On the Job

Ignite: What Selling Shoes Taught Me

For the past few days, I’ve been in Detroit attending the ASAE Annual Meeting. The meeting itself is a great gathering of association executives from all over the country and a wonderful chance to see some faces I’ve missed. But this year was different for me in that I spoke at an educational session called Ignite. Ignite sessions are a number of speakers grouped together talking about entirely unrelated topics, but all using the same format. Each speaker gets 5 minutes and 20 PowerPoint slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds. It’s a fascinating format. I’ve attended a number of these sessions over the years and it’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse into people’s lives. The sessions are typically personal in nature and tell some sort of story – lessons learned, inspiration and even some incredibly moving personal stories about love and loss.

I’ve been presenting for a long time and I can say with all certainly that this is the hardest type of presentation to give. Five minutes flies by and the timing of the slides requires a ton of practice. There’s very little room for error, though thankfully, the audience (typically at least 300 people at this meeting) is supportive, encouraging and forgiving. It was a unique experience and I’m honored to have been a part of it. My co-presenters this year talked about a wide variety of topics and some of my favorites included lessons learned after beating cancer, coming from Poland to rural Missouri as a high school exchange student and the power of music. I chose to honor John Fluevog and talk about what I learned while selling shoes at his extraordinary company and I wanted to share a bit with you (be kind…I only had 5 minutes!).

  1. Do what you expect, not what others expect. Making a career move from association management into retail management seemed like a crazy idea to most people. But in talking with the folks at Fluevog, we all agreed it was just a crazy enough idea to work. And while I got a lot of funny looks and reactions from some professional contacts, it never occurred to me to not pursue it.
  2. Be yourself. This is a big one and John himself talks about the importance of authenticity all the time. When you’re comfortable and being yourself, others will be comfortable and be themselves around you. This is the sweet spot where the magic happens.
  3. Build your team. One of the most memorable things John ever said to me was that the DC store was my store and the team there needed to be my team and work with me. This was coming from the founder of this company, and I was pretty sure it was his store. His permission was a huge vote of confidence and changed the way I thought about managing people. John thought enough of me and trusted me to build a team he’d be proud of. And I’m happy to say I think we accomplished that. Some of my favorite people are in my life now because we were on that team together.
  4. Celebrate and have fun. We get caught up in the day to day and we often forget this part. My team genuinely enjoyed each other and were always rooting for one another both at work and outside of work. We celebrated store accomplishments, birthdays, graduations, and important life milestones. Celebrating and enjoying each other is critical for any team’s success.

And while not a quote from John himself, I think this Amy Poehler quote sums up what resonated most with me – do work you are proud of with your talented friends. Thanks for letting me share some of my story here. 🙂

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