How to Lead With Enthusiasm, The Selfridge Way

“To Work is Elevating. To Accomplish is Superb”

–       Harry Gordon Selfridge


Harry Selfridge was not only the preeminent entrepreneur and commercial genius of his time, but for all time.  His beliefs, enthusiasm and methodologies, considered radical in the early years of the twentieth century are as bright and inspiring today as they were then.


His one book, “The Romance of Commerce’ chronicles how throughout history the success of civilizations is based on commercial trade.  He says too that individually, the moment we realized that people wanted what we have, and we could profit from it, we all became sales people. It became  ‘natural’ to us. All of us. Merchants sell their wares.  Artists sell their work. Writers sell their words.  Teachers, doctors, lawyers sell their knowledge, and the list goes on. We all  need to sell and  profit in order to keep a roof over our heads, and support our families.  But, if we do it well, we can make a niche for ourselves, earn some degree of fame, and prosper.


Without a doubt he was a man of boundless enthusiasm and confidence. But, you can’t be enthusiastic all by yourself. You need to have ideas worthy of enthusiasm, and garner supporters who believe in you and cheer you on.  He certainly had those. Admired as a leader, and a visionary, he pioneered and absolutely transformed the retail world into a model that’s still adhered to today. As his business grew, so did his fortune – and his sense of power. The fact that he accomplished this after the age of 50, should be inspiring to us all.  But at the same time his life is a cautionary tale – because the adoration, wealth and power fueled his ego, and combined with his personal excesses, ultimately led to his demise many years later.


Nonetheless, in his heyday. he understood that his success was dependent on other people, and that in order to gain trust and ‘buy in,’ he needed to inspire both his customers and his employees to want to contribute to that success.


Regardless of what may have been going on for him personally, the store was his theatre and he was always on stage – the superhero, who made sure all his co-stars knew their lines and played their parts well, and the applauding audience always left happy, with their arms laden with beautifully wrapped packages.


Here are some of his quotes.  Those of you who read leadership books and blogs may recognize them, and not realize they belonged to him.  He not only wrote them, he lived them.


  • “The boss drives his men; the leader coaches them.”
  • “The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will.”
  • “The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.’’
  • “The boss says “I”; the leader, “we.”’
  • “The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.’’
  • ‘‘The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.’’
  • ‘‘The boss says “Go”; the leader says “Let’s go!”


I know for many of us, as business owners we are both boss and leader, and at times it may be difficult to play both roles simultaneously. You can, and the solutions live in the quotes above.  Take each quote and ask yourself how you can maintain your authority and not undermine your credibility to lead.  Sometimes it may just be a matter of telling them ‘why,’ and working on the problem together.



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