What is every company looking for in a management-level employee? Leadership. Senior leaders will tell you that there are lots of managers but very few true leaders. Why? Because there are many different traits that contribute to being a true leader when building our loss prevention careers. And although there are many publications on leadership traits, just reading a publication doesn’t translate into becoming a true leader, or there would be more leaders than managers—and there are not. Every true leader is unique and has found the right combination of traits that work best for them. Some are naturals, while others have to work very hard to get there.
In my opinion, there is one trait that all true leaders possess: experience. It is experience that allows our loss prevention careers to evolve, develop, and flourish. That doesn’t simply imply that someone has worked in the field or held a particular role or position for a long time. It means that as careers move forward, you understand the value of experience, and you incorporate those skills and lessons into your leadership style.
As we progress through our various jobs and loss prevention careers, we all gain experience. So why doesn’t that immediately translate into everyone becoming a true leader? Because it’s how you gain and use that experience—understanding the lessons, putting it in perspective, and applying what you’ve learned—that makes the difference.
Appreciating the Value of Experience
Back in the fall of 1980, I began my journey into retail loss prevention. At the time, I thought it would be a temporary job that would provide me with a paycheck and possibly help me gain a little experience as I waited for an opportunity in law enforcement. Now, over 35 years later, I am one of the many LP professionals who wonders how they ended up making a career in retail loss prevention. Still, I wouldn’t change a single minute. It has been a career of ups and downs, wins and losses, exciting new opportunities, having my job eliminated twice, and being with a company that went out of business. I’ve worked for five different retail companies, each with a different business model and a variety of strategies and leadership personalities. Those experiences taught me a great deal.
When I was a young LP professional, I didn’t think that the more experienced LP leaders were nearly as good as I thought I was—a trait that I believe is common in many new LP professionals. Of course, I was wrong. I thought that these experienced leaders were “old school” in their thinking. Certainly, some of them were. However, as the years progressed, I realized the value of the experience that they brought to the table, how it helped shape my career, and how it has helped transform loss prevention into what it is today.
Remain Open to New Ideas
So how do you accelerate the time it takes to gain experience as you progress in your career? One way is to take a new idea or approach and implement it in your department or company. It doesn’t matter if it’s your idea or someone else’s. It’s working through the process of implementing the idea that helps you gain the experience.
Early in my career, I had a boss who was something of an old-school thinker, but he was open to new ideas. Since I always had lots of ideas, it was a perfect situation for me. Even if he didn’t agree with the idea or think it had value, he would support me in testing it out.That process worked well for me for two reasons.
First, it taught me to always be open to new ideas. As loss prevention careers progress, you naturally develop your own personal leadership style, which includes the way you manage yourself, the way you manage people both up and down the ladder, and your strategic approach to loss prevention. Make sure that being open to new ideas is a part of your leadership style. The best ideas come from those actually doing the work, so it is important to establish effective communication with people throughout your organization.
I worked hard to become an active listener, which can be more difficult than it sounds. Even if you don’t see the value of a new idea or approach, it’s still worthwhile to explore it. People with innovative ideas are more open to sharing them with you because they know you’re willing to listen and actually do something with their idea. It may take time to fully understand an idea and figure out how it could apply, but remember—every great invention or process started with an idea.
Second, I gained experience quickly because trying to implement new ideas is a great way to learn. It forces you to identify the best ways to present your ideas, gain support from the people that will use, execute, or benefit from them, and then monitor and evaluate the results. There are almost always modifications or course corrections–often a lot of them. Rarely did an idea work out exactly how we envisioned them. I tried many new and/or creative ideas, and most of them didn’t work. But I learned something from each and every one. That experience was critical in forging my strategic approach to leadership and strategy. Don’t wait for experience; go out and get it.
Prepare for the Challenges
The most important part about implementing a new idea is getting acceptance from your boss or company leadership—and that is often the most difficult part of the process. If you don’t get approval from your boss, you usually won’t even have the opportunity to try the new idea. That’s why it’s so critical to learn how to present your ideas effectively.
It starts with making sure your boss understands that, if the idea works out, they get credit for it, too. Believe me, smart bosses understand that. If your boss is an experienced leader, partnering with them on your idea and leveraging their experience will often improve the idea itself. If you are open to it, you can learn a tremendous amount from an experienced boss.There may also be times when your boss will take ownership for the idea. Keep in mind that your boss knows where the idea originally came from, and you still gain experience from rolling it out.
With all innovative ideas, you must be prepared to hear “No,” at least once in a while, and perhaps even more often than that. It’s still important to keep in mind that this may be an opportunity for a learning experience as well. If you get a no, did you ask your boss why they didn’t think the idea will work? Maybe you missed something. Don’t let “No” deter you. If you believe in the idea, don’t give up. Go back to the drawing board. Maybe there is a different approach or modification that will result in getting approval.
You must be prepared for other challenges as well. Be open to the possibility and try to fully understand the potential challenges. Challenges may actually make your idea easier to implement because you can address those obstacles in advance rather than during the actual rollout of the idea. Learning to overcome obstacles when rolling out new ideas can provide a valuable learning opportunity and develop another important leadership trait in the process.
Bringing Ideas to Action
You must then present your idea to those who will implement and/or use it.This is where you really learn how your company operates. It often “takes a village” to roll out a new idea. You typically gain the most experience in this phase of the process because of the variety of people and different areas of operation you need to partner with to make it happen, from making sure they fully understand the idea to properly documenting everything in accordance with company policies.
Each time you meet with a person or group, it provides an opportunity to learn as feedback is offered and the plan is implemented. However, it’s just as critical that you are receptive to new ideas and approaches. You need to be open to how the idea is brought to life. In the process, you may be required to compromise or modify parts of the idea, but if you stay true to the core of the idea, that should work out just fine.
Finally, once the idea is in place, you need to get as much feedback as you can to understand how it is working. That feedback will enable you to fine-tune all aspects of the idea and maximize its success.
Learning how to take an idea or new approach and bring it to life will help you gain valuable experience. During every phase of the process, there will be opportunities to learn and grow.It will enable you to accelerate the time it takes to gain valuable, real-world experience; and will ultimately improve your leadership skills. And who knows – this could lead to you becoming the next person who revolutionizes the LP industry.
This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated January 2, 2018.