Rainbow leadership. Let’s not do a black or white on Green

June 15, 2016

Retail billionaire Philip Green appears before a parliamentary committee over his governance of British Home Stores.  He is already cast in the role of villain by some, and a heroic defender of entrepreneurial success for others. There is need for more rainbow leadership, as I will explain

The specific news story in this post deals with Sir Philip’s appearance before the Work and Pensions Committee. I also introduce a new approach to leadership, which I have labelled rainbow leadership.

What is rainbow leadership?

Rainbow leadership attempts to relocate leadership understanding through the ‘whole spectrum’ metaphor of a rainbow.

It stands alongside earlier attempts to present alternative images of reality, such as are found in the classic text Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan. The existing and familiar metaphors include the machine metaphor, the network or brain metaphor, the culture metaphor, the organic metaphor, and so on.

The rainbow metaphor connects particularly easily with interpretational approaches to exploring the real and the imagined.  In my own writings it is implied in my various treatments of creative thinking, and most recently in Dilemmas of Leadership, earlier this year. Specifically, there is emphasis on ‘Yes and’ thinking, and its comparison with Either Or thinking, for which the metaphor is often black and white or binary thinking.

What’s black and white and red all over?

What’s black and white and red all over? The Christmas Cracker teaser only works if it is spoken not written. Rainbow thinking is, according to its metaphor red, green, blue and other colours which together may recombine into white.  Rainbow leadership recognizes this part-whole issue and deals with it rather than trying to over-analyse (splitting it down to its parts).

Black and white and Green

Leaders we deserve has followed the turbulent career of Philip Green since our blog started ten years ago. His titanic battles for ownership of M&S revealed Green’s pugnacious (sometimes literally) leadership style in the heavyweight category against Stuart Rose.

His appearance today [15 June 2016] focuses on his sale of his vast retail interests in British Home Stores for a peppercorn £1 with a modest sweetener towards its huge pension liabilities. The new owners were either a brilliantly visionary group of entrepreneurs, or a bunch of body snatchers.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described earlier by The Mirror as

an ex-racing car driver and former bankrupt. In a last desperate effort to rescue the company, Mr Chappell was reported to have moved £1.5 million from the company in an imaginative but ill-fated manoeuvre more suited to the racing track. He has since paid most of it back.

The Chairman of the select committee, Frank Field, spiced up today’s contest in advance. His remarks were followed by Sir Philip’s calling for his resignation, and threatening to pull out of the ‘invitation’.

This risks further censure. Calls have been made for his Knighthood to be withdrawn.

Back to rainbow leadership

The select committee has been accused of lacking the Rottweiler style of its former Chair, Margaret Hodge. My viewing last week suggested that their conversations  with Mike Ashley showed more than a hint of rainbow leadership.

Ashley, famed for his impulsive and confrontational style, was himself more conciliatory, accepting his corporate deficiencies. He even accepted that his company had broken the minimum wage employment legislation.

It will be interesting to see whether Sir Philip also enters into this spirit of rainbow leadership today.

To be continued


BHS and the Demonization debate

April 28, 2016

BHS

 

BHS, not unlike Boots, is a British icon of the High Street.  Its decline makes it open season for demonization of its current owners and more significantly for Sir Philip Green, who sold it for £1 a year ago

A year ago, Philip Green signalled a tough time ahead for BHS with his peppercorn sale of the retail stores, throwing in a modest sweetener towards its huge pension liabilities. The new owners were either a brilliantly visionary group of entrepreneurs, or a bunch of body snatchers. As BHS heads for administration, the second looks the more realistic.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described by The Mirror as an ex-racing car driver and former bankrupt. In a last desperate effort to rescue the company, Mr Chappell was reported to have moved £1.5 million from the company in an imaginative but ill-fated manoeuvre more suited to the racing track. He has since paid most of it back.

As the Mirror explained:

Representatives confirmed the news today [April 25th 2016] after talks with Sports Direct – owned by Newcastle United billionaire Mike Ashley – to sell some of its 164 stores collapsed at the weekend. A formal announcement is expected at around noon.

The collapse of BHS would be the biggest retail failure since Woolworths folded in 2008 with the loss of almost 30,000 jobs. It is understood any buyer would only step forward if it did not have to take on the £571m pension deficit.

The Financial Times

The Financial Times offered a rather half-hearted defence of Philip Green. Its article was headed The demonization of Green, arguing this was a result of the prerences of the tabloid press. Then it got down criticisms of the commercial judgement of the life style and financial practices of the tycoon which could be seen as something of a demonization of itself.

These included a charge of ‘Pensions dumping … as the entrepreneur was taking delivery of his third superyacht to his Monaco bolt hole’.

The Daily Mail

The Daily Mail, one of those tabloid media, did indeed give Philip Green a thumping, although the ‘demonization’ was as much it that newspaper’s style than its substance. Its headline ran Can the man who milked the millions from BHS really be allowed to keep his knighthood?

The Mail added to a chorus of demands that Sir Philip be banished to the naughty chair, be relieved of substantial amounts of Moola, and be stripped of his knighthood.

The main points were covered in more robust terms than was found in the Fnancial Times, although the Mail actually cited the FT as for one of its sources for ‘a staggering billion or so moved from BHS into the family coffers under the Green machine’.

The Guardian

The Guardian having done a right royal anti-royal piece on the Queen’s knees-up, last week kept the top on the vitriol bottle.  The article was pretty much like the Mail’s, with perhaps more distain for Green’s life style and the milking of BHS assets.

Mary Portas

Mary Portas was more dismissive. In a radio interview [Monday 25th April 2016] she talked of the lack of vision by BHS over the years, and its failure to grasp a future more like pound savers and the need for more visionary leaders. [Note for business students: can you see some tiny flaw in the reasoning of the person charged by the Government with reviving our High Street?].

To be fair, anyone can get a bit carried away in a radio interview.

In a piece for the Guardian, the Queen of the High Street explains under the headline how I would have saved BHS

If I had been at British Home Stores I would have looked at today’s market place and created a brand that is relevant for today’s shopper.

I would have gone totally after the value market, but made it functional and cool.

I would have started with where it was good – the lighting. Then I would have extended that to become a modern British lifestyle retailer at a great price.

Nice move, Mary

So that’s what Philip Green missed. Fixing the lighting. Mary avoided mentioning him by name. Probably best.  He has been known to sort out opposition in a not particularly functional or cool sort of way.

To be continued