Do you lead, or do you demonstrate true leadership?

business, plan, meetingRetail trading conditions are without doubt becoming increasingly complex and challenging.  But retail has never been without its challenges, it’s just the nature of the challenges that have changed.

What is evident however, is that a retailer’s ability to rise to these challenges rests with the leadership team; without good leadership at the helm, the likelihood of a retailer surviving, let alone thriving, is greatly diminished.

In recruitment you see first-hand the distinct difference between those who ‘lead’ in an organisation and those who demonstrate true ‘leadership’. This is not lost on two of Australia’s oldest brands in retail as they seek to turn around their fortunes in the market with Brad Banducci taking the lead at Woolworths and Guy Russo at Target.

What these retailers know is that business acumen alone won’t achieve the turnaround they and their shareholders are seeking.  It is equally about a change in culture and how they support and empower their people, that is instrumental in driving positive change.

Start with culture

Culture is the backbone of any organisation.  We hear about culture ad nauseam, but without having the right culture in place first, you don’t have the right foundations or an environment conducive to developing or implementing a strategy, let alone a turnaround strategy successfully.

Culture is also what we see in recruitment as the key to a retailer attracting and retaining talent. Top talent buys into a retailer’s culture and its leadership, so it should come as no surprise that it is also the key reason why people choose to join or indeed leave an organisation.

Brad Banducci regularly talks to the critical role of culture and that it is culture change that will revive Woolworths.  It has been a core focus for the chief executive since taking the reins in February saying that from cultural change, all things good would flow.

Walk the shop floor

Good leaders recognise the importance of getting out of the boardroom (out of head office) and engaging with their people on the shop floor.

Both Banducci and Russo embrace a listen first approach to leadership, which starts by walking the shop floor, consulting with and working alongside their teams, rather than guessing what the answers are; a catalyst for many business failures.

Following his successes in turning around the fortunes of discount retailer Kmart, Russo knows that it is only by taking a ‘look under the bonnet’ that you can know what is wrong with a business and how to fix it. And to do this, he is a great proponent of walking the shop floor.

Banducci agrees with this approach and has embedded it in the Woolworths induction program, which requires all new support centre staff, right through to board level, to spend a few days in stores across every aspect of the retail environment in an effort to ensure those working at the company’s headquarters, better understand the issues faced by staff and customers.

Possibly a reflection on where they both started their retail careers, making their way from the shop floor to the boardroom over many years in the industry, but it is one that successful leaders across every industry, not just retail, acknowledge.

Empower your people

Those who show leadership rather than simply lead, also know that it is only by putting their people first, and empowering them, that they can truly provide a better customer experience and in turn a healthier bottom line.

Russo is an advocate of empowering staff to come up with their own solutions and is quick to give them credit for the Kmart turnaround saying his team knew what was wrong, it was about providing space to allow them to come up and say what’s really wrong.

Although most retailers have moved beyond the traditional ‘command and control’ structure, not all actively embrace the open and consultative style of leadership that top talent is naturally attracted to; where they will be empowered to help shape an organisation’s future direction.

Richard Wynn is managing partner at FutureYou Executive Recruitment and can be contacted at or 0448 416 172.

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