Critical Leadership Lessons From The Fashion World

Who on earth decides what is in this season? I’ve always wondered that. I sometimes imagine some eccentric designer in a studio apartment in New York. Thanks Hollywood.

Perhaps we don’t give enough credit to how fashion designers and “approvers” impact culture. I say “approvers” because I imagine in many instances there is someone who says, “That’s nice and I’ll put money to making lots of these and selling them.”

It was not until I saw this sign on a window at the mall I thought about the parallels of fashion designers and leaders in general. (Yes, I’m also still wondering how I got there).

Designers and leaders are “definers”. Designers decide what it is are going to wear and what we’re collectively going to look like. Leaders decide the culture of the organizations and teams they lead. They influence what their activities as they reach for their goals look like.

Critical Leadership Lessons Fashion World

Destroy | Develop

There are bad lessons leader can take away from fashion. One of the lessons is of iteration. I’ve met people in mall that look like they fell out of a 80s or 90s music videos. Yes, tights, leg warmers and sweat bands. Seriously?

Some leaders make the mistake of iteration, at the expense, and sadly, thought of innovating. Fashion reiterates. A lot. However, there are times innovation is necessary.

The challenge of leadership is always determining what needs to be done today to define the future. Iteration? Innovation?

Leader, are you replaying the past when you should be defining a future through innovation? [Click to Tweet]

My context for innovation here is creating something new. Something that radically transforms a culture and the way things are done. I’m talking about when the cave men made shoes. Maybe that’s a little too far out, but you get the idea.

Iteration has to do with nothing new. Doing what has been done before. Sometimes, like I’ve said, it is warranted and at other times just an excuse for being lazy.

Laziness and its justification tend to produce rubbish. Laziness and all its excuses brings back the past. And, even worse, creates a worse past.

Defining

I’m yet to have a designer come ask me what I want to wear next winter. (I wish they would)

In the fashion world, as I imagine it, there are designers. They design, well stuff, and then present it to someone, perhaps a design director, who gives it a thumbs up or kills it. (Here I’m having flashes from the movie Gladiator; thumbs up or down for life or death)

Leaders can learn to give their teams creative freedom. Freedom to go do some outrageous designs or dreaming. Allow the expression of who they are to mark the task given, sometimes intentionally against organizational culture.

Sometimes, intentionally going against organizational culture is the necessity of innovation. In the fashion world, designers can be daring with their work.

Leaders too afraid of doing something bold rarely get the attention of the world. Bold action is necessary to get the attention of those your enterprise serves. The truth is, no one is drawn to a bland, dull, boring and timid vision.

Bold inspires. Bold defines. Dull and timid degrades and repels. Bold brings attention and creates a platform for your “product” and dull gets no support, drains and wanes into oblivion.

Celebration

I have written “Seven Reasons You Must Celebrate“, however there is something relevant about celebration here. Again, thanks Hollywood and Fashion TV, but they throw parties in the fashion world.

Teams that don’t celebrate their wins are likely to go into the next endeavor with little passion. Celebration says, “we just finished doing something worth doing” and “what we did is important enough to shout about it on the hill-top”. This brings me to the next point.

Showcase

Leaders plagued with perfectionism are rare at showcases. It is one thing to make sure you deliver quality but it is another to never ship. Everyone in the fashion world knows that they get paid when only when they deliver. Your great and even flawed work means nothing to the world unless you release it to do what you intended it to do.

So something and, do like them fashion people do, make a big deal about what you do. Tell the world to stop and look at what you’ve done because it matters. Because what you do has the potential for impact on them and their surround.

Love your work enough to release it perfect with its flaws. Isn’t that what we do with people anyway? I’m not suggesting you should be sloppy with your work. I’m saying you should be comfortable not to have everything in your product.

Build into your “product” whatever you can and as best as you can with set time frames and deliver. Better it on the go. Some may not agree with this philosophy but that’s fine by me. Chances are, those who disagree ship less and are usually out-innovated.

Author: Blessing Mpofu

just a guy changing the world

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