Ronald Reagan once said, “To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of leadership.” 

He was referring to all levels of organizations.

Trickling down through the layers of any company are plenty of designated managers. Many have elongated titles that put them in charge of any number of individuals.

Yet this doesn’t necessarily make them leaders.

In fact, I always compared retail leadership to how things tend to follow in the military. On the battlefield for example, a high-ranking officer may technically be in charge, but the rank and file follow their immediate in-command person, be it a sergeant or senior soldier.  

Many times, that’s the most effective type of leadership.

I’ve worked in and witnessed several such operations, usually very busy stores with expanded staff. The produce manager may oversee a dozen or more clerks and even have an assistant, and yet both are stretched on time to dole out routine direction. In stores like this, department managers are often away — tangled in paperwork or dragged into meetings.

That’s when the inexperienced clerks look to someone else to take the lead.

That someone else is most often one of the more senior clerks — the person who has been around the retail game forever, can be trusted to open or close a store, set up ad displays, take care of signing, unload a truck, write an order, or a hundred other tasks that border on “management responsibilities.” 

And if clerks look up to such a person with some level of trust, there’s your battle-leader.

Even if clerks don’t look up to them, they should. To the produce manager, there are two sets of messages here. First, to recruit the senior clerk to assume the leadership role. Second, to convey to the less-senior clerks that if they get direction from the senior person, they need to follow that direction. 

Of course, produce managers are still in charge. And sometimes a senior clerk will argue that they’re not getting paid to manage, or they otherwise don’t want to assume responsibility. My argument back is that this is indeed a part of their job and in everyone’s best interest.

However, it’s always better to persuade cooperation, rather than force responsibility on someone. Most people I’ve found, are willing to help manage tasks if offered level measures of respect and recognition.

My point in all this is that leadership qualities abound in people. 

Organizations cannot survive with only a designated few. We need leaders within the ranks who look out for what’s best. In the produce aisle, leaders stay calm, designate time and list priorities.

Good leaders teach, and they learn. No matter their title or position.  


Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

 

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