M.M.LaFleur co-founder shares his leadership tips

Sarah LaFleur feared that her New York-based women’s e-commerce clothing brand, MM.LaFleur, might go out of business during the pandemic. Sales dropped 60 percent, and the company closed nine stores and cut jobs.

In a recent broadcast from Inc., LaFleur talked about how she started and expanded her business and ran it during the darkest days of Covid-19. In this candid and extensive interview, how she built and managed her team took center stage. Here are some of the results of the session for anyone managing a team.

Promoting from within.
LaFleur says it’s important to show employees that they can advance and develop within the company. The average tenure at MM.LaFleur is about five years, she says. “I don’t want to create a company where people come and go every two or three years,” LaFleur says.

She also tends to try consultants and freelancers before making a new hire. “I’m not a big fan of hiring quickly and firing quickly,” LaFleur says. By building a lean team, she says, the company will operate more efficiently during a crisis.

Manage layoffs humanely.
M.M. LaFleur had several layoffs during the pandemic. The company made every effort to help people find new jobs by creating a resume package for those who wanted to participate and sharing it with investors, friends and other contacts with companies that had jobs to fill. She also invited people to take a look at her LinkedIn profile, offering to submit it upon request.

Even on smaller companies that don’t use an outplacement firm, she says, “There are lots of other ways to use your network to at least let [the former employee] know you’re there if the person decides they want help with their search.”

First and foremost, take care of yourself.
Don’t underestimate the important role your well-being plays when it comes to leading your team.

“Your mental health is everything,” LaFleur says. She says she’s “religious” when it comes to exercise, even if it’s just a 30-minute walk. What’s more, she says she’s been seeing a psychiatrist for a decade.

“People would laugh if they knew how much time and money I spend on my mental health,” she says.

Family and friends are part of your personal support, too. LaFleur has been candid about how she relies on her husband and mother. For example, she says that in 2019, panic attacks kept her up at night, and she would swallow “a ton of sedative pills to get through the day.” The weekend her husband had to travel, her mother, who lives in Japan, flew to the U.S. to stay with her for four days. She was in Japan. “I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I think you have to make sure you have the support you need to get your head back in a good direction,” she says.

‘Have a good ‘right hand. ‘
LaFleur says it’s important to have a partner with whom you can talk freely and exchange ideas. For example, she would say: ‘I’m just going to be crazy and suggest a bunch of crazy things. And we’ll talk about all this stuff.”

That person could be a consultant, board member or friend of the entrepreneur. “Having that support is crucial,” she says.