Mark your calendars! Sharon Leite, CEO of The Vitamin Shoppe and Women in Retail Leadership Circle board member, will be featured in the Emmy Award-winning series “Undercover Boss” on Fri., Jan. 21 (8 p.m.-9 p.m. ET). During filming of the episode, Leite took on the guise of a former gift shop manager from Cleveland who is looking for a new start in life. With her wig, costumes, fake glasses, and new persona well-rehearsed, the unrecognizable Leite visited three retail locations of The Vitamin Shoppe, as well as a distribution center, to discover the ins-and-outs of store operations, customer service, inventory processes, and much more.

“Undercover Boss” reached out to The Vitamin Shoppe about 16 months ago with the opportunity, and filming took place in late February 2021 and early March 2021. (The episode was filmed with  comprehensive pandemic protocols in place during all aspects of production, under the supervision of a dedicated COVID-19 safety officer, The Vitamin Shoppe noted.) Leite said The Vitamin Shoppe jumped at the chance to be featured.

“The opportunity to become a part of this series was one of the most engaging, inspiring and humbling experiences of my life,” Leite said. “This was an unparalleled chance to get into the field and see up close the incredible commitment and dedication of our health enthusiast team members — all without the filter of being the CEO. It was an unvarnished way to see firsthand what The Vitamin Shoppe does exceptionally well as a company and also the things where we could be better.”

Leite said the most exciting part of the experience was getting to know The Vitamin Shoppe health enthusiasts and hear their stories. “I knew what the outcome of the show was — that we were going to make a difference in the lives of several of our health enthusiasts — but I didn’t realize the relationships I was going to form with them. I really connected with each of the participants on a personal level, and gained insight into the life challenges that each of them juggles. That was probably the most exciting thing for me. I  love the people aspect of the business; that’s my most favorite thing about what I get to do every day.”

Despite a 30-year career at some of the best-known names in retail, starting as a co-manager of an Express store in the late ’80s, Leite said she learned plenty along the with way from the featured health enthusiast associates, dealing with everything from systems outages to run-ins with warehouse robots.

“We all know our health enthusiasts do a tremendous amount of work, but I don’t think any of us fully understand and appreciate everything that they do,” said Leite. “Not only do they have to have expert product knowledge and provide excellent customer service, but they also do so much physical labor: washing windows, mopping floors, putting stock out, etc. I have a renewed and deep appreciation for everything we ask our folks to do.”

The most challenging part of the experience for Leite? Having to give up control. “I have a bit of a type A-personality, so for me the hardest part of the experience was being ale to let go and give up the reins,” she said. “I kind of went where the producers told me to go, and I got to meet who I got to meet. That was hard, because as a CEO, part of my job is knowing what’s going on! And I didn’t! But what I learned from the whole process is that sometimes giving up control is how you get the real story. I feel so lucky that I  had a really unfiltered opportunity to learn.”

So, how has Leite changed as a leader from this experience?

“I’ve learned how important it is to make sure I’m always creating a community for people to thrive,” said Leite. “I’ve always understood this was important, and I lead this way. But certainly through this process, I have a much more heightened awareness of how really valuable that is. And based on the stories that you’ll hear in the show, I hope I’m better for it.”

Leite said leaders need to “be their authentic selves, lead with empathy, and take the time to really get to know the people that work for them. If you do, you’ll get their best work, and they’ll bring their best selves to work.”

Finally, Leite said on a personal level that she’s deeply grateful she got to know the multifaceted achievements, challenges and life stories of the team members featured on the show.

“They’re true inspirations and continue to motivate me to make The Vitamin Shoppe a better place to work for every health enthusiast,” Leite said. “We took this opportunity not only to reward the show’s featured associates for the incredible work they do while also balancing the many stresses that life can throw at any of us, but also to make real investments in our systems and processes across many aspects of our workplaces. And for that, I sincerely thank the ‘Undercover Boss’ team and especially the health enthusiasts who participated in this show.”