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In my almost 15 years of experience in luxury design, I had the opportunity to meet some of the brightest minds, most talented people and most prolific over-achievers in the industry, and got a good sense of what makes a great leader in its circles. I came across five different types:
1.The entitled one
The Harvard Business Review calls “family gravity” the delicate balance between the uniqueness of a family business and all the critical factors in long-term success”. Such endurance is dependent in part on smooth executive transitions, and governance during and after a family company leadership change is a reliably fraught affair. One leader I encountered inherited his father’s luxury business, and was not a happy example of this type. He encompassed a key role, stood at the center of the organization like the sun in the solar system, but never mastered people management, leadership development or good succession practices. Worse yet, in inheriting the business, he amplified his innate insecurities and low self-confidence. The product of an undisciplined CEO succession, he hadn’t been groomed to lead and was used to ring kissing instead.
Creating a new and refreshed company reality is, unquestionably, a challenge for those from affluent families… essentially living up to mother’s or father’s standards. It’s common for them to never feel quite free of old company mistakes, but it’s also common for them to never be held accountable for bad decisions. The above-mentioned person never engaged with our team, and progressively disconnected from all key players. Better for the business to have looked elsewhere: A company with gravity and governance can easily attract talent from outside the family.
Related: Why a Luxury Manager Needs a Combination of Substance and Style
2. The diva
For chief executive positions in the luxury industry, I’ve found that a ratio of 60% substance to 40% style is a winning one. A leader who is merely efficient but sports no style won’t be able to represent the aesthetic and avant-garde qualities of a brand. But if there is only style and no substance, then the quality of the work is compromised, and its creative team (and customers, most likely) will in time perceive the value of the brand to be diluted. That was my initial experience with this second type — the diva leader — but over time, and in no small way by embracing being coached by a mentor outside the organization, this stylish CEO succeeded.
3. The laissez-faire, laissez-aller leader
If you want to grow professionally, it’s great to come across this type of person. With their built-in attitude of trust, there’s not too much guidance, but instead a zeal for team delegation. I was lucky to work with a CEO that made few decisions and allowed my team to find appropriate solutions instead, largely without consulting him. Since that team was competent, took responsibility, and preferred engaging in individual work, this leadership style made for a successful strategy, but there are risks, of course.
4. The forever salesman
Promising the moon to clients and leaving teams the awful duty of delivering bad news, this type of leader fast loses his credibility inside and outside an organization. By inflating stories and not keeping his word, over time, his reputation deteriorates. Luxury is a small world, and reputation is invaluable, so authenticity and integrity should be at the core of the leadership and management of a brand. There are simply no compromises on that: This sector is a zero-tolerance domain, and if you want to work in it, pedestrian salesman tricks won’t work.
Related: 8 Things I Discovered While Working With Affluent Clients in New York City