Only 10% of people naturally possess the traits to become effective managers. Not everyone has what it takes—and that isn’t a bad thing.

Business management requires a combination of certain personality traits and an absence of others. Those “other” traits are often admirable ones to have, like empathy, generosity, leniency, and flexibility. However, successful managers know how to discern when those qualities are acceptable and when they aren’t. If you are part of the 90% of people who aren’t born to lead, you’re in luck! Studies say that up to 30% of people can be trained to acquire these traits, but personally, I believe anyone dedicated enough can modify their behavior and their mindset with enough effort.

So, what does it take to be a great manager?

Resilience

Managers require a thick skin. You will play the role of The Bad Guy from time to time and the employees you lead will not always like you. Anti-authoritarian types may hate you simply because you hold your position. Managers must understand and accept the unfortunate fact that they won’t always be popular in the salon—really great managers not only understand and accept it, but are completely cool with it.

If you’re the kind of person who needs others to like you, you’re probably not cut out for a career in salon management.

Patience

Working with people can be frustrating, but managing people can introduce an entirely new level of aneurysm-inducing irritation. Managers must be able to keep their tempers in check, no matter what a client or employee screams (or throws) at them.

Salons have been recognized as having a higher than average rate of workplace deviance.

This means you’ll likely face shocking workplace behaviors most managers in other industries encounter rarely–if ever–in their careers. What type of deviance are we talking about?

  • Sex in treatment rooms.
  • Drug use during work hours.
  • Lying, stealing, fighting, bullying and workplace sabotage.

I wish I could say I was joking, but I’m not. I also wish I could say that, in my career, instances of occupational crime/deviance were few and far between, but that hasn’t been my experience whatsoever. As a salon manager, you will have to learn not to take employee defiance/deviance personally and how to respond appropriately.

Initiative

If you need someone to hold your hand or prod you to work, you aren’t a great candidate for management of any kind. Managers must know what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. They must have the ability to prioritize those tasks and complete them properly (or delegate them responsibly) without any outside direction.

Excellent organizational skills help, but only if you follow through.

For a lot of managers, finding motivation can be hard, so I recommend against waiting for that lightning bolt to strike and taking a proactive, systematic approach. Create daily routines, make checklists, and invest in a fantastic planner. (Then, sew that planner to your forearm and never go anywhere without it. Seriously, planners are a manager’s best friend.)

Diplomacy

Mediating disputes ranks as one of the least pleasant duties a salon manager must handle.

A good manager will be capable of bringing disagreements to a satisfactory, fair resolution.

Preferably, you’ll have run through common workplace issues in advance so you have some kind of plan for when you’re inevitably confronted with them. If you haven’t yet, consider the following:

  • A client has lost patience with her stylist mid-service and has demanded the service be brought to a halt. She won’t allow the professional to touch her and wants to talk to a manager immediately. Shifting her into another professional’s chair won’t be easy, as everyone in the salon is booked. What do you do?
  • A professional arrives to work only to find a coworker using her flat iron–again. This professional has repeatedly asked this coworker not to touch her tools. She’s fed up and wants you to intervene. What do you do?
  • A client returns to the salon three weeks after her fill demanding a refund. She hasn’t followed the salon’s enhancement maintenance schedule and isn’t eligible for one, but that’s not stopping her from making a very loud, aggressive scene. What do you do?
  • A client who has been known to make lewd, inappropriate comments has groped one of your professionals. The professional is furious and has stopped the service. They’re demanding the client be dismissed. What do you do?
  • The receptionist has been caught stealing cash tips. What do you do?
  • Two of your employees return from lunch drunk. What do you do?
  • A client reports that the salon’s nail technician has offered to do the client’s nails at home–if the client pays in Xanax. What do you do?
  • A stylist has been sending nude pictures to a married client whose spouse found them. To say the spouse isn’t happy would be a massive understatement. The spouse is blasting the salon and the professional online and has threatened to drag the professional out of the shop by the hair for a parking lot showdown. What do you do?
  • A feud between two professionals has escalated. One of the employees has had their tires slashed. The other came to work to find the cords on all of their appliances severed. Both employees are certain the other vandalized their property. You have no proof to substantiate either professional’s claim. What do you do?

These are all issues I’ve faced at least once (let me make this clear–at least once) in my career as a salon manager. Do yourself the favor of considering every bizarre possibility in advance.

You can’t fire everyone.

Honesty

We’re not talking about the quaint, George Washington brand of honesty. Sure, you cannot tell a lie as a manager, but you will have to deliver some harsh reality with the brute force of blunt truth from time to time. Your words may bring someone to tears. It’s unfortunate, but “real talk” will be necessary, particularly when it comes to terminating a staff member or correcting an issue you’ve already addressed in previous discussions.

Salon managers must know when gentle handling is appropriate, and when it isn’t.

If you’re not accustomed to having difficult discussions, start practicing (either mentally or with a friend). As with dispute resolution, the more you practice and prepare, the easier it’ll be to execute when necessary. Consider the following:

  • A likable, reliable professional has been spending too much of their time talking during services. As a result, they have been unable to hit protocol times, causing serious scheduling issues. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • Clients are complaining about the nail technician’s “abrasive tone.” You’re certain she isn’t intentionally being rude, but because the clients don’t recognize that, the problem has to be addressed and corrected. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • An arrogant stylist has more ego than her technical skills or sales performance can justify and her attitude has been causing problems on the floor. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • A senior employee has been trying to pull rank on two new hires by bossing them around and belittling their work. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • Two professionals are bullying one employee. The receptionist reports that the bullies have told her not to book any clients with the victim. The bullies are repeatedly in your office, complaining about their target and clearly trying to get her fired. The professional they’re bullying has been performing exceptionally well and has never had a client complaint–unlike the bullies who are not performing well and receive several complaints a year. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • A new hire has been rallying the existing employees in the back room, complaining about you and the salon’s practices in general. The employees have reported that she plans to open her own salon in the near future and seems to be planning to take the salon’s staff with her. What do you say and how do you say it?
  • An employee’s inappropriate, revealing clothing choices have been causing problems. You’ve already spoken with her several times about it. What do you say and how do you say it?

Managers who can’t look someone in the eyes and say what they need to hear will struggle to maintain order in the salon and will lose the respect of their team.

If you don’t feel as if you have the strength to confidently demand accountability and enforce consequences, practice until you do.

A Green Thumb

Your job, ultimately, will be to cultivate success. Consider the salon a garden and the employees within it your beautiful flowers. They might sprout unsightly leaves (bad habits) or begin to wither (burn out). Sometimes, a few weeds might find their way into your flowerbed and start strangling your prized specimens!

Good managers maintain their garden.

Bad leaves are trimmed away. Withering blooms are nurtured. Weeds get pulled and discarded with haste. Instead of watering your employees with a gardening hose every morning (a practice I don’t recommend), your daily maintenance will require you to provide constructive feedback, encourage them, appreciate them, ask for their opinions, and conduct meetings with them to ensure they’re happy with the direction the salon is moving in.

Strive to say something positive and deliver a compliment to your employees during nearly every interaction with them.

Recognize every accomplishment. Praise every positive behavior. Show gratitude for every contribution, no matter how small. Give your team opportunities to impress you by delegating important tasks to them periodically. More than anything, show interest in their ideas and opinions.

Let your team know they’re valuable and they matter.

By showing consideration and appreciation, you’ll develop a healthy work environment and an atmosphere of mutual respect, making your job (and everyone else’s) a thousand times easier.


If you’re planning on becoming a salon owner or manager, I recommend reading my book, Salon Ownership and Management: The Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. It contains everything you need to know about establishing and managing a salon.

If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like these articles:

Salon Ownership & Management: Are you prepared?

10 Tips to Keep Your Professionals Happy, Inspired, and Loyal

Why You’ll Never Succeed at Salon Management

How to Become a Less Stressed Salon Manager

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