4 Leadership Lessons from a Weekly Manicure

What do leadership and nail polish have in common? Carrie Phillips outlines how a beauty regimen can translate to the office.

By: Dr. Carrie Phillips

Routines are key to any personal or professional endeavor. My Sunday evening routine is a manicure. I spread cotton balls, polish remover, nail files, cuticle trimmers, nail clippers and polish over a worn hunter-green hand towel. I pull a bar stool up to a white quartz kitchen island and get to work. 

During one of my recent Sunday evening rituals, I thought about how manicures align with leadership lessons. At first, I thought this comparison was a strange one. However, after sharing with a friend, she encouraged me to put my thoughts to paper. 

Here are the four ways that a weekly manicure can be upscaled for a higher education office.

1. Big Decisions vs. Small Decisions

The first leadership lesson is to understand the type of decision and focus energy on complex decisions. Understanding the impact size of the decision helps you lead. 

In a manicure, the big decisions relate to the shape of your nails: round, square, almond or squoval. Once you choose a shape, you have to live with it for months. Similarly, there are decisions as leaders that you live with for some time — hirings, culture moves and new initiatives. It’s important to think through these with care to understand unintended consequences. 

In a manicure, choosing the polish color is a decision that only lasts a week or two, so it can be made with less painstaking thought. It’s okay to try a new color because you can change it next time if you don’t like it. As a leader, you should understand that it’s okay to try a new format for direct report meetings, change a process, or tweak meeting notes. These decisions don’t have long-term impact and can always be adjusted.

2. The Value of Having an Expert

The second leadership lesson is to have an expert in your toolkit and regularly engage them to best support you and the team. Having an expert helps you lead your team of marketers. 

Despite being able to do an average manicure, there is value in an expert. My nail expert helps reshape my nails, cleans cuticles and fixes any nails that may have broken or split. About once a month, I go to a local nail salon for this service. Lindsey is my expert, and she fine-tunes my nails to keep them in top shape. 

In the same way, marketing and communications leaders need an expert on board. They need someone they can turn to for feedback on a strategy, thoughts on a media challenge or suggestions on how to course correct.

3. Handle Sharp Edges Quickly 

Handling problems quickly is important, which brings us to the third leadership lesson. Between my manicures, I’ll often break a nail. I do it so frequently that I keep a small nail file and a pair of nail clippers in my purse. This way, I can instantly assess the situation and act. Do I need to just file the nail, or do I need to clip the nail? Either way, I have the tools to move quickly. 

As a leader, you need to move quickly when an issue arises. Sometimes, we don’t like to have tough conversations or make difficult changes because having those necessary conversations is hard. However, it’s a disservice to the team if you’re not willing to do so. 

Not addressing a broken nail can lead to worse outcomes, including further breaks or infection. In the same way, not addressing issues in our office quickly can lead to more challenges or additional struggles.

4. Continued Maintenance Is Crucial

There is always value in continued maintenance. My manicure tradition is a weekly experience. However, on occasion, I don’t schedule the time, so I stretch my manicure over two weeks. When that happens, by the end of the second week my nails are broken, chipped and faded in color. My nails look better when I am investing the time each week to care for them. 

As a leader, it’s important to recognize that your team is better when they are receiving regular investment as well. That investment can be in the form of conversation with your direct reports, access to professional development or interaction with community leadership programs. Regardless of how you invest in your teams, they must have regular development opportunities to better themselves. When professional development isn’t prioritized, the team is impacted over time.   

My next manicure is less than a week away, and I’m already looking forward to selecting the color. The weekly time at my kitchen island has become a favorite. I wonder what my next reflection will be as my nails dry.

Dr. Carrie Phillips

Dr. Carrie Phillips


Carrie Phillips, Ed.D, is the chief communications and marketing officer at UA Little Rock. She began her career as an assistant director and moved to supporting a team of creatives, to now leading both a marketing and communications team at a university in the state’s capital city. She earned her doctorate from Texas Tech, studying how universities are using marketing to mitigate the enrollment cliff. After finishing her doctorate, Carrie is now carrying on about higher education and leadership on her website andcarrieon.com. She has presented nationally at multiple conferences including HighEdWeb, AMA, CASE, Hashtag HigherEd, and more.

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