This week, in the first of a 2-part series celebrating the role of women in retail leadership, Parker Avery gives a glimpse into the unique perspectives of our own women leaders and associates by asking about lessons learned throughout their careers, leadership traits, and work-life balance.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received?

Amanda: Always be true to yourself and listen. Remember there will always be opinions, so listen and choose your path. Also, life is about choices…you make them you live with them. How you deal with the outcomes is your decision.

Courtney: The four stages of competence: (1) unconscious incompetence (2) conscious incompetence (3) conscious competence and (4) unconscious competence. For me, this has not only meant really striving for that fourth level in my skillsets but putting just as much importance on self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Kathi: Hire to your weaknesses; meaning surround yourself with people who are different from you and bring different strengths to the table. Hire people smarter than you and then get the hell out of their way.

Kyle: Every experience, good or bad, is a worthwhile experience. Learn from them. The bad memories will eventually fade but are still important to learning.

Michele: When you’re no longer having fun, move on. Find a career that makes you happy and fulfilled. Never burn your bridges.

Sarah: Don’t give away your power. And one piece of advice I would GIVE is this: Tinker, try, test… maintain an experimental attitude.

Sonia: Continuous learning leads to continuous improvement—be a lifelong student. I was encouraged to read everything I could get my hands on, travel the world for the experience and interaction of all cultures, and listen with intent to learn something from each interaction.

Tricia: My dad—my greatest mentor—always told us, “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never feel like you worked a day in your life.” I’ve had many varying jobs throughout my career—some I loved, and some not so much, and ultimately found my dad’s sage advice is spot on. No amount of salary and no job title can replace being happy with what you are doing. I am at the age where I don’t feel the need to impress anybody, and it’s more important to be happy with what I do every day—with the confidence and satisfaction that my ‘work’ has meaning and value.

How do you achieve work-life balance? What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) during your career?

Amanda: Achieving work-life balance has always been a challenge and I’ve sacrificed relationships and my health along the way. It’s something I have had to work at just as hard as I work at my job. I try to live by work hard play hard, but that rarely involves true downtime. Just enjoying the day to day seems to be one of the hardest things I have to do but I have gotten better at it over the years. I’ve learned to make time for myself no matter what.

Courtney: I am a workaholic by default, so it is sometimes hard for me to find the balance. However, having a strong core group of friends and family that continue to not only support but motivate me helps me maintain perspective of what is important in life.

Kathi: For me it’s one big mash-up. It always has been There is no work-life balance – there is just life. Everything is tangled up with everything else.

Michele: I prefer to think of this as work, life choice…I try to make deliberate choices about which opportunities I’ll pursue and which I’ll decline rather than reacting without thought about the impact to both work and family. I’ve discovered this through hard experiences and have realized it’s important not to lose myself or my loved ones in this process. In the early days of my career, I sacrificed dinners with my family, my children’s after-school sports, and other events. As I’ve grown to understand that my career is not as important as my family, I’ve made better life choices without consequences to my career. Professionally, I’ve sacrificed new opportunities and promotions so that I could maintain the important connection and support I felt was necessary for my children and family at a given time.

Sarah: Work-life balance is individual, and I don’t think it’s a destination. Rather, it’s a journey to learning and finding resourceful and compatibles ways to manage your priorities. I find the notion of ‘work-life balance’ a limiting and somewhat cruel attempt at suggesting that anyone “can have it all’ through better time management. The reality is we all make choices on how to use time and energy according upon our priorities. I personally have never achieved an equally balanced work-personal life, so I don’t know anything about it. There are times that my focus (and therefore energy) is on my work life and other times on my personal life. But for me, they are not mutually exclusive or always equitable. It’s my responsibility to take care of myself and family as well as my career and work. Problems arise when demands of each elevate simultaneously or infringe upon the other causing conflict. So, you’re left with difficult choices regarding what to prioritize. But, communicating what you can and cannot do to those around you is important in navigating both professional and personal relationships. Like many, for years I sacrificed myself for my job by acting less like a human being and more like a machine which is neither healthy nor productive. Fortunately, I recognized this and took action to stop putting so much pressure on myself. Can’t say it’s an easy habit to break but my perspective has shifted to being more authentic and realistic which is empowering.

Sonia: Unfortunately, I can’t say I am 100% successful at achieving work-life balance but I continuously work at it. I am more aware now than when I was younger what physical and mental exhaustion look like and feel like, so I check myself into my own “get healthy” program – which can be riding my bike, reading, being alone, or walking my pups. For me becoming more self-aware when I am out of balance is key. I know I have made many sacrifices at times; not being with family, feeling physically exhausted, not able to be present in the moment as I should be, not sharing a wedding anniversary…so I try harder every year to be sure I make better choices to achieve work-life balance.

Tricia: I run. A lot. Running clears my mind, and I also develop some of my best ideas—for my work, my family, volunteering, etc.—while running. But going back to the theme of ‘love what you do’ like Kathi said, it’s all part of life, so make sure you’re happy with your career path and role. And if you don’t like it, work on changing it. You should never feel ‘stuck’ in a job—especially when there are so many opportunities. Also, prioritizing is a big deal for me. For me, my family comes first; even within that, there’s prioritization. I tell my son, “Do the have to’s before the want to’s.” I try to live by that same rule—although admittedly sometimes you have to take a break and do something a little off course.

What is the most notable leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career? What are the traits of a great leader?

Amanda: Take the time to coach and teach others. Take time to give back. So often I see leaders become disconnected from their roots. I think it’s incredibly important to grow others and fully believe good leaders are only as strong as their team. Yes, it takes time and that is precious for all of us but taking the time to coach will pay back in dividends. I’ve also learned that not everyone is fit for their role, and a great leader decides who is coachable and who is not. As a leader it is our job to make those hard decisions and have those conversations in a timely manner.

Courtney: You can’t be anyone else except yourself. A great leader is authentic and a master communicator. Even more, they truly believe that it is “we” and not “I” or “you.”

Heidi: I think this question needs to be separated into people who lead projects and people who lead people. Not all leaders are great at managing people – for example, someone may be really good at leading a project to get to a deadline, but don’t care who’s crying in the restroom along the way. Other leaders are great at inspiring and leading people – they nurture and encourage but may not pay attention to the details. Finding people who are a blend of both – get the job done, but don’t make people cry – is essential. The challenge is that, in most organizations, there is a career path that promotes associates, regardless of whether they possess the necessary skills, which can cause a disruptive organization. The leader is unhappy, and the lead-ees are unhappy.

Kathi: I believe you need to uncover each team member’s strengths and then let them to what they do best. Do not be afraid to hire people smarter than you and to be sure, you need a range of skill sets and personalities to do really great work. Always be truthful even when the truth is hard to deliver. And for the love of God, laugh a lot.

Kyle: A manager should support all team members and not openly show favoritism. A great leader has an ‘open to listen,’ communicates often, and shouldn’t be afraid to admit someone else was right. This allows others to feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns.

Michele: I’ve learned that leadership can occur at any level and the important thing is to exercise your power in whatever your level or position. The traits of a good leader are integrity, humility, courage/confidence, compassion, and appreciation.

Sarah: Create a vision and foster collaboration to harness the power of combined focus. Treat others the way they want to be treated. You are responsible to people, not for them. Traits of a great leader I would list as: creativity, curiosity, compassion, collaborative, stewardship, agility, empowering, humble, approachable.

Sonia: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. The traits of a great leader are listening to understand, initiative for action, transparency, ownership/accountability, and courage to make tough decisions.

Tricia: Learning to let go and trust the people with whom you work or who work for you. Back when I was a very young consultant—and thought I was a lot smarter than I really was—I felt I had to micromanage everything because in my mind, the people on my team couldn’t possibly do it better than me. It was very hard initially to trust my team, but—while they may not have done things exactly how I would have done it—it opened my eyes to the fact that they had different perspectives and letting go opened up a lot of valuable possibilities. Now, of course with age comes wisdom, I’m more than happy to throw things over the fence and I love to see what comes back—it’s much more collaborative and fun, and really amps up the ‘ownership’ aspect for everyone involved.

To learn more about these inspiring women, please visit http://www.parkeravery.com/pag-women.html