Tag Archives: management

Lessons in Leadership

My first team leader job was a Clinique Counter Manager position in my early 20’s; I was responsible for 1 full-time and 2 part-time beauty consultants. Back then, I could not have imagined that my entire career would revolve around various management responsibilities, or that learning about leadership would be a lifelong pursuit. My passion for servant leadership started a few years after the Counter Manager gig, when I accepted a position as Sales Manager for the Cosmetics department at a Rich’s store in a South Atlanta shopping center called Shannon Mall. It was the time I spent at Rich’s Shannon with 15 female sales professionals that ultimately became my foundation for  how to build a dynamic team and how to be a supportive boss.

Shannon Mall, sadly, no longer exists. It closed in 2010 after 30 years of business, and online pictures of the declining retail facility do not help me recall my years working there. The memories I cherish come from a folder I have kept since the 90’s, with photographs of my team, documenting a time when we created an encouraging work family. These are the women I grew to love, and for whom I would do anything to create a pleasant work atmosphere.

When the Store Manager of Rich’s at Shannon Mall offered me the opportunity to run my own department, I was initially uncertain. In an effort to help me decide, I visited the store and skulked about the cosmetics area to get a sense of it. I watched the women working there, who seemed to have a sense of dedication and camaraderie, and I could easily imagine myself in their midst. I accepted the position and the transformation began immediately. From the impressive individuals within that small space, I learned how to be a team leader. They taught me about building a culture, resolving conflict and communicating in a positive way.


There is a popular leadership quote: “people want to know how much you care before they care how much you know”. I approached the job with this in mind, in a position of humility, knowing that I was young and inexperienced and that they knew the business top to bottom. Once the team had a sense that I was more interested in offering support than disruption, they began to trust me and provided me with the tools I needed to succeed as their leader. The key, as is so often the case, is to listen for the answers, instead of forcing one’s own answers onto others.

I constantly asked questions and accepted guidance. I rolled up my sleeves to work with them. I was open to new ideas. I was not afraid to put in long hours. In exchange for this, the team rewarded me with not only their knowledge, but their kindness and their trust. They made grand gestures for my birthday (see photo of a money tree above) and they were committed to the success of our business. We worked hard and played hard and cared about one another. There were struggles and fights, much like any family, but at the end of the day, there was respect.

When I think of the kind of boss I am today, I know that I have these women to thank. I am not afraid to have the tough conversations with people, but I know that you have to do it with calmness and consideration. I am known to launch innovative projects, but I value process and protocol. I accept that there is a fine line between supervisor and friend, but realize that you can truly love the team members you serve and fight tooth and nail to make sure they are happy. All of this I learned from these 15 women, and my subsequent team members through the years can give them the credit (or the blame) for the type of boss I eventually blossomed into being. Although we only spent a few years together, it was a pivotal time in my leadership development, and an experience I greatly treasure.

What a Boss Wants


Mallory and Rosanne

I got into the management gig early in my career: I was responsible for other employees as early as age 23. Each work relationship taught me something new, and every lesson I learned the hard way.  I also acquired a sense of how to be a better employee by knowing what it felt like to be somebody’s boss. As I reach my 25th anniversary of boss-ness, (hopefully not bossiness), I offer advice on how to endear yourself to the person in charge of your employment.

It goes without saying that a boss wants an employee to show up on time, look presentable, do a good job, and get along with others. There is nothing more frustrating than having conversations with people about basic things like attendance, punctuality, attire, grooming, and being agreeable. I could tell stories of screaming matches in stockrooms or temper tantrums in dressing rooms, but today I’m operating from the assumption that basic competencies are in place. If you were just starting out as one of my new associates, what would you have to do to rise in my esteem?

Communication-aka “No surprises”

My lead associate Rosanne knows that one of my pet peeves is to find out something significant after the fact. She keeps her ears open for anything that may be of interest to me, and -as it turns out- almost everything is of interest to me. As Public Relations Manager, I am responsible for the culture of the dealership, so if a sales consultant is unhappy, or there is a plumbing issue, or the internet is down, or we have run out of coffee, it’s relevant. Rosanne’s most commonly used phrase when speaking to me is: “I just wanted to let you know.” I love her for it. All of my associates are good about communicating with me, and I encourage it. Before I leave each day, the last things I tell them include “I appreciate you” and “text me any gossip”.

Attention to Detail

The best associates I have had under my purview do things in a way that show they are not just trying to rush though a task- they want to do it well. They have nice penmanship, they make spreadsheets for simple projects and they organize work areas. For example, when asked to lead our dealership “bell-ringing” day for the Salvation Army, Mallory created a schedule of shifts, recruited volunteers, created back-ups, sent reminders and took pictures for posting on social media. When I told her she was in charge, I said she would have to take ownership of every aspect of the endeavor, and she did. Attention to detail builds trust. Surprising me with details I don’t expect creates value.

The ultimate job of everyone is to make their boss’s life easier. In order to do that, you have to think of all of the possibilities that they likely didn’t have time to consider. It means you have to use a planner and write yourself reminders. You cannot let things fall through the cracks. Your boss can either count on you, or not. My objective each day is to be the kind of employee I would want to have if I were in my boss’s shoes.

No Friend Zone

Cecil Donahue said, “If you’re completely comfortable with your boss, you are either incredibly naive or independently wealthy. Confusing friendliness with friendship is a rookie’s mistake.” The employee-boss relationship is a tricky thing, especially if you get along well. Let’s say your boss is a nice person and takes an interest in your life; maybe you have even shared time socially. It would be easy to assume that you are friends, making it awkward when the boss has to reprimand you for something. It is wise to err on the side of caution and keep the relationship strictly professional. Remind yourself that at the end of the day, they can still fire you if the situation warrants. Also avoid getting overly chummy with anyone who is in a position of elevated stature in your company. I was once addressed as “babe” by a technician who thought he was being casual and sweet. I was insulted at his lack of respect and had a hard time thinking that he took his job seriously. Beware the temptation to be too informal with people who can make decisions about your job security.

(Related note to supervisors: do not socialize with your employees after hours. Go to lunch with them? Sure. Attend Baby and wedding showers? Ok. Meet for drinks? No. Ask them to take care of your pets when you travel? No. Go to dinner at their house? No. Take a vacation together? Hell no.)

Since I’m on the topic of friendship, I feel compelled to comment on “Friend-ship”, as in Facebook. It is ok to be Facebook friends with your boss, and I prefer that all dealership employees friend me. Facebook helps me to learn more about my team and to remember birthdays. Of course, we should all remain aware that decision-makers will see our posts and judge accordingly. But if you’re posting things you wouldn’t want your boss to see, you likely need to stop posting that kind of stuff anyway. Social media is a public domain-create your image with care.


I once managed an employee who seemed to have a bad day if I didn’t talk to her at length every morning. For some reason, if I invested 30 minutes asking about her life and letting her vent about health or spouse issues, then for the rest of the day, she would be fine. If I launched into my duties without this personal chat, she would be crabby the entire day, and other employees would complain about her disposition.  Her health was a roller-coaster, and between her back pain, her dental issues and her hormones, it seemed like she always had a reason to call out sick or complain at work. I constantly had to cover her shift or console her. I considered her to be a “high maintenance” employee, and promised myself I would avoid this type of personality when hiring in the future. It is difficult because high maintenance personalities are not always easy to spot.

My goal is someone who does their job with minimal drama. I care about you in a peripheral sense, but I do not intend to become overly emotionally invested. I like my current staff as people, and know the basics about their lives and interests. We don’t hang out beyond the dealership walls, but we are loyal to each other within those walls during the day. I aspire to always be a supportive and direct supervisor, and hope that you will be an honest and strong member of the team. Keep it professional and simple, and we’ll get along just fine.