Justin King CBE – Eight C's for Great Leadership

Justin served as CEO of J Sainsbury for a decade. At the time he was one of the youngest CEOs in FTSE 100 history and was seen as one of the great success stories of modern British business. He is now vice-chair of private equity firm Terra Firma overseeing a portfolio that stretches from cinema chains to garden centres.

At the event, held at Claridge’s in London he shared with the audience of senior HR professionals stories of his time at both Sainsbury’s and Terra Firma and discussed the vagaries of leadership, introduced his eight ‘Cs’ for leadership.

He said that HR had played a fundamental role in supporting his successful career including time as HR Director at Asda before moving on to Marks & Spencer’s. He described HR as indispensable and addressed the room by saying “your people are your most important asset”, and reinforced thoughts that HR should have a seat at the Board Table.

Justin went on to share his eight Cs’ for great leadership that everyone could learn lessons from:

1. ‘Colleagues’

Throughout his career Justin has always encouraged managers to refer to their ‘colleagues’ as opposed to their ‘staff’. As a leader in business one of the most vital skills is your approach to managing people and ensuring they feel part of the team. By referring to them as staff, it indicates that you see them as beneath you and takes us back to the ’Downton Abbey’ era.

2. ‘Culture’

As we know, culture can be defined as an evolving set of collective beliefs, values and attitudes. The way you align your organisation helps drive the business and has an impact on any strategic direction. Culture change is challenging but should be reviewed and tackled head on to prosper in a difficult and increasingly competitive business environment.

3. ‘Communication’

Effective communication is a two-way street and is something that we should work hard at. Justin explained that the key to building and nurturing a successful team that delivers the objectives set out is information and communication. As leaders, we need to find better ways to communicate and listen to our colleagues and ensure they feel they have the freedom to express their own ideas and point of view.

4. ‘Challenge’

Creating an environment where colleagues can challenge is good, we should create an environment where challenge is expected and accepted.

5. ‘Change’

We should all embrace change, change is important for any business because without it, businesses would likely lose their competitive edge.

6. ‘Consistency’

Justin explained that we need to be consistent across everyone in the business and that people should be treated the same regardless of who they are and what they do. People love consistency, reliability and predictability, whether that be from how you come across as a leader or how you manage the different types of employees in your organisation. Consistency can be a really tough leadership challenge.

7. ‘Capability’

Sometimes the easy option is to take the ‘warm and vertical’ recruitment approach and fill a vacancy with someone who is ‘ok’. We should always look to hire the right people for our roles rather than making do to just fill a gap. We should consider recruiting from outside of the business to help upskill other members of the team.

8. ‘Complacency’

One of the biggest challenges anyone can face is becoming complacent, we should constantly be keeping a look out to avoid becoming another victim of complacency. We need to instil a culture that is always looking for the next challenge and shouldn’t fall into the trap of ‘coasting’.

Justin referenced how we should take the approach of the New Zealand All Blacks. The All Blacks are a winning rugby team not because of the ‘Haka’ but because they don’t give up and coast during the match. The last 20 minutes of any games are just as important as the start, no matter what the score because the players know their coach is looking at their whole performance.

Overall, the overarching theme of Justin’s speech was the way we should treat and understand our people, after all, your colleagues want to be motivated and involved at work and do a good job.

The next HR Directors Club Breakfast meeting will take place at Claridge’s in December. Contact rebecca.parr@mhr.co.uk for more information.