Martha Stewart is a strong business brand and is seen as a brave leader and entrepreneur in the American history. Her biography paints a picture of a business person who went from a fledgling to a sowing Eagle. Her journey was not without troubles and tribulations; to date, many still ask themselves how a simple woman managed to turn her catering hobby into a business empire. The use of an autocratic form of leadership seemed to work for Martha Stewart, but her success required not only this.
Leadership in Business
Martha Stewart was born on August 3, 1941, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was the second child in the family that lived in Nutley, a community of the working class in New Jersey (“Martha Stewart” 2). After graduating from Nutley high school, Stewart studied in Manhattan at Barnard College, where she attained an arts degree in the year 1962. (“Martha Stewart” 7). Young Martha started working at a tender age of 10, working as an occasional babysitter. At the age of 15, the girl started to be featured on television commercials, magazines as well as advertisements, for example, the Unilever commercial. During her college years, she also used to model to be able to sustain her in college (“Martha Stewart” 14).
Martha Stewart’s career turned in 1967 when she offered her services as stockbroker for the boutique firm, her father-in-law's profession. She had worked there until 1972, when she moved to Westport. The Stewarts renovated the house which they had bought on Turkey Hill road that would become the model as well as a TV studio for the set of the “Martha Stewart Living”.
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According to Joan Gallos, leadership is all about being passionate in what one is doing and being able to achieve success (5). Martha Stewart is passionate on gourmet cooking, which she had learnt through reading cooking books she was interested in. She started her catering business and was widely known for her gourmet menus which were unique compared to the rest.
Leadership is all about seeing a business loop and coming with ways to close the identified gap (Gallos 18). Martha saw such an opportunity in the catering business and was ready to tap in that market quickly. Her gourmet food store became a success. The entrepreneur attained it thanks to her knowledge, as she worked earlier at Market Basket gourmet food store as manager which made her be experienced in such a business. Martha Stewart’s gourmet food store grew very fast to a one-million-dollar company serving different clients from corporations to celebrities (“Martha Stewart” 21). In chapter 23 of her book Business Leadership, Joan Gallos writes about the power of creativity and transforming vision of a leader that can take the business to greater heights.
Martha Stewart’s vision and creativity made her venture into the world of publishing a cookbook which contained recipes and photos of parties she catered with her first book being Entertaining. Collaboration of different companies or partnership bring about or result in profits and recognition of the business entities (Gallos 52). Martha Stewart collaborated with her husband’s firm and was given a contract to release her book. The businesswoman used the resources of her company to come up with the book and presented it to the company’s top management (“Martha Stewart” 23). Through this Stewart was given a possibility to publish other books after she met with Alan Mirken, who was heading a publishing group. After the success of Entertaining, Martha released many books such as Martha Stewart's Quick Cook among many others. This shows how resilient Martha Stewart has been and persistent in the releasing of more and more books. In chapter 39 of Business Leadership, Joan Gallos writes of how important resilience is to a leader in a business setup, and how it can help a business in terms of profits and winning more customers as well as subscribers. Martha Stewart also started a magazine called “Martha Stewart Living” where she worked as an editor. This venture became also a great success selling over two million copies per issue. Martha Stewart developed the successful magazine and started a television show about it in addition to becoming a great contributor to popular shows on NBC and CBS network (“Martha Stewart” 47).
Seven Ages of a Leader
According to Joan Gallos’ Business Leadership, Martha Stewart would form the perfect example of seven ages of a leader. The first age identified in the “infant executive”. It refers to those entrepreneurs who are just wetting their feet in the business world. Martha Stewart was at this stage when she came to the realization that she could make money from what was simply her passion, cooking and catering. She moved on to the second phase, which is the “schoolboy with a shining face” when she began to make deals and different vendors started recognizing her brand. The businesswoman was establishing herself in the consumer market and has won a loyal consumer following. At her peak, Martha Stewart became a synonym of household. She moved on to the third age, called a “lover with a woeful ballad” when she landed into legal problems, which led to her incarceration. The majority of her businesses were either seized or collapsed. The following age for Martha Stewart was the “beaded soldier”. After her release, the businesswoman had to find the ways for her to return to her previous glory and make ends meet. She was not out, but she was down. Martha Stewart moved on to the next age where she was the “general with wise saws”. She managed to find alternative ways of earning an income. The entrepreneur had learnt from her previous mistakes and was willing to reestablish herself. Presently, Martha Stewart is the “statesman with spectacles on her nose”. She is actively involved in mentoring and guiding others to come up with their own businesses and succeeding in them. One can see that the businesswoman has only gone through six ages of a leader, and is to move to the final age (Gallos).
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Martha Stewart’s Characteristics
The characteristics of Martha Stewart’s leadership according to the seven ages of the leader from the Business Leadership by Joan Gallos fit the “bearded soldier”. This is a leader who grows comfortable with the role as time goes by as well as gains confidence in the decisions he or she makes (Gallos 65). Martha Stewart was very confident and comfortable with her leadership, as she ventured into different types of businesses from catering, cook books, and magazine to television shows. The entrepreneur is also characterized as a bearded soldier, as Norma Collier said it was hard to work with Martha, as she was managing other businesses on the side and did not want to nurture her employees or partners.
Another characteristic is the “general full of wise saws”. These leaders are at the picks of their careers not wanting to hear correction or the truth concerning them or their business (Gallos 70). Martha Stewart faced this in the situation with ImClone systems, when she said she wanted to focus on making money and did not want any advice from anyone resulting in her stocks going down incredibly (“Martha Stewart” 59-61). The businesswoman regarded herself as being very wise in her decision-making, as most of the ventures in which she entered were doing good and making profits, and she had done that on her own without any advice from anyone but by her own mind. That is why she saw no need to consult people when managing her business. This brought to the downfall of her and her business as she was later convicted by the government for securities fraud (Gren 11).
An Autocratic Leader
Aside from the seven ages of a leader, Martha Stewart is also known in different way. One outstanding aspect that sets this businesswoman apart from the rest is the fact that she follows an autocratic leadership style. She is famous for being exceptionally demanding with her staff, and paying specific attention to the smallest details of her business. Whether one likes Martha Stewart or not, there is no doubt that she has been more than successful in her undertakings, applying her autocratic mode of leadership (Kleinstein). She is the teacher of all things of a good taste in the US. Martha Stewart managed to successfully turn her lifestyle into a thriving business empire. She changed the American thought process and way of life simply through the use of self-help guides. The entrepreneur has never allowed anyone to have a final say in her decisions, whether friends or employees. She has been famous for doing things her way, without asking anyone’s opinions. Martha Stewart is very precise in her objectives and the manner she will use to achieve them, which is typical of autocratic leaders (Kleinstein). Her leadership style has inspired other girls and women to advance their careers.
Unlike other autocratic leaders from all over the world, Martha Stewart has little compassion for her subordinates. Margaret Thatcher was a leader who made use of autocratic leadership. She was not concerned with the opinions of her colleagues and her party members, but she had compassion towards her fellow men and women. Martha Stewart has been the subject of heavy criticism due to the fact that she lacks compassion for her staff. She has been known as the tough boss, having little interest in how her employees are living (Kleinstein). Despite the criticism, that same leadership style helped her to get through various tribulations and has led her to becoming a business Guru. As much as Martha Stewart’s style is autocratic, she also makes use of hands-on leadership. Many great leaders have been known to prefer this mode of leadership.
According to John Adair, Martha Stewart is the representation of the six dark traits associated with leaders (55). The first is that she is a perfectionist and expects the same quality of work from those who work for her. She is very demanding and does not receive criticism well. Martha Stewart has been famous for having problems with accepting the perspective of other people and may be characterized as arrogant. She has a strong conviction that her way is the right way, and may be condescending to those who work closely with her. Martha Stewart may even be considered as narcissistic and very impulsive in making some of her decisions. She feels that she is entitled to a substantial compensation benefit, which is not equivalent to stock value. James Stewart published an article in New York Times focusing on Martha Stewart as the main subject of discussion. He noted that her total worth is linked to the value of the shares. It may appear as common sense, but not to Martha herself. She expects to continue collecting hefty compensations and benefits, while her company continues to struggle under the weight of heavy debts (Stewart).
Following are some of the traits that define Martha Stewart’s leadership style. Firstly, to begin with, she has been a life-long learner. According to her, she saw no end to her career, she was not willing to retire. For Stewart, instead of retirement, she would only switch her career path to something that was more suitable. Secondly, sourcing inspiration from various sources. Martha Stewart was aware of her surroundings, and was constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. For instance, she was on the lookout for new artists whom she could feature in her show and magazine. She was always sourcing for new products and would even dare to multitask while she took interviews. The third essential element is that Martha Stewart set up a work life balance. For her, there was no need to separate her personal life from her business life, it was all meshed into one. It is an effective strategy, but Stewart acknowledged that it would not work for everyone. Fourth is to keep going. She had legal difficulties, but acknowledged that it was not her rock bottom, simply a small bump on the road (Stewart 59). Martha Stewart could not overlook anything. She has always been seeking for new opportunities, even stumbling upon the bump on the road.
Regardless of Martha Stewart’s rocky career life, there are certain lessons that one can learn from her. The first is being a leader with passion. There is no doubt that the entrepreneur takes every step with the thought of business in mind. The second lesson is the practice of solid believes. Any leader who has attained great success has one or two solid values that he or she upholds. As for Martha, her focus is on the production of quality products to improve life and attain great values. It is evident that these are the values that drive her productivity. Third is being a leader who leads with the head and the heart. It is unfortunate, but the rumors about her are true, as she really perceives people as being a commodity. However, Martha Stewart seems to have a soft spot for those working to drive her success. She is aware that it takes team effort rather than individual effort. The fourth is the establishment of interlinked and intimate relationships. Martha Stewart’s association with Kmart is symbolic of such processes. For instance, when Kmart went bankrupt, she stayed loyal, even when she could have easily gone to another vendor. Another lesson that can be borrowed from Martha Stewart is self-discipline. Her self-discipline as leader is apparent in her focus on her products and the demand of the product. The entrepreneur spends almost no time on activities that are not associated with her business. Her success provides lessons that many leaders can borrow. The five lessons leant form Stewart can serve as guide map for a lifestyle and attitudes that would lead to success.
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In conclusion, Martha Stewart’s leadership style is autocratic, as she is very demanding to her staff and pays attention to each aspect of her businesses. She is a self-made leader. Her leadership style is very admirable and can be emulated by other leaders. Martha Stewart’s leadership skills have seen her business making profits. The businesswoman’s approach of taking risks made her who she is and defined her business. She started working at a tender age which made her grow as an entrepreneur as well as a leader. Martha Stewart gained experience from working in food store as well as reading cooking books. These made her come with ideas to start a food store as well as write a cooking book, which were successful as she noted the gaps and loop holes in those business areas. Martha Stewart’s characteristics, according to the seven ages of the leader from Business Leadership, are those of the “bearded soldier” and the “general full of wise saws” and are applied in her leadership style.