This second Optimal Retail installment focuses on what I am calling ‘Sophisticated Leadership’. The word “Leader” or “Leadership” is bandied about today throughout society at schools, regarding sports teams, in boardrooms and throughout the ranks at all levels of corporate life.

Is he/she exhibiting leadership tendencies?

Is he/she an effective leader?

What style of leadership is someone employing?

There certainly can never be too much of a good thing called ‘leadership’ but what I have found is that the more ingrained the leadership qualities are throughout an organization, the more consistent the performance. When a company exhibits a certain level of leadership, it does not need to be constantly and overtly spoken about or critiqued on a daily basis. There is a sense of maturity about an organization that permeates all levels and all facets of the business when there is a healthy dose of sophisticated leadership.

Some of the telltale signs that an organization is demonstrating sophisticated leadership skill sets are as follows:

  • The company has a focused set of goals and objectives that have been cascaded effectively to all levels
  • Every employee at every level can articulate the mission or vision of the company
  • Meetings throughout the company are effective, efficient and always relevant
  • Employees feel engaged (see Part 1) and are enjoying their jobs and find their work rewarding
  • Store contact from head office is frequent, supportive and positive – the store is always the priority
  • Store visits are frequent, effective, engaging and educational for all parties – they are never dreaded
  • There is a “delegate and develop” mentality that permeates the organization
  • Everyone throughout the organization cherishes learning
  • All levels throughout the organization feel a high degree of accountability
  • The culture is positive and persuasive not demanding and authoritarian

Peter Drucker used to say that the no. 1 job of leaders is to develop other leaders. This is true of any organization exhibiting ‘Sophisticated Leadership’. This does not mean that every person needs to possess a post graduate degree, much less a university degree. It certainly doesn’t mean that there is an intellectual air to the people running the company. Most of the time it actually is to the contrary, where messages, goals and job descriptions are kept very simple and user friendly and everyone understands their role. Southwest Airlines would be an excellent example of Sophisticated Leadership without any intellectual overtones, just a real Texas/southern drawl to CEO and founder Herb Kelleher and very simple, understandable and executable messages.

There is a way to test and assess how sophisticated a company’s leadership is. First you have to walk the halls, sit in a few meetings, visit stores and observe behaviours. But it can be a real eye-opener. There is no way to optimize a retail business without continually optimizing the level of sophisticated leadership of the organization.