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What Prevents Managers Growing into Leaders?

Philip Green
Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Learning outcomes

  • The importance of an alignment between a person's aptitudes and the requirements of the environment
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Executive Bio

Philip Green

Former CFO at Deliveroo & Finance Director, EMEA, Amazon

Philip Green spent almost eight years at Amazon, culminating with the role of Finance Director of EU operations. He then took on the role of CFO at Groupon, followed by the role of CFO of Deliveroo. He currently is Director and CFO of theatre and entertainment producer Jamie Hendry Productions, as well as CFO of robotics and AR gaming business Reach Robotics, and advisor to several high-tech digital start-ups.Read more

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Interview Transcript

What prevents people from progressing to higher levels of leadership, in your experience?

Multiple things. The most interesting one is choice. There are many, many people I’ve met who are brilliant individuals, but they just don’t want to lead large teams.

Some of the most brilliant minds want to be every day, sitting there, coding or in a research mode. They don’t want to be distracted by this thing called leadership. They know that’s not the thing that excites them. They want to be bunkered down, getting on and inventing or building things on their own. They don’t want the distraction of large teams.

They’re super-interesting ones because if you look at all the abilities they’ve got, you’d say they’d be great, but not everyone can be a great leader in that sense because they’re not wired that way, they don’t want to be wired that way. They’d rather be heads down at a screen, in a book, or in a lab somewhere on their own. Strangely, their leadership maybe comes from the journals they write or the publications they make — they can lead through more written pieces as opposed to a physical job title. Leadership and influence can happen in many ways.

If you take the more organisational side of it and people, sometimes it’s culture. If you take the same person, different organisations or different time in organisations, some people might rise to the top and others wouldn’t. But that same person who doesn’t succeed in one organisation, you take them to a different organisation, and they’ll be very successful. There’s this myth that there’s one type of personality will lead. It’s a personality within a culture, and an organisation is a culture.

Aptitudes and environment have to align.

Yes, I think you’re right. It’s like a relationship — if you have one bad relationship, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship. It just means you haven’t found the right partner. When you start looking at organisations like a relationship, you can look and say, “Do I want to be a successful leader here, given what that’s going to ask of me?”

It may be that you push up against some of your values and say, “I’m okay to work here, but do I want to be a public figure in this organisation?” I listened to the news on the way here this morning, and the conversation around Barclays and the environment was popping up.

You start thinking about these things and the cultural values of the organisation. On day one, they might not be that important because you’re more junior. At a certain point, you say, “I see different values in the organisation. I’m not sure this is the right organisation for me anymore.” People change, and organisations change. There isn’t one skill set that says people can’t lead.

What I’m hearing is this emphasis in people. You opened your comments on choice; why people make choices and why some people may not be suitable for higher levels of leadership.

Yeah. And even potentially a cause as well. I’m sure many people have gone through life to a certain point, and there’s a moment where they say, “The time to act becomes now,” and they take a stance. They thought they’d never go and do this. You hear many of these stories where they say, “All of a sudden, I felt compelled to go and do something.” There can be things that kick you out of that orbit, and you say, “Okay, now there’s some critical mass that pulls me to a direction.” Different moments in peoples’ lives can trigger them into different actions. I don’t think it’s a DNA thing.

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