The Buck Stops Here!

Roberta LewissmartPRENEUR Blog Series

Listening to, Hearing and Empowering Your Managers

Growing A Business

In my past, I grew within a specialty retail business from an accounting clerk upward, to accounting manager, office manager, general manager, vice president, and then to the organization’s president within a twenty-year period. During my tenure, our staff count went from around thirty to over two hundred.  I learned a lot, most of it in the trenches, and not always with a rosy outcome.  Growing a business isn’t easy by any means.  My key characteristic traits were that I was a fixer, listener, hard worker, and I cared. 

I ran a 25-million-dollar specialty retail chain operating out of two cities, Houston, and Dallas, with 7 premier retail stores and a large scale 4M custom installation division.  Sometimes, it was like juggling a dozen raw eggs in the air. In just a seven-year period, we managed to grow from 8M to 25M. I was single during this time and usually worked 14-15 hours a day, and on Saturdays. 


As a leader, you are not supposed to discuss business troubles with the people you manage.  And those over you, often the owner(s), do not want to hear your concerns, or Heaven forbid, your feelings. Being in leadership can sometimes be isolating and overwhelming. If you are married, you can go home and unload on your spouse – not! 

In the trench of frustration with the daily trials and troubles that accompany sales growth and rapid expansion, I learned more than anything how to hear without the complaints being spoken, and to see without being asked to see. Like being a coach on any sports team, you must be aware of what is going on with your people, the key players, your team.   

As my team was not located in a central location. The “Glue” that enabled us to grow and retain our top managers and staff was the oneness leadership culture we created.  In addition to our weekly managers sales meeting, we started having a monthly offsite managers dinner meeting. We would pick a restaurant with a private meeting room, so we could be loud and stay as long as needed.  I privately called this the “Let’s beat up Roberta meeting”… laughing here.  The agenda to each meeting wasn’t me talking or directing, but quite the opposite.  Each manager would bring their list of items they felt needed work, change or attention, and things they did not feel comfortable addressing in the corporate weekly sales meeting.  I listened mainly.  I shared early on that a problem can’t always be fixed overnight, that some larger issues need to go through a course before the change can occur.  Example, your best sales guy is selling $2M solo, no one likes working with him, he’s a prima-donna, a royal PIA.  You can’t necessarily fire him and hire someone to replace him overnight… and knowing he will go work for your competitor or start his own gig.  It is a process. We learned not to react, to be strategic, patient, while working the plan together.  Together.  I often felt grateful to have such passionate and hard-working people working not for me, but alongside me.  I admired each of them, and still do.  

Equal Communication

The greatest success was that we could communicate equally on every issue at one table. There was no hierarchy there, only the team leaders having open conversations. Often, they would solve their own issues.  This simple ongoing process kept us united, on one team – and it worked. It was also a great time and place for my cheerleading, thanking, and uplifting them when they were burdened, tired and stressed.   We often had competitors that literally offered high dollar salaries and perks to hire most of my managers. Not one, not one left. 

All store and department managers were allowed to make decisions and know that I would be responsible for it, even if the decision did not work out.  I remember one manager telling me once.  He had an issue with one of our subcontractors doing damage at a customer’s home. He said, I could not contact you, so I thought to myself, what would Roberta do here? His answer, she’d take care of the customer and figure the rest out later. So, he did.  If your leaders feel “safe” to decide, possibly even make a mistake, and not feel they will be called on the carpet for it, then they will learn to trust, and that empowerment is success.  

About the Author

Roberta Lewis

Roberta Lewis is an industry veteran with over four decades of successful consumer electronics retailing, internet marketing, and manufacturing experience. Roberta Lewis and Associates was founded in 2005 to support the broad range of consumer electronics businesses including manufacturers, retailers, custom installation businesses, and group associations with marketing, advertising, public and consumer relations, product/brand awareness, and strategic sales management.