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Leadership is About Leading

This week is the National Retail Federation's Big Show at Javits Center here in NY. Once again in the midst of a coldsnap - it's so cold, it hurts - thousands made the journey to the retail industry's must-attend event. And the conference really is big - with massive displays and expensive stage-sets to grab and keep the attention of every important leader in the retail world; and their consultant.

That's right, folks, there were more consultants than you can shake a stick at. At last year's event (1), I pointed out strategy firms that sponsored some events and I was enthusiastic at these rare opportunities to hear them speak. But what a difference a year makes. Since then, I've heard them all speak and can assure you, all will tell you the same things. The challenge isn't a dearth of innovative thinking; it's that the same lessons apply in virtually every case, and oddly enough, clients have a challenging time executing.

Let's take leadership, for example. This year, addressing organizational behavior will play a key role in every piece of advice you receive from your consultants. It occurs to me that in almost every engagement, the problem will always involve people (even technology. Especially technology.) As a result, playing nice and getting along is crucial to the success of the engagement and company. This brings me to the first session I sat through at this conference.

Dick Heller is a former television producer who's biggest claim to fame is that he was once a top exec at tompeterscompany. His biggest asset, like Tom Peters, is his stage energy and ability to simplify concepts that are fairly easy to "get" in the first place. In the world of management, understanding leadership characteristics has become a science that regrettably lacks enough depth to support the massive numbers of leadership coaches and consultants out there. Consultants like Mr. Heller basically get paid (a lot of money) to regurgitate the obvious, with cool quotes, and little-to-no original data to support. This is not to dissuade you from engaging Mr. Heller (because as we all know, some of us need the obvious staring at us in the face before we notice), but it's to redirect your attention to something that's not so obvious - you know how hard it is trying to reach fickle consumers to make them loyal to your brands; employees are consumers, too.

What fascinated me the most about this particular presentation was that Dick presented statements that were the accumulation of his vast 30 years of experience as a consultant - statements that were supported by data our firm gathered just last year for the first time in our 4 year history. Specifically, that employees need transparency in the workplace; they'll work affordably and efficiently when the job's enjoyable; and believe a job to be satisfactory when the people they work with are, too. (2)

With the IRS and trial attorney's down your throat, it's easy to have a combative relationship with employees who you have to pay to be grossly inefficient with their time and who will then sue you if they don't like your attitude about it. However, the prerogative's on you to change productivity gauges and hold everyone equally accountable to them. And believe it or not, addressing lapses immediately and definitively will automatically reduce employee complaints for the mere fact that their attitude will change towards you. They will become too fiercely loyal towards you, or angry at you, to let you down.

Now pat yourself on the back because you don't have to read the hundreds of books, attend thousands of discussions, nor hire the millions of "consultants" for exorbitant amounts of fees to tell you any of this stuff. Grab a mic, remember why you're in charge, and lead your people to greatness, damn it!

Write to Al Berrios at


(1) "The National Retail Federation's Big Show 2004"

(2) "Employers Are Overworking and Not Appreciating Their Workers"


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