How to Get Off Manager’s Island

Photo: Boulevard

Managing a salon can sometimes be a lonely experience. The hours can be long, turnover can be rampant, and meaningful relationships with your colleagues can be difficult to forge. It can be easy to feel isolated from the rest of your team, stuck on what I call Manager’s Island. 

Fortunately, “can be” doesn’t mean “has to be,” and there’s no reason your current stay on  Manager’s Island has to be permanent. Managing a salon will always have its challenges (as does any rewarding career). Feeling lonely or isolated doesn’t have to be one of them. 

Before we talk about how to get off Manager’s Island, let’s be clear: this isn’t about relinquishing your duties as a leader. Just the opposite. Leaving Manager’s Island requires you to be an even better leader, a more open, thoughtful, and progressive leader than you’ve ever been before. 

Ready to exit Manager’s Island? Here’s how to make it happen:

  • Be a mentor rather than a boss. Again, being a mentor doesn’t mean you’re not leading. And it doesn’t mean you’re not looking out for the interests of the business. But it does mean keeping the life and career ambitions of your team members at the forefront of your thought process. It means thinking about their development every bit as much as you think about their performance. And it means being more purposeful and thoughtful about getting to know them not just as team members, but as people. Speaking of which…  
  • Stop asking your colleagues to leave their personal lives at home. If you’re serious about getting off Manager’s Island, drop the “leave your personal life at home” stuff. The person someone is at home is the person they are at work, period. It’s your job as a leader to understand and empathize with the entirety of who someone is, not just who you want them to be during work hours. Start getting to know your colleagues as people from the moment you interview them and never stop. 
  • Empower your team to lead. Consider implementing agendaless meetings. One of the most transformative things you can do as a manager is to ask, “What should we talk about today?” Cover what you simply have to cover but otherwise open the floor. Almost all of the best business minds in our industry started in a supposedly “non-business” role. When you give your team room to create and collaborate, that’s when meaningful relationships grow. 

One of the best ways to create the space needed for agendaless meetings is to be proactive about addressing team member concerns in real-time rather than waiting for the next team meeting or 1-on-1. Every time you say, “let’s talk about it in our next meeting,” you’re not only potentially letting frustration linger and spread, but you’re also limiting your ability to be open and flexible with that next meeting’s agenda. 

  • Rethink what it means to be supportive. As leaders, we often fall into two support-related traps. The first is defining what “support” means in a vacuum. What one person needs to feel supported may be different than what another person needs. You don’t get to decide what it means to be supportive. Your employees do. One-size-fits-all support is a one-way ticket to Manager’s Island. Make it a point to ask each team member what they need to feel supported. Hear it directly from them.

The other trap is failing to tend to the support needs of your top performers. We often think about support as a means to prop up those that are struggling. But support isn’t just about performance. It’s about growth, development, and feeling understood. Your top performers need to be seen and heard just the same as anyone else. They also need to be coached and corrected. Never look the other way when you see coachable behavior simply because someone happens to be highly productive despite it. Your other team members will notice you’re not holding that person to the same standard and your culture will suffer for it.

  • Establish the right hours (for your team). We just talked about making your team feel empowered and supported. Nothing undermines those efforts more than setting a schedule that works for you but that your team hates. If your team feels like you are forcing an unfavorable schedule on them, they’re going to return the favor by making you feel isolated from the group. As with support, the “right” schedule is defined by what is right for your team. Focus on productivity, not hours clocked.
  • Don’t take technology personally. As a manager, it’s easy to feel like your team is attacking you personally when they say a particular system isn’t working for them. Don’t. One of the fastest ways to get marooned on Manager’s Island is to side with your technology over your team. If everyone on your team is telling you that your booking software is out of date, chances are your booking software is out of date. If everyone is telling you that you need a more seamless way to process payments, chances are you need a more seamless way to process payments. A complaint about a system or process is not a complaint about you personally.  

If you’re looking at these steps and thinking, “Sure, that all sounds great, but I’ve got a business to run here,” that’s understandable. Here’s the thing though: escaping from Manager’s Island isn’t just good for your soul (although that alone ought to be benefit enough!), it’s also good for your business.

If there’s one immutable law of salon leadership, it’s that creating a better, more inclusive experience for your teams leads to a healthier business. Engaged employees, less burnout, reduced turnover, better collaboration, more teamwork, a consistent stream of fresh ideas — you name it, it all invariably leads to happier clients and increased revenue, and it’s all right there for the taking. 

Time to leave the Island. 

About the Author
Shanalie Wijesinghe is the Director of Education at Boulevard, where she lends her industry and platform expertise to both in-house staff and partner salons and spas. A salon industry veteran with more than 14 years of experience working for high-end luxury salons such as Sally Hershberger and BENJAMIN, Wijesinghe was previously a sales engineer for Boulevard and blends her knowledge of the beauty and technology industries to help put the company’s partners and employees on the path to success. A Bay Area native and first-generation immigrant, Wijesinghe is a graduate of the Paul Mitchell School specializing in cosmetology, styling, and nail instruction.

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