retail leadership

Where has great Leadership gone?

By Phil Dorrell

I often get asked what makes great leadership go wrong, why do so many lauded individuals turn out to be poor leaders in the long term?

The Jim Collins book “Good to Great” goes a long way to explain the selfless approach needed to be a long-term leader. Parking the ego and allowing questioning and debate of the strategy rather than a “I know best” approach, is one massive step that, frankly, evades most.

Leadership is a wonderful thing that can make you feel powerful and loved, cherished and listened to. For many it is a warm duvet feeling which they take comfort from, giving a purpose that validates them and embolden their decisions. On the flip side it can also be a lonely and cold place when it appears that the decisions made have not delivered, the belief is drifting and the once eager audience seem to be doubting future strategy.

In sport, the trials and tribulations of Leadership are played out in the full glare of the media, it allows a glimpse into a world with heady nights and dreary lows. The fact that poor leaders are engaged again and again in sporting positions, having failed in exactly the same position previously, is staggering. Yet in truth the same is true in business and in retail. It’s almost as if a process for delivering leaders who can grow within a business and be mentored towards the upper echelons does not exist. Yet we know in most large retailers it does.

So how is it that a dearth of Leadership talent is apparent? Role models are not in abundance and when that are it is often outside of the normal channels of career development one could be expected to replicate (Sir Richard Branson).

Short term changes in strategy and direction can drive an improvement in results for two to three years as the workforce has renewed belief in freshly communicated objectives, and start to see themselves as part of the solution. Meanwhile, the longer term grounding of the business in great process, people planning and development towards meritocratic measurement can be left behind. They simply don’t give the immediate return that shareholders and perhaps fellow board members demand.

All sounds pretty grim, and depressing, well it is for those who suffer in the ranks seeing all this happen. It does not have to be though. Leadership can be learnt, it is not genetic, it is not about one MBTI type over another. It is about people being developed correctly by those who understand the individual and their needs.

On some of our leadership away sessions we have seen profound changes in the way people feel about themselves and the interactions they have with their team. In itself, this is a start, nothing more than something to build on. It is learning about yourself and your leadership style, with honest feedback and challenges. It’s a great pleasure delivering these courses, seeing people grow, and something that I, as a leader, recognise is vital to any business.

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