National Careers Week is an opportunity to celebrate inspirational careers and put into focus some of the lessons they’ve learnt along the way. We caught up with Emma Cushing, from The Centre for Inclusive Leadership to discover her leadership journey and to find out what are the key points she’s learnt along the way.

Joining the retail industry

Following my graduation from the University of Surrey, I was offered an opportunity to join Joules, the premium lifestyle brand. I was drawn to the diversity of retail as it’s dynamic and exciting. I chose a store based role for my first position as I thought it would be the best way to understand the brand and the customer (and working with great product helps!).

My first store

Then in 2010 I was offered my very own store in Burford, Oxfordshire. This was it, a huge moment. I was accountable for training and developing associates, labour management, cash and inventory control, store conditions, evaluation of departments, hiring my team, work schedules and budget development.

It taught me that people come first (this is equally the customer and team) and the importance of being a leader rather than just a manager. It was also great to put my commercial acumen into practice and seeing how small changes can have a big impact on results.

Going beyond Burford

After 3 successful years in Burford I was promoted to Mobile Manager. This was a big opportunity as it allowed me to develop my communication and leadership skills. It increased my profile with senior management and head office by providing management support for focus stores.

This role had a number of highlights along my leadership journey including:

  • Playing a key role in the role out of new store by developing new standardised store opening structures, which gave me a keen sense for project management.
  • Supporting in the development of new customer service initiatives to focus on achieving highest levels of customer experience.
  • Enhancing my abilities to visit a store and make recommendations to senior management based on my findings as well as getting the buy-in of the store team to implement recommendations.

Developing my skills

Throughout my career I’ve always believed that it’s important to invest in yourself. By developing your skills you can become a better version of yourself. Whilst I was working as an Area Manager in 2014 I was approached about attending a development programme called the Academy. This was a key moment in my career as it gave me the opportunity to further understand the impact of different pillars of the retail industry. It also gave me confidence in working with people from different backgrounds/experiences and the chance to explore my potential and further develop my leadership skills.

The following year I returned as a Group Director, this allowed me to coach the next generation of retail leaders and continued to challenge my skills and develop my self-confidence. This year I have the honour of attending the programme as Vice-Chair. This enables me to help shape the programme and support the team of retail leaders who help run the week.

Always learning

To really succeed in your leadership career you should always be learning. Be motivated, there is always something out there, even if it’s 10 mins watching a TED talk, or journaling some self-reflections there is always an opportunity to learn.

I would encourage you to be open about your learning needs/wants with your line manager and get their support in working with you to achieve your goals. They want you to succeed just as much as you do.

When you are learning make sure you talk to the people around you, friends/colleagues etc. Share your learning experiences as it will not only help you but also can help them with their development.

The future

This year I have taken on a completely new challenge and joined The Centre for Inclusive Leadership as a Consultant. This role allows me to work with international Governments, Corporations, Institutions and Communities to develop Coaching, Training and Mentoring programmes that enable people to be their best selves and do their best work.

This role brings together all the skills I’ve learnt across my retail career including:

  • Communication with different stakeholders, customers, colleagues
  • Understand the client and their needs
  • Research skills
  • An understanding that people come first
  • Insights into different industries.

For anyone at the start of their leadership career I would offer the following top tips:

  • Tip 1 - get to know you

Really understand your strengths and development areas. What is unique about you? How can you leverage that to work together with the people around you?

  • Tip 2 - be open to new experiences

There is always something new to learn. If you have a goal or objective in mind work towards it.

  • Tip 3 - start to build your network

Do you have a coach and/or a mentor that can support your leadership journey? Leverage the experience of others to further your career.

For more information on retail careers please visit the Rethink Retail website using this link.