10 Minutes Of Tough-Love Leadership Lessons From Bravo TV’s Tabatha Coffey

Tabatha Coffey’s regularly kicking management butt and transforming businesses on Bravo TV’s reality show “Tabatha Takes Over.” Here’s what she had to say about the biggest problem business owners face, and how to handle tough feedback.

10 Minutes Of Tough-Love Leadership Lessons From Bravo TV’s Tabatha Coffey


Ask the average leadership guru how they’d whip a flagging team of failing businesses into shape and they might hand you a hefty stack of self-improvement books and recommendations for training seminars. Not Tabatha Coffey. The audacious star of Bravo TV’s reality show Tabatha Takes Over has made a name for herself by staging executive interventions in her trademark take-no-prisoners style. 

Fans tune in by the millions to get a taste of Coffey’s outspoken approach to corporate therapy, which goes beyond pointing out dirty digs and calling out management challenges. In the most recent slate of episodes, Coffey’s employed a variety of techniques, from taking spa staff to a local aquarium to learn to work better together by feeding baby belugas, to putting a co-dependent salon owner through circus school to boost her self confidence. 

There are those who’ve called her a bitch for being hard on her proteges, but she’s even turned that around–redefining the word as an acronym for brave, intelligent, tenacious, creative, honest. 

Now that Coffey’s branching out beyond beauty lounges to transform a range of ailing businesses, Fast Company asked the veteran hairstylist and salon owner to share her thoughts on giving and getting feedback and (gulp) how we could do our own jobs better. She gave us ten minutes. 

FAST COMPANY: What feedback have you found small business owners are most reluctant to hear and follow?

TABATHA COFFEY: That they may be the problem. It’s always hard to change and hearing that you may be the one that needs to change can be extremely hard for many owners. It is also extremely difficult for many owners to be the “boss” and hold their staff accountable and reprimand them.


How do you get them to listen?

I’m tenacious, I show people what the issues are by using various methods. I also believe in giving people the tools they need to follow through.

What have the results been?

The results I have seen are amazing for many of the owners I work with. When people are shown not only the problems they may be facing, but the solution to it, they feel empowered and reinvigorated.

Who was hard on you before you got tough on others?

I’ve always been incredibly tough on myself. Tougher than anyone else could ever be. I’m incredibly driven and do not sit around and pat myself on the back. My mum was a tough-love person. She was a strong woman role model and didn’t do it to be hurtful, just to give honest feed back whether you wanted to hear it or not. But when you asked her what she thought you had to be ready. 


What’s the toughest feedback you ever got and how did you deal with it?

I get a lot because of my tough love approach. I recognize that it’s incredibly hard to change and do things differently especially if you have been doing the same thing for a long time, even if it hasn’t been working. I never take it personally as I am there to help people and save their businesses.

Your book is titled It’s Not Really About the Hair. What is business about for you?

I am sharing different stories about my journey, helping and enlightening people. Being a hairdresser you get an insider’s view of lives. People open up to you. It’s a responsibility I’ve taken very seriously [with clients] and also my staff. I am helping people see strengths and weaknesses.

So you are kind of like their psychologist? 

I wouldn’t ever call myself that because I would never want to demean those who spent years getting that title. I consider myself more like a life coach and advice coach. It’s what a great mentor does, holds a mirror up by asking the right questions and [finding] issues that they are not facing in business or their personal life. The two always cross. 


You recently teamed up with Holiday Inn Express to “take over small businesses’ travel expenses.” What’s that about?

Sometimes I think I spend so much time in airports and airplanes I could write a list of pointers. It is arduous and stressful, especially for businesses. I understand the importance of face time and meeting clients. I also understand a lot of small businesses, especially in this economy, have had to cut back and are often missing out on opportunities. I was excited to team up as a way to help small business travelers find ways to save money. The downside of travel is going through security and having delays, but it all melts away when you get to a great hotel.

What other industry and/or big-time CEO would you love to work your magic on?

I can’t name names because I might get in trouble but there are a few out there at the moment could have an honest mirror placed in front of them. 

Customer service across the board [needs improvement]. There is such a lack of care and respect for the consumer. Business owners need to realize that any time someone walks in your door and opens their wallet they need to be given great product and a great experience. From coffee shops to retailers [I feel] when you are asking questions you are either ignored or treated as an annoyance instead of someone who is boosting sales.

You’ve spoken to a lot of reporters. Can you tell me how to do my job better? 


By asking questions like that! You have some questions that you have to ask but the unexpected ones that cause [the interviewee] to sit and think. Those are most helpful for reader because you never know what you are going to get. 

[Image: Flickr user U.S. Army]

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.