retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

When it comes to management advice, Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. Only most of you - like me - probably forget to ever look. Recently I got that reminder.

My wife and I recently spent a couple of days in upstate New York, hiking some of the incredible gorges around Rochester, Ithaca and Watkins Glen when we noticed something. When we hiked up the path next to the waterfalls, all we saw were those waterfalls. Their majesty and the incredible way they had cut the rock through time. We heard their sound above all else.

But walking back down the same path the picture was very different. From above, a waterfall doesn’t appear to be all that much; just pools and streams of water reaching the end of rocks. Walking downhill you notice pools that follow each fall. You see the picture in an entirely new way. The exact same thing, seen differently, looks completely different.

It’s a great metaphor for so much. Be honest: too often we look at the picture in only one way, forgetting that there may be another perspective that is different and equally real as ours. We could use this metaphor to talk about the political debate that raged here on MNB last week, but I’d rather go in a different direction.

While many of us get the chance to manage, all of us have been managed. Ask yourself how often the lessons of being managed have shaped you as a manager. Do we remember to look at the picture from the other direction, to think about how our words and actions are received, instead of how we deliver them? Or do we forget to ever turn around and see the scene from the other direction?

I spent part of this hiking trip with a college friend, who asked me pointedly about how retailers cope with the new generation of teen-agers, specifically with their propensity for tattoos and piercings in various body parts. I explained that it is a challenge, but one that many retailers are learning to handle. In many ways, I said, it’s not that different from when we started working decades back and the older generation looked askance at our hair and clothing styles.

Somehow we learned and I suspect the same will happen with that new group. But honestly, that’s wrong and it brings me back to the waterfalls. The difference is the perspective of where we are today vs. where we were.

I can think back on some of the best managers I had in my career. One of my first was a city editor who was nearly a foot shorter than me yet scared me. She made it clear that I needed to become more disciplined and every day she rode me hard with rules and guidelines to get me to mature. It’s hard to say if all the lessons stuck, but I know that she made a difference.

She didn’t talk to me about my hair or my dress. She talked to me about doing the job better and helped me understand how to behave professionally. So I trimmed my hair and dressed nicer and suddenly all the people I covered at this small daily newspaper treated me better. Interviews became easier to get. I doubt I was the only one with such a mentor and I wonder if we all do a good job of passing the lessons on today.

The waterfalls got me thinking about that, especially my career as a manager. I think I need to make a list of the best leadership traits of all the managers I ever had. And I need a list of the worst leadership traits of all the managers I ever had. The first list should dominate my style; the traits on the second list should disappear.

In short, I should manage with the style and messages that I always preferred, recognizing that my staff would probably respond best to that too. I’m probably not the only person who needs that reminder. And it’s all thanks to Mother Nature getting me to look at a waterfall from two different directions. Sometimes you have to turn around.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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