A great manager is not always a great leader

Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, sees himself as something of a management guru these days and is treated as such by the media. However, when you read him or listen to him speak, what he seems to lack is any self-doubt.

This seems to be an increasingly common characteristic in business these days. Arrogance often accompanies it. I find it strange because, with age and experience, surely must come the wisdom that human beings do not always get it right.

When questioned about Tesco and its role in society, Sir Terry does not step back at all. He can point to his record at being a successful businessman, measured in terms of the size of Tesco, its value given to shareholders and customers alike. He brushes off criticism about the damage done by supermarkets to the High Street and smaller traders and sees nothing wrong with Tesco’s ever-widening array of products and services, which further damage independent traders.

The horse-meat scandal to me is merely one illustration that the pursuit of low-cost products at the expense of everything else has been a mistake. Now, for instance, Tesco is saying that it will source more product in the UK, without admitting that it was taking the wrong approach in the past. Maybe other areas will be re-examined by Tesco and other supermarkets.

I would respect Sir Terry Leahy more if, at least in his retirement, he took a bigger picture view of things. He was, perhaps, a great manager, but I don’t think he was a great leader. Unfortunately, to be a great leader, the time to see the bigger picture is when you are in a position of power and can change things for the better. You can’t be a great leader in retrospect. So, for me, Sir Terry, even if he recanted now, would not be classed as a great leader.

Published on Mar 18, 2013 by Neil Thomas