When I’m coaching smart, successful leaders and entrepreneurs I hear a lot of complaining about how that owner/leader, “I told them over and over” or “I was showing them how to ...” or “Why can’t they simply understand how important this is?”

And I know immediately that they have turned from leading to managing. It’s easy to do inside a thriving pet enterprise. Really, who has time to think?

Most of us were never taught, nor think much about the difference. 

Leaders know that if they set the tone, if they share the vision or goal, if they model the behaviors and intentions well, the team will act in like manner. Leading takes longer but the effects are far superior. Just like training an animal, it takes some effort, but it pays off big time.

The first step in this process is, of course, you. What environment do you want to create in your pet store?

This begins with determining your beliefs about those you hire. Are they right out of school or in school? Are you seeking warm bodies, or are you looking for future leaders?

Knowing your beliefs about your team will make the difference between having challenges with low-wage workers or creating a culture of self-managing superstars.

Let’s break it down — neither is good or bad. However, knowing which you are doing may determine how successful you are with your team.

LEADING: providing guidance or leadership

MANAGING: having executive or supervisory control or authority

Sometimes you must manage or have control or authority. After all, it’s your store. However if you want your team to exhibit superior service you might consider leading them instead. Here are three ways to do this better.

1. Stop telling them and start asking them. Most of us start with, “Here’s what you do.” Or “It’s important you do this exactly like this.”

For things like computer input, sometimes it is a set path. Mostly though, it’s not. Asking more questions involves them, guides them, and helps them have a little skin in the game.

Start with a simple, “How would you do this?” to the even better, “How could you improve this?” Asking gets your team thinking and engaging. Then, just like when you work with pets, praise them for their efforts.

2. Focus on goals rather than tasks. If they are doing a task that is organizational or administrative, instead of telling them to focus on the customer more, ask, “Is what you’re doing getting us closer to our goal?” Usually, after they think about it, the answer is “no,” or “I’m not sure.” Then getting clear about your end goal is needed.

Note: Working toward the goal of pleasing customers above all things usually reaps the highest results.

3. Guide rather than control. You hired this person because he fits your criteria. When you let him know you believe in him, that you trust he will make right decisions, you usually get what you expect. Even using this phrase, “I know you will do what is best for the store.” is a leadership phrase. “Make sure you follow the procedure exactly!” is a management or control phase.

Sometimes the best way to shift from managing to leading is to simply ask yourself this question: “Who do I want to be in this situation? Someone who guides and leads or someone who controls?”

Since we have control only over ourselves — the answer, I’m sure you’ll agree is obvious.

Let me know the best questions you ask your team — I’ll write more about questions in future articles all in hopes of helping you with your pet business.

As a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic programming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network, Shawna Schuh helps professionals experience and profit from profound insights about themselves and their business. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article originally appeared in the May-June 2017 edition of PETS+.