15 Characteristics of a Heartfelt Leader

Katie McBreen
June 17, 2015

Even if you’ve been in the workforce for just a few years, you’ve likely seen leadership at its best — and worst. In my own career, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly from myriad bosses and executives. While leadership comes more easily to some than others, that doesn’t mean those skills can’t — and shouldn’t — be learned and fine-tuned.

Reiff was named a “power player” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2015.

Reiff was named a “power player” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2015.

Melissa Reiff, president and COO of The Container Store and a “power player” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future, is probably one of those people who was leading her classmates on the playground long before she ever uttered the word “leadership.” Prior to joining The Container Store, Reiff wrote down 15 characteristics for her two young children that make a heartfelt leader and put it in her safety deposit box to share with them when they were older. Two decades later, those tenets are central to the philosophy of the company she runs — a company that has been named 16 times on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

“You can be sweet, you can be secure, you can be firm and you can be kind all at the same time.”

Melissa Reiff

Reiff’s views on leadership aren’t typical to the business world. She believes that “you can be sweet, you can be secure, you can be firm and you can be kind all at the same time.” While many in positions of power believe you have to be tough, hard-hitting and guarded to be effective, Reiff’s style is quite the opposite. “I just don’t feel that’s the right approach,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the right environment to keep people happy and motivated and inspired. You’ve got one life. Let’s live it and be happy with it. That doesn’t mean you don’t address things that are tough, but you can do so in the right way.”

The Container Store

Heartfelt Leadership

Reiff (center) poses with a few of The Container Store’s 1,350 Texas employees.

The time-tested list of leadership qualities informs her work at The Container Store and has become such an integral part of the company’s culture that it’s shared with employees at new store openings and posted in break rooms.

Melissa Reiff’s 15 Characteristics of a Heartfelt Leader:

  1. Security: Have security in yourself and always assume the best of others.
  2. Confidence: Dig deep, don’t get intimidated and do it with warmth.
  3. Positive Attitude: A positive attitude is a choice and it makes the people around you better.
  4. Maturity: We can control how we react to people, things and circumstances.
  5. Focus: Truly zero in, focus with excellence, shut out distractions and prioritize accurately.
  6. Courage: Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and work hard to understand others and bring them along with you.
  7. Sweet: Be sincere, thoughtful and generous at heart. Put others first. Care enough to connect with different personalities.
  8. Communication: Care enough to communicate.
  9. Tenacity: Never give up. Take responsibility and initiative whenever the opportunity arises.
  10. Humor: Laugh often.
  11. Agility: Be alert and nimble. Be the one to beat.
  12. Creativity: Ignite imaginations.
  13. Commitment: Commit and the universe conspires to assist you.
  14. Inspiration: Give the gift of inspiration to yourself and others.
  15. Passion: Have passion for life and in everything you do. 

Reiff believes “there’s one thing in life that you can control, and that’s how you react to something.” If you react by making good on Reiff’s precepts in work and life, success will follow.