Turning Pain Into Laughter Since 2011
I was in retail management for 6 years I can honestly tell you it takes a special person to be able to endure the task of managing a retail store, especially during the holidays. Customers have no respect for you, thinking that just because you are in customer service that gives them the right to talk down to you. Customer service is usually the outlet for everyone to take out their daily frustrations. The rule of the customer always being right is outdated and I definitely did not base my management style on that rule. I’ve been cursed at, had kids hit me, had people threaten me, and had bags and receipts snatched out of my hand by angry customers. Now imagine you’re a Black woman in this position of leadership. The level of disrespect is almost 10x worse. All of the assistant managers I had, and I had many assistants during my retail career, were usually white and older. When customers were looking for the manager they immediately headed to my white assistant. And when my assistant directed them to me, it brought me great joy to see their facial expression quickly changed. And the fact that I look younger than I actually am was another strike against me. No older white woman or man wanted to talk to a young Black girl. Oh, and did I mention that I’m short? Imagine having someone literally looking down at you while they’re expressing their disappointment in your service, trying to be intimidating. Fortunately, I am not easily intimidated.
This disrespect didn’t stop with my customers, it also came from my employees. I often times experienced disrespect from my older white employees who weren’t use to taking orders from a young Black girl. I had one assistant in her 50s that came from another retailer that had recently closed. She was the store manager of this retailer so you can imagine how it made her feel to go from being the boss to having to listen to me tell her what to do on a daily basis. I was the subject of many jokes and lies that she thought I didn’t know about. But, as always, I came out on top, my district manager saw her for the liar that she was, and she eventually found another job. I am grateful for the skills and life lessons that came along with the position of retail manager, and yes there were plenty of life lessons. However, I am also grateful to be in different industry now. But, this 6-year opportunity taught me many lessons and helped shape me into a better leader. Below are some of the lessons I learned and how I learned to carry myself as a successful, professional Black woman in a leadership role.
DO NOT let others intimidate you.
People will come in and think they can do your job better than you can. In most instances, that is not true. Those people are the ones that are intimidated and upset with your position. In my case, being a 5’0 tall Black girl who keeps people guessing about her age, I had many customers and employees that thought they could get over on me. But, to know me is to know that I am not easily intimidated and I have a very small filter…which means my professional clapback can be worse than your snap. Never let a customer, client, or employee think they got the best of you. If you need to go in your office and scream a little then do that. Go home and take it out on your man in the bedroom, but don’t ever let them see you sweat. Just remember, you can stand your ground without earning “the angry Black girl” label. Stand your ground ladies, and let them know that you earned the right to be in your position of leadership.
No, we cannot be friends.
Your job is one of the main places that you establish friendships. However, if you are the boss the friendship zone is one that you really cannot enter. There is a thin line between being someone’s boss and being his or her friend. Often times you think if you can make your employees your friend it will make it a lot easier to work with them. WRONG! Making friends with your employees gives them a sense of entitlement. They think they can get away with more because they’re friends with the boss. That level of respect they should have for you is diminished and once you’ve switched from employer to friend, the transition back will not be an easy one.
Keep your personal life and your professional life separate.
With so much going on in your personal life, at times, it can be hard leave the personal on the other side of the door when you arrive at work. But, we must learn to balance our personal and professional life. The two should never really meet. When I operated as a retail store manager, I had a very small store with a very small staff. There were times when we had no customers and no work to do so we were literally just standing around staring at each other. When you spend eight hours a day with a person it can be somewhat hard not to talk about some personal aspects of your life. Just remember to keep it at a minimum. If you tell too much of your personal business they could very well use it against you later. Trust me I speak from experience.
Know your employees love language.
Everyone has a different love language, including your employees. Some people need acknowledgement for every good deed they do. Some people just need occasional recognition; just to know that they are appreciated will make them work harder. Learn what motivates your employees and do more of that.
Do not be a boss, be a leader.
There’s a difference between being a boss and being a leader. A boss spends all day telling his/her employees what to do and how to do it. A leader shows them how it’s done by being a part of the task at hand. I never asked my employees to do anything I’ve never done or wouldn’t do. From cleaning the bathroom to completing markdowns and changing sale signs, I did it all. It’s important to lead by example and not let your position trick you into thinking you’re too good for certain jobs. Don’t be the bougie Black girl that’s too good to get dirty. A good leader creates other good leaders. A boss can make good employees leave.
I do not have favorites.
This is a lie! Of course, I had favorites. I had workers that worked harder, were more dependable, more flexible with their schedules, and that were just all around more pleasant to be around. So obviously, I am going to favor those over employees who do not display those qualities. I also had employees that I related to more on a personal level, so it was difficult not to favor working with those employees over the others. But I tried to not show favoritism to anyone. I gave my harder working employees and those with more flexible schedules more hours of course, but that is as far as my favoritism went. I will say that is one of the things I mastered. I had the opportunity to hire friends that needed jobs and when we were at work, they received the same treatment as my other employees. Which is why they sometimes did not want to see me outside of work. LOL
Do not be surprised when one of your employees turns on you.
Ahhh, the element of surprise…it’s not always a good thing. Out of the 6 years I spent in retail management, I had 2 employees to call my district manager and try to get me fired, 2 other managers that quit on the spot one week before Christmas one year, and several employees that just did not bother to come to work and would quit without notice. When employees are upset with the boss, they will sometimes go to the extreme in retaliation. Do not be surprised when an employee turns on you out of anger, or even jealousy. That’s right I said jealousy. I had an employee that I took under my wing. I wanted to see her succeed because, despite all of the negative things people said about her, I believed she had a lot of potential. Well one day she sent me a text (which was against company policy) accusing me of turning my back on my team. This was a few weeks after I made the decision to move on to a different company. When we had a face to face conversation she said anything she could think of to hurt my feelings. My theory was that she was upset that I was leaving and felt like she was stuck in a position she didn’t want to be in. That’s where jealousy comes into play. There is a quote from The 50th Law, a book by 50 Cent and Robert Green, that has become the basis of my leadership style. It says,
“If you build a reputation for toughness and getting results, people might resent you, but you will establish a foundation of respect. You are demonstrating genuine qualities of leadership that speak to everyone. Now with time and a well-founded authority, you have room to back off and reward people, even to be nice. When you do so, it will be seen as a genuine gesture, not an attempt to get people to like you, it will have double the effect.”
Women, in particular Black women, can definitely be successful in leadership roles and we deserve to hold just as many positions of power as our male counterparts. Find the correct leadership/management style for you that will allow your business or organization to be successful. And we can lead without becoming the angry, loud Black woman that they expect us to be. That stereotype is their reality, not ours.
Until next time,
Kitta is an Interviewer and Freelance Blogger/Writer from Jackson, TN. She can provide blogging services for your business or product, and event coverage.