Interview Transcript

What happens when you move from managing things and people, into leading people?

That’s a tough question and I’ll try and use a couple of analogies or metaphors, to describe the change that I went through and how I came to terms with behaving and operating in a different way. The first one is a simple statement – leaders do right things; managers do things right. With leadership, you are looking at issues, such as vision, direction, overall positioning. Whereas management is more about the techniques and the processes, to get you from A to B. I think, probably, well described by Covey, when he talks about vision, in the context of a jungle, and fighting and battling your way through a jungle.

The managers are putting on machete-wielding training programs, to increase bulk and muscle, so that the machete wielders can hack their way through more undergrowth, every day. There are eating programs going on, to make sure we don’t get tired. There are sleeping programs, there are tents being erected. But the leader gets in a helicopter, gets up to the top of the forest, comes back down and says, hey guys, we’re in the bloody wrong forest.

Another simple analogy is, you’ve got a ladder and you put it up against a wall. A manager’s job, as I see it, is to make sure we get up the rungs of the ladder in the most efficient, most effective way we possibly can. The leader’s job is to make sure that the ladder is up against the right wall, in the first place. That’s the best couple of ways I can articulate the difference.

Leadership is about vision and direction. Management is about oiling the wheels, developing systems and processes, to enable us to get in the direction that the leader or visionary, has created.

What did it mean for you, to move into a position, in your first experience?

Uncomfortable, for a long time. I would argue that you never make the full transition. The reason you got promoted is because you’re very, very good at doing the management job. In my sphere, of buying ranges, I was very good at spotting opportunities to sell a six pack, rather than a four pack, or set the price at 90p and not 80p, or deal with X supplier and not Y supplier. I’d learned those skills. That’s what got me promoted. The majority of time, that’s what gets people promoted.

The ability to spot talent, who can operate at the next level, is a key leadership criterion. Interestingly, when I was being interviewed and then got offered a role at Sainsbury’s, in 2005, the head hunter, a lady from MBS, Moira Benigson, said to me, I think you’ve got more credentials to be a CEO, than you have a commercial director, because you think differently. I’m not trying to blow smoke up my own backside here, but that was a bit of a moment of realization for me.

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