What’s Your Leadership Style: Container Store or Pier One?

After 15 years in the field of leadership development, I’ve taken a slew of personality and leadership assessments. Before I got wiser about which ones are truly valuable, I subjected others to a slew of them too. Almost but not quite tongue-in–cheek, I’d like to narrow it down to the simplest leadership assessment of all:

Are you a Container Store person or a Pier One person?

With respect to running my business and leading my personal life, I’m a Container Store gal. The store is orderly—filled with practical things to organize your business and personal life. It’s like walking into an Excel spreadsheet. Shelving units, storage boxes, closet organizers. All in tasteful neutrals perhaps with a discrete splash of color.  You can scan the store in seconds, and head directly to what you want.

Pier One is filled with unique, colorful items that may or may not be utilitarian. Hand-blown drinking glasses, whimsical coffee cups with animal handles, a wall full of pillows in all shapes and sizes. Items are clustered together… the barest hint of “contained.”  Vibrant, bright colors to the darkest of dark wood. It’s a visual cacophony. You can’t make a beeline through Pier One—you have to meander, twist and turn, and discover.

Your natural leadership style might tend toward Container Store or Pier One. Each style has its strengths. But beware of blind spots—each style has those, too.  Style preferences aren’t just individual—they extend to your leadership team as well as your business culture. It helps to be alert to them.

Is Your Team (or Business) “Too Container Store?”

Is your team (or business) “too Container Store,” crushing innovation and creativity with things like cumbersome processes or an incessant need for data? Here’s a great example from the taxi cab industry. The processes, rules and regulations that have accumulated over the years have created more layers than ancient Troy.

The industry doesn’t serve taxi drivers or passengers well. (The right to drive a taxi is conferred by a small, controlled supply of medallions. A single medallion can cost up to $1 million. And some cities regulate taxi drivers down to the color of their socks!) Uber and other taxi alternatives bypass getting hamstrung by unnecessary regulations. They have just enough processes and regulations to operate far more effectively and efficiently in the marketplace. Drivers can get voted off the taxi island, and passengers can too! The result is better matching of supply and demand, and improved quality of service.

How do you know when your team’s or business processes are burdensome? You or your trusted advisors who will tell you the truth probably already know. If not, create the time to find out from internal and external stakeholders about what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll want to learn about stakeholders’ experience from a logical and emotional perspective. These will point the way to whether business process re-design is needed or a culture shift initiative is.

Is Your Team “Too Pier One?”

Is your team “too Pier One,” sparking great ideas and effort that never gel into measurable business results?  Here’s an example that may happen to you today: you or someone convenes a meeting without having set and prioritized objectives for it. Or more wasteful yet, someone convenes people with no agenda at all! Anyone who is Pier One has a very nice time getting together checking in or discussing issues. But to what end?

One senior manager has struck just the right balance. After he states the meeting objectives, he goes around the table. Each member has a few minutes to do a brief “check-in”—sharing what has transpired that week or what challenge he or she is facing. When the senior manager began this practice of hearing from every member at the outset, he was surprised to find that the team began to consistently get through the agenda and frequently were able to wrap-up meetings early! Another senior manager, a Container Store person in a field that demands regulatory compliance, has done a wonderful job bringing more Pier One play into her division with informal gatherings and fun competitions.

Creating the Right Mix Will Depend on Your Unique Business Context

Creating the right mix for your leadership team or business will depend on your unique business context–the product or service you provide, the industry, and the country culture. A team or business in financial services is going to prioritize style preferences quite differently than a team or business in new media. Each though, to be successful in the marketplace and attracting and retaining talent, will have to strive for that mix where processes, metrics, and tools (Container Store) support and enhance the expressiveness, creativity and social need of our human nature (Pier One).

It isn’t easy. There will be times when your team or business life-cycle, requires more of one than the other. And if you look at your last leadership team assessment (as did one of our clients recently), I’m betting half of your team wants more Container Store and the other half more Pier One. Oy vey!

Step back from the fray by acknowledging this simple divide. First within yourself and your style preference. Then within your team. This is where a compelling vision big enough for both styles—in the members and the team culture, and in the business—can pull everyone forward. It can help you find and make real-time adjustments to that just-right mix.


U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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