You never know who sees you as a role model

Written by
Emily Sexton-Brown

02 Dec 2016

02 Dec 2016 • by Emily Sexton-Brown

" As humans, weve evolved to like stories and pictures, not data and facts"

The storyteller role model

Storytelling is a vital leadership trait. The oldest ‘firms’ in the world are religions, promoting their values and beliefs through storytelling. Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a PowerPoint presentation; he said… I have a dream”. A story.
As humans we’ve evolved to like stories and pictures not data and facts. When you tell a story about something that happened within a business, or what a customer said, it will always resonate more with people than showing them a graph. In terms of getting people to behave or think in a certain way it’s critical to tell stories well and use them consciously.

The listening role model

When your customer base is made up of a particular demographic you need to listen and learn from colleagues and customers alike. At Morrisons, our customers are mainly women, but within our leadership team of around 65, there are more men than women. However, we are working to address this throughout the organisation. In our 492 stores, which used to have a handful of female store managers, at least a quarter of our store manager hires are women. Of 21 regional managers, seven are female (where previously there was only one woman). There is an understanding from our board that this matters. 

Our new CEO, David Potts has instilled into us all his passion for listening to customers and frontline colleagues. He spends time in stores talking to staff and shopping with customers – something we’re all encouraged to do. It’s called an ‘accompanied shop’ where we’ll go round with a customer and see what they are choosing and why. Listening and responding are important leadership traits that David has role modelled for us. 

The 'being a leader' role model

Listening. One thing I love about Morrisons is that listening is fundamental to our culture. As a leader, I have learned the importance of listening to my team and stakeholders to help people think and perform at their best. It’s important to listen and not to be defensive. Let people talk and explore. 

Appreciation. I am thrilled to be re-launching all our recognition material as this is a huge opportunity to make people feel valued and special.
Asking questions. To help people develop, it is important to open up their way of thinking. Help your people generate their own answers.

The unpredictable role model

As a female HR director, I’ve noticed that, in times of change, atypical candidates get a chance to shine, including women. It’s not as cynical as “let’s appoint a woman and if she fails she’ll be the scapegoat”, it’s along the lines of “we’ve tried the conventional way and that didn’t work, so is this candidate more risky than what we’ve got at the moment?” 

If you lack an established pipeline of senior women with the experience you need, women can sometimes be riskier candidates. However, in times of crisis, businesses need to be open to trying a different route or style of leadership. 

To my mind, current UK prime minister Theresa May is a fascinating example of a ‘crisis role model’. She’s a seasoned politician, but before the controversial EU referendum, she wasn’t the favourite to be the next leader of the country. As higher-profile candidates were knocked out or fell on their own swords, the Conservative party settled on the candidate with the reputation for competency and hard work.

The neuroscience role model

I acquired a qualification in neuroscience because I wanted to understand the brain functioning behind leading a team, to unlock potential. If people feel stressed or threatened they switch off. 

We can all be role models

Whatever your skills or position in a company, whether or not you have leadership responsibility, you can be a role model for others, through inspiring traits. 

When I left a previous role, somebody I didn’t know well left a card on my desk which read “you probably don’t know this but you’ve always been a role model of mine”. It was the biggest compliment I’ve ever been paid and I’ll always remember it.