Like a Boss: JCPenney CEO’s Leadership Lessons

4 lessons in leadership from Marvin R. Ellison, the Black Enterprise Corporate Executive of the Year

Leadership Lessons
JCPenney Chairman and CEO Marvin R. Ellison

Do you strive to be the kind of boss that inspires his team? One that earns not only the respect and admiration of her employees, but their loyalty as well? These leadership lessons from JCPenney Chairman & CEO Marvin R. Ellison can help you get there.

Ellison, this year’s Black Enterprise Corporate Executive of the Year, is responsible for the retailer’s 100,000 associates worldwide.

His senior management team—one of which followed him to JCP, after working with Ellison for 12 years at The Home Depot—speak of him in glowing terms, as a CEO who really listens and relates to people, and who helps them grow personally as well as professionally.

Here are a few of the leadership lessons Ellison shared exclusively with Black Enterprise:

1. Don’t Be a Micromanager

 

“It is my responsibility to set the mission, so that everyone has a crystal-clear view of where we’re going. Then to lay out the key objectives that we need to tackle. Then I want to hire really talented individuals that can come in and take that mission and those objectives and build strategic plans around how we get there. The mission has to be set by the leader. The key objectives have to be set. But then, you get out of the way, and let the talented team take that and create the strategy to drive the business.”

2. Don’t Learn the Hard Way

 

“I’ve been very fortunate to work for some very talented leaders, and I’ve been even more fortunate to work with leaders that were not that talented. I think you learn more from a bad boss than a good boss. I tell my two kids the greatest thing that happened to me is that I had older siblings. Because of that, I could learn from all their successes, but equally as important, I could learn from all their mistakes. For my leadership style, it’s all about learning.”

3. Don’t Forget the Golden Rule

 

“I try to lead as I would like to be led. It’s important to make sure we’re living by the culture of this company and the whole golden rule of ‘do unto others as we’d have them do unto us,’ which is what this company was founded on. It’s how we think every day when we deal with our direct reports, when we deal with our colleagues, and especially, when we’re dealing with the customer.”

4. Don’t Try to Be Someone Else, and Don’t Think You’re Better Than Anyone Else

 

“My dad taught all of us a great lesson, and I repeat it oftentimes to the team; that is that nobody can beat you being you. When you grow up, when you don’t have a lot, when you have neighbors and friends that may have nicer homes, nicer cars, nicer clothing, as a child, you can easily start to believe that you are less than they are. As a matter of fact, my dad and I were chatting on the phone last night, and he reminded me of something he would say, ‘There’s no such thing as big I’s and little U’s. People should look at each other equally.'”