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The New York Times "Corner Office" column features an interview with Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, in which he discusses, in self-deprecating terms, his own management style.


• "When I joined Tesco, somebody said to me, 'They’ll eat you alive,' because it was known as a bit of a hard-charging place. That sort of brought out the street kid in me, and made me a little bit hard and combative. I had to learn later that there’s another way to get the best out of people, which is to really motivate them and make them feel good about themselves. So I changed. I like to think that was closer to the real me anyway. I like to motivate people. I’m not political. I don’t hold grudges. Later on, I tried to codify for the company how people should behave, and what kind of treatment they could expect from others."

• "I suppose the contribution I made was energizing people by setting an objective and making a big personal contribution toward that objective. The other thing was probably that I always had an innate sense of justice and fairness, so I probably treated people O.K. Because I’m a little introverted, I’ve never had personal favorites, so people always felt that they’d be treated the same as anybody else."

"If I had to sum it up, it would be about being generous at work rather than selfish. It is amazing how often you see people who can’t help themselves — because of their ambition or their insecurities or whatever — and that they’re basically selfish and they take out rather than give.

• "For some people, that’s a transition that they have to make, and not everybody can make it. Sometimes the brightest find it the hardest to make that transition because they’ve always been better than the people around them. They find it hard to trust the people around them to do the work. They think, 'Well, I know best.' When you see organizations that struggle, it’s mainly that people can’t trust. The leaders can’t trust, and then the teams don’t trust each other. You have to create conditions where people can work together because they trust each other, and that really empowers the organization."

Leahy also did an interview with the Guardian in the UK in which he talked about how supercenters have ruined many downtown locations into ghost towns:

"Asked if seeing boarded-up shops made him sad, Leahy said: 'It does, but it is part of progress. People are not made to shop in supermarkets, they choose to shop there. High streets– some of them are medieval and the way that we live our lives now is very different, so what you have to do is make sure the benefits do outweigh the costs, and I think that they do'."
KC's View:
Leahy also appeared over the weekend on the iconic BBC radio program "Desert Island Discs," the program on which, as part of the interview, guests talk about they'd want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Leahy's choices: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," by the Beatles; "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," by The Fureys & David Arthur; "Homeward Bound," by Simon & Garfunkel; "Just Can't Get Enough," by Depeche Mode; Pachibel's "Canon"; "Father & Son," by Cat Stevens; Handel's "Messiah"; and "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle 'Habanera'," by Georges Bizet. one of these interviews, Leahy says he's glad to be out of the spotlight. He must define "out of the spotlight" differently than most people.

I do think that much of what Leahy says is instructive. We've all heard about - or experienced personally - executives who think the sun rises and sets with their opinions, who love the political jousting as people try to gain their favor, who do not delegate well because they fear strong people who might threaten their supremacy, and who prefer a hierarchical organization with a top-down culture, rather than one that understands the importance of front line personnel and the value of ideas that bubble up from the ranks. Leahy's way certainly sounds better.