Leading by example – the power of one

August 29, 2017

In July and August this year I was privileged to get to meet and interview a number of high profile global leaders.

The interviews were about different aspects of global leadership – more on that later – but they took me to London.

Now, I have a decidedly love/hate relationship with London.

It’s not remotely complex or hard to explain. I love visiting London, but I hated living there.

I lived in Chiswick in the leafy part of West London for a significant period of time. And I absolutely hated it! I hated commuting on the Tube, fighting through the crowds and most of all I couldn’t stand the long, dark months from about October to May when you could go weeks without seeing blue sky or even much sunlight!

Flying visits

But, since I left London and moved to Australia in May 1997, I can honestly say that I absolutely love visiting the place.

Seeing London as a tourist is fabulous. And because I still have family over there – albeit in Manchester – I always make sure that I spend a couple of days in London at either or both ends of any trip back home.

For the past 20 odd years my three favourite things to do on a tourist trip to London are, in order: visit the Harrods Food Hall, have a pint of (warm) English bitter in Covent Garden and wander round Lillywhites in Piccadilly.

The first two of the trio demand little explanation – Harrods Food Hall is a fine example of ridiculously over the top English opulence. And it’s free! And a pint of English bitter in Covent Garden on a crisp winter’s day is unbeatable. But Lillywhites? What’s that all about?

Well, Lillywhites is every young kid’s dream. It’s a proper, old school sports shop. It is five floors of sports gear, exquisitely presented and displayed. It’s the place where you can spend hours messing about with snooker tables, air hockey tables, basketball hoops and football (soccer!) stuff. It’s a kids’ toy shop for big kids who love sport

Or at least it was.

Taking a stand

These days it’s not that at all. These days it’s owned by Sports Direct. And because of this, this year was the first year I went back to London and went nowhere near Lillywhites.

I actively and intentionally boycotted it. There isn’t the space here to go into too much detail about Sports Direct. You really only need a spare ten minutes and access to the internet to discover what an appalling example of management and leadership practice they have built their ‘success’ (and enriched their owner, Mike Ashley) on.

Of course, my silly little boycott of Sports Direct’s flagship London Store made no difference at all to Sports Direct. They will continue to pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap. And they will continue to make lots of money and a huge return for their billionaire owner. But in one important sense my boycott does matter. In situations like this it’s all I have. It’s all we have.

The right to choose

We have the ability to make a personal choice about the products and services we buy, and we have the ability to make those choices based on the principles that we hold as sound managers and leaders. In an increasingly global and connected world we have the ability to research and investigate the things that we buy, the causes we support and the companies we buy from.

In India recently I interviewed Nobel Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi about global leadership. Mr Satyarthi has an interesting and very refreshing perspective on global leadership and on the consumer’s ability to impact global issues locally. His perspective is this; change starts with you and with me.

He told me the story of a global clothing brand that was relying on child labour to produce its products. By shining a light on this practice and by taking a stand at a grassroots level his organisation – Bachpan Bachao Andolan – was able to influence global policy through the United Nations. That clothing manufacturer no longer uses child labour in its manufacturing process.

The message from Kailash was clear – we must never underestimate our power as consumers and as leaders. And we must not allow our belief in sound leadership practice to be ‘localised’. Leadership is a global issue and we are all citizens of an increasingly interconnected world. Leadership isn’t simply a local issue, it’s truly global.

I look forward to a time when I can visit London and enjoy Lillywhites once more. But until Sports Direct changes its leadership practice I will exercise my right to ‘walk on by’.


About the author:

David PichDavid Pich is Chief Executive of the Institute of Managers and Leaders, Australia and New Zealand.

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