Do as I say, or do as I do?

Leading by example has such an empowering effect that other leadership approaches seem positively primitive. NAOMI SIMSON

Naomi Simson

By Naomi Simson

I was fortunate to hear Michael Luscombe (CEO Woolworths) speak this week on his approach to leadership. Woolworths would be one of Australia’s largest employers. The shear quantity of people and their diversity represents a major communication challenge.

I have blogged previously about employees are the new customers. Employees are a media in their own right; 100,000 employees all speaking well of their employer speaks powerfully to customers and suppliers and reinforces the marketing message. People like doing business with organisations that treat their people well.

So when the question was asked: “What do you do daily to influence this?”, Luscombe responded ”you have to practice what you preach.” He said “if we as an organisation are committed to reducing green house emissions then I must lead by example.” He traded in his big car for a far more fuel efficient hybrid car. “People know you are serious then” he said.

“Australia is a very egalitarian society – we still cut down tall poppies. Our people like to see me line up in the canteen queue with every one else. It also gives them a chance to have a chat too,” he said.

As the leadership team goes, so goes the rest of the organisation. Here’s a funny thing though – apparently our “leader of the pack” behaviour is similar to the “primates”.

I read this week that “researchers have laid bare the behaviour of Australian bosses, revealing how everything from the pink shirt under their power suit to the size of their leather-backed chair and their choice of jargon-heavy management speak mimic the strutting and chest puffing seen among our animal ancestors”.

Bosses stamp their authority by having the biggest chair, an office with a view, a louder voice, and frequent interruptions to conversation.

”A favourable comparison can be made with the similar role of the alpha male in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and Japanese macaques,” states the report by the University of NSW, according to AAP.

I visited a business in Britain a few weeks ago – similar size to RedBalloon – and I was amazed that the bosses sat in windowed offices around the edge of the floor and the “staff” sat at tiny workstations in the middle. I got such a feeling of “them and us”.

I know one thing that I have engendered at RedBalloon – is that it is just “we”. I sit right in among everyone else. The CFO does the dishes for everyone after the monthly company lunch. It is “we”, the RedBallooners who are changing gifting in Australia, not me.

Is it monkey say or monkey do that is leading your organisation?


Naomi is a finalist in the 2008 Australian HR Awards and the 2008 Telstra Women’s Business Awards, winners to be announced end 2008. Naomi was also a finalist for the BRW Most Admired Business Owner Award in 2008 and Marketing Employer of Choice by B&T in 2007. One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a professional speaker inspiring middle to high-level leaders on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. Naomi writes a blog and has written a booksharing the lessons from her first five years.

To read more Naomi Simson blogs, click here .



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