Two giants of the world’s retail stage are standing down: Sirs Terry Leahy of Tesco and Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer. The two are quite different in style – Leahy a modest, quiet man with a core of steel, Rose more the classic swashbuckler, never afraid to voice his opinions. But the two had one thing in common, apart from financial success: both are showing clear leadership in regard to sustainability.
In my experience, industry is largely stuck at the level of “environmental management” and it needs to make the vital leap to “environmental leadership”. At last week’s Low Carbon event, I had a table of delegates frustrated that they were being tasked to develop an “environmental strategy” at a middle-management level, but with no buy in from above. How can it be a strategy if the senior levels of the organisation aren’t interested? Delegation is fine, but derogation of responsibility is not. Responsibility must be held at the top, with full ownership of any strategy.
It’s funny how many people get to a leadership level and won’t lead. BP boss Tony Hayward (in)famously said “he’d like to get his life back” during the early stages of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Not only was this extraordinarily insensitive to all those who are finding their livelihoods ruined by the disaster, but it shows a complete lack of leadership backbone. This is what you get paid so much for Tony, buck up and sort it out. But Hayward isn’t alone, I often get called in to talk to the boards of companies only to find the Chief Executive ducks out of that particular meeting, much to the embarrassment of the others. Leadership means being there in the thick of it, whether or not you want to, showing that commitment.
Leahy, Rose, Mike Duke of Walmart, Bob McDonald of P&G, Ray Anderson of Interface – leadership is the difference between the best and the rest.