humility with professional will. A leader has great ambitions, but will put the welfare of the business before their own gains. They will find great successors for themselves.

There are many things you should consider to be a strong leader. Instead of commanding and ruling your team, you’re best to encourage and lead them, showing them by example. Listen, speak and motivate them rather than command and terrify. Create enthusiasm instead of fear. Actively take part in activities and tasks as opposed to barking orders at anyone and everyone that will listen. Working alongside your employees allows you to gently approach weaknesses (and utilize and praise strengths) putting you in a position to be able to build up and coach them in these areas. Instead of taking praise & passing blame, fix the problem and give credit and praise where it’s due.

Whilst employees generally respect the boss, everyone loves the leader. Take for example receiving an email from your ‘boss’ – you form a defensive wall, a feeling of danger or agony. However, when you receive an email from your ‘leader’ you’re calm and open to what they’re asking of you or bringing to your attention, resulting in a happier more productive work place and greater lines of communication, thus resulting in a win for both the employee and leader.

As a manager you have a choice, to be good or great. Be a boss or a leader. Next time you go to say ‘I’ change it to ‘we’. And next time you go to say “go”, work on changing it to “Let’s go”. You may think this is only a tiny change, adding a few words into your sentence; however this change of wording makes a huge difference. Being a leader doesn’t require a title, just as having a title doesn’t inherently make you one.