11 and ½ Thoughts on Leadership

ColumnistsJul 09, 2024

11 and ½ Thoughts on Leadership

From prioritizing “big rocks” to practicing transparency, Peter Smith explores what it takes to be an effective leader.

Peter Smith
Peter Smith is an industry consultant, speaker, sales trainer, and author. He can be reached via email at
In “Barking Up The Wrong Tree,” author Eric Barker wrote, “Across a staggering number of studies, feelings of power have very negative effects on a person’s character. Power reduces empathy, makes us hypocritical, and causes us to dehumanize others.”

The power Barker writes about in his fascinating book is that which comes with leadership. That very thing about which Abraham Lincoln opined, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”

While we are hardly unique in this regard, it seems to me that our industry is rather prone to celebrate people in high-profile positions as though titles alone beget leadership excellence.

The reality, of course, is that titles no more serve as a proxy for leadership than the lack thereof indicates the absence of said qualities.

In thinking about important attributes of leaders, I’ve come up with the following partial list.

I’m sure you, as an observer of leaders good and bad, or as a practitioner, hopefully of the former variety, could add a few more yourself.

1. Articulate Your Vision
One of the most damaging assumptions in business is that everyone knows what you are trying to accomplish.

Be crystal clear in establishing what your company mission is and know that ambiguity and uncertainty kill ambition.

Inc. magazine asked executives at 600 companies to guess the number of their employees who could name the company’s top priorities.
The executives predicted 64 percent would be able to do so.

When Inc. asked the employees to identify the top priorities, only two percent could name them.

Park the euphemisms and hyperbole and speak in plain language so that everyone knows what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Focus on Controllables
You can’t control the weather, the political climate, or the impending plague of locusts.

You can, however, control the most important aspects of YOUR business.

You can control the quality of your people, the merits of your compensation plan, the relevance of your product, the clarity of your messaging, the sensory experience in your store (lights, sound, scent, etc.), your commitment to CRM, and myriad other tangible aspects of your business.

Manage the controllables and leave the excuse peddlers to battle the locusts.

3. Attack the Big Rocks
There are many aspects of your business that cry out for attention. Resist the urge to lose yourself in the minutia, as though every task and challenge delivers equal returns.

Devote your time, energy, and most important resources to the things that make the most difference in moving the business forward and delegate the time-consuming things that won’t materially impact results – but which still need to be done - to members of your team.

4. Spend More Time With Your Best People
There’s something counterintuitive in suggesting you spend more time with your best people, those who by any reasonable measure already know what they’re doing.

Small improvements from your top producers will have the biggest impact on your business and, even though they may not always act like it, your best people need your attention and acknowledgement too. 

As Abraham Maslow wrote, "Recognition is a need we all crave, and there are no exceptions."

5. Speak Last in Meetings
The aptly-named author and speaker, Julian Treasure, described meetings as places where minutes are taken, and hours are lost.

Somewhere between nonsense meetings (a platform for weak leaders to hear themselves talk) and no meetings at all (because you believe your team are mind-readers) exists a place for learning and a meaningful exchange of ideas.

The leader should always speak last, to avoid groupthink – where everyone aligns with the boss and suppresses important and often necessary debate.

Good leaders also ensure that all voices are heard, not just the loudest ones.

 Related stories will be right here … 

6.  Take Risks and Practice Psychological Safety
No real growth can come without some risk-taking, and no risks can be taken in environments that are not psychologically safe.

If you want your people to stretch beyond their comfort zones, encourage them to challenge the status quo.

Fear-based cultures are the shortest route to stagnation, underperformance, and talent drain.

It may be true that there is a high instance of sociopathy in leadership – and that can occasionally produce short-term gains by (brute) force of personality–, but without empathy, there can be no long-term and sustainable growth and development of your talent and business.

7. Be Transparent
Good leaders share good news and bad. They’re never less than fully transparent about the challenges ahead, and they respect their team enough to be honest and truthful about current and future challenges.

When things don’t go well, empty platitudes and meaningless euphemisms ring hollow and are often disrespectful.

Share the credit when things are good, and tell the truth when things are not going well.

You’ll be amazed at how a modicum of humility and honesty can galvanize a team.

8. Make Hard Decisions Respectfully
There is never an excuse for demeaning or belittling an employee, internally or externally, when he or she is being released from their employment.

When I hear about managers making veiled inferences about someone’s underperformance after they have been released, it makes me question the ethics and decency of the manager doing the bad-mouthing.

Treat all people with dignity and respect and recognize that not everyone will work in every environment.

Likewise, if someone is just not working out in your business, and you have done all you can to help them, make the hard decision to respectfully part ways. You owe that to all parties and everyone (including the parting employee, eventually) will thank you for it.

9. Leverage Data and Automation
Running your business on gut-instinct and the strength of your experience and convictions alone is a bad idea.

Using data to understand your business is not mutually exclusive to using your finely-honed instincts and expertise.

Whether that is knowing your inventory performance, your price-points activity and gaps, your head-count conversion, your sales and profitability by salesperson, etc., real-time data is critical to maximizing performance and identifying (often contrary to instincts) areas of concern.

Related to gathering data is the concept of automation. Anything that can be automated, that you don’t have to touch, is one more opportunity for you to work on the business instead of being a slave to it.

10. Develop a Hiring Process
When it comes to Big Rocks, building a team must be top of the list and yet it is very often relegated to the status of a perpetually annoying chore that never seems to get easier.

Hiring the right people is the best way to create energy and efficiency in a business and doesn’t have to be the complicated morass that we’ve made of it.

Get help if you need it, but whatever you do, prioritize creating a hiring process and structure.

11. Prize Performance
You can prize harmony, or you can prize performance.

The former frequently masks underperformance, but the latter can be accomplished in a culture of mutual respect that is never less than clear that results will always matter.

You can and should deliver an exceptional experience to your customers. There is no conflict between doing that and selling them beautiful jewelry that they can treasure for decades.

11.5 Hire Smarter People Than You
And the half point is if you’re worried about your direct reports being smarter than you, leadership is probably not your thing!

Happy Retailing!

Peter Smithis an industry consultant, speaker, and sales trainer, and author of 3 books on sales. Reach him at

The Latest

Bulgari high jewelry campaign
FinancialsJul 24, 2024
LVMH’s First-Half Jewelry, Watch Sales Dip 5%

Tiffany & Co. is focusing on its “iconic” collections while the company has made changes at the top at TAG Heuer and Hublot.

Chaumet Paris 2024 Olympics medals
MajorsJul 24, 2024
See Chaumet’s Paris Olympic Medals Inspired by its High Jewelry

The Parisian brand is the first jewelry company in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to design the medals.

Jewelers Mutual and Union Life and Casualty logos
MajorsJul 24, 2024
Jewelers Mutual Acquires Pawnbroker Insurance Provider

Union Life & Casualty will join JM Insurance Agency Partners, expanding the provider’s pawnbroker coverage.

Untitled design.jpg
Brought to you by
The End of an Era? Lab-Grown Diamonds' Journey Towards Price Stability

As the demand for lab-grown diamond jewelry may still be increasing, the most notable change we are likely to see is price stabilization.

Bradlei Smith
MajorsJul 24, 2024
Ben Bridge Announces 2024 Lonia Tate Scholarship Winner

Los Angeles-based Bradlei Smith was selected for this year’s award.

Weekly QuizJul 18, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge by answering these questions.
Take the Quiz
De Beers rough diamond display
SourcingJul 23, 2024
De Beers’ Production Drops 15% in Q2

The company also reported the $150 million sale of an iron ore royalty right, part of its ongoing effort to divest “non-core” assets.

Long’s Jewelers giveaway promo
IndependentsJul 23, 2024
Long’s Jewelers Is Giving Away a Luxury Cape Cod Vacation

The giveaway is part of the New England jeweler’s summer bridal event.

1872 x 1052 Gemolite.jpg
Brought to you by
Meet Gemology’s Next Generation Microscope: GIA® Gemolite® NXT Professional Edition

GIA®’s most advanced microscope has new features to optimize greater precision and comfort.

Sophia Moreno-Bunge of Isa Isa modeling Guzema’s Hidden Beauty collection
CollectionsJul 23, 2024
Guzema Debuts ‘Flower Power’ Campaign

The ad features three celebrity florists creating floral sculptures while wearing jewelry by Guzema.

Tresia Shituula, Monkgogi Moshaga, Mohamed Samu
Policies & IssuesJul 23, 2024
Diamonds Do Good Announces Its 2024 Entrepreneurship Grant Winners

The grant provided a total of $100,000 to support 13 entrepreneurs from diamond communities in Africa and India.

Ghazi “Gus” Michel Osta
CrimeJul 22, 2024
Florida Jeweler Shot, Killed Following Argument With Customer

Ghazi Michel Osta, or “Gus,” was killed Friday by an 83-year-old man said to be a frequent customer at his store, Volusia Gold & Diamond.

Elyssa Jenkins-Perez and Effie Marinos
Policies & IssuesJul 22, 2024
JVC’s Elyssa Jenkins-Pérez Joins RJC

The organization also announced Effie Marinos as its new specialist advisor for technical standards, as well as four other appointments.

Karen Rentmeesters
SourcingJul 22, 2024
AWDC Names Karen Rentmeesters as CEO

Rentmeesters has served as interim CEO since April following former CEO Ari Epstein’s resignation.

Brian and Jessie Mann
IndependentsJul 19, 2024
Longtime D.C. Jeweler Brian Mann Dies at 70

Mann, whose family’s jewelry store was located inside the Pentagon, is remembered for being a thoughtful champion of the industry.

Tudor store in Denver
IndependentsJul 19, 2024
The 1916 Company Opens New Tudor Boutique

The 500-square-foot boutique is located in Denver’s Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Messika’s So Move Max Necklace
CollectionsJul 19, 2024
Piece of the Week: Messika’s ‘So Move Max’ Necklace

Dance all night long with the “So Move Max” set’s necklace.

Julien Tornare and Antoine Pin
WatchesJul 18, 2024
TAG Heuer, Hublot Will Have New CEOs

Luxury giant LVMH is reshuffling the leadership in its watches division.

Etsy billboard rendering in NYC
MajorsJul 18, 2024
New Etsy Campaign Prioritizes Creators Amid Backlash

Sellers and shoppers have spoken out against a rise in mass-produced merchandise on the platform meant to highlight handmade goods.

Ariana Grande Modeling in Swarovski Jewelry
MajorsJul 18, 2024
Swarovski Names Ariana Grande as Its New Brand Ambassador

The celebrity will star in Swarovski’s holiday campaign.

Grizzly emerald
SourcingJul 18, 2024
Grizzly Emerald Auction Garners $32.5 million

The miner said an 835-carat emerald saw “stiff competition” in its July sale.

Tahnee Barbee, Gigi Sui, and Daniela Villacorta
Events & AwardsJul 18, 2024
MJSA Education Foundation Announces 3 Scholarship Winners

The winners were awarded $3,000 each to pursue a professional career in jewelry making and design.

Radhika Merchant’s Wedding Portrait
EditorsJul 17, 2024
6 Lavish Looks from the Ambani Wedding

Feast your eyes on the elaborate jewels worn during the wedding celebration of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant.

Smiling Rocks Haute Couture Dream Necklace
Lab-GrownJul 17, 2024
Lab-Grown Diamond ‘Dream’ Necklace Sells for $122K at Charity Auction

The piece, created by Smiling Rocks, was the top lot at the recent Ormeley Dinner.

Diavik Diamond Mine solar power plant
SourcingJul 17, 2024
Rio Tinto’s Diamond Production Down 28% in Q2

The company’s sole remaining diamond operation, Diavik, produced 702,000 carats of diamonds, down from 970,000 a year ago.

Buccellati high jewelry earrings
FinancialsJul 17, 2024
Richemont’s Q1 Jewelry Sales Up 2%

In contrast, the luxury giant’s watch sales fell 14 percent.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the jewelry design contest.
Events & AwardsJul 16, 2024
2024 AGTA Spectrum Awards Open for Entries

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the jewelry design contest and the deadline for entries has just been extended.

Macy’s Herald Square store
MajorsJul 16, 2024
Macy’s Ends Buyout Talks

The retailer will not be making a deal with Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital Management, opting to focus on its turnaround plan.


This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy