In this article, Paul Hargreaves outlines the ways that retailers can prioritise people and planet over profit. This provides the opportunity to thrive within successful businesses, as well as giving a sense of greater personal fulfilment.
When we set up the new part of our business, Flourish, a foodhall and kitchen in June 2021 we were keen to embody the characteristics of good leadership and ensure people and planet are always put before profit.
When a company leads with kindness it spreads through the organisation, suppliers and people and out towards customers, who will notice it and choose to spend more money with you. The retail sector especially is one with high staff turnover – people are generally not treated well and paid poorly but putting your people before profits is one of the best things you can do for your business.
After only a couple of weeks before our first payday one of the butchers realised that one of the chefs had been walking a considerable distance to work every day because he had run out of money from his previous employer to pay his bus fare. Of course, if we had known this we would have done something, but rather than expecting someone else to act, the butcher offered to give the chef a bike to get to work. You can imagine how pleased I was at the start of this new venture to see kindness expressed this way. And this kindness embedded within the business is spreading to customers. With very little marketing spend we are seeing queues for lunch and breakfast every day!
There are a few things you can do to create a leadership strategy which puts people and planet first:
1. Grow your empathy
To grow your empathy skills you first need to slow down, and instead of purely focusing on the goal or cause, focus on the people who are going to take you there. Many entrepreneurs are very goal-focused and sometimes lose touch with the feelings of their people. Encouraging fellow managers to demonstrate empathy in the workplace sets an important example and simply sitting with each other and not ‘being productive’ is perfectly OK as it means you can develop a proper connection with your team members.
Secondly, taking the time to actively listen is vital, and by listening, I mean really listening, and putting your phone away. Leading on from this, it is also important to tune your ear and listen for the meaning behind people’s words, who may have a less direct way of expressing how they feel. Finally, increasing our ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes by reflection and meditation will make us better leaders, as those people will feel respected, listened to, trusted and safe.
2. Develop your compassion
One leadership characteristic that I believe should be prioritised above all others is compassion – all other leadership qualities are interconnected with compassion. If we are to feel and demonstrate compassion, it is imperative to have a deeper understanding of connectivity with others.
During the past fifty years, the leaders who have stood out as being different are those who have operated with high levels of compassion, as they are few and far between; but if there is one characteristic that leaders need more than any other in this third decade of the 21st century, it is compassion.
There is a sense in the West that if we don’t look after ourselves and prioritise our own happiness first, then we will somehow be less happy. The reverse is true. We significantly increase our own happiness and contentment by reaching out to others with compassion, putting ourselves last, not first. As the Dalai Lama says, ‘If you want to be happy, practise compassion.’ To practise it means compassion in action. Many people discovered this on a global scale during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many more of us were connecting with others in our communities and cities and discovering that we expanded our own happiness by doing so.
3. Be self-sacrificial
Bringing self-sacrifice into your leadership will encourage this attitude amongst your staff and organisation. Being a leader willing to put your neck on the line in order to do the right thing will deepen you as a person and will help you achieve a deeper sense of fulfilment in your role.
Most of us didn’t have any training in the kind of self-sacrifice we are often called to perform as leaders. In the West, the typical dream is to live our lives in a moral way and gradually increase our income, house size and the value of our car. While there’s nothing wrong with that – there is a myth that sacrificing our own material dreams is painful in some way and will reduce our overall happiness. In reality the opposite is true – sacrificing our own gains for other people’s is what will lead to greater fulfilment and happiness. Too often we cling onto what is ours rather than letting go, and we never discover the great sense of fulfilment that self-sacrifice can bring.
Putting our people and the planet before ourselves or our profits will not only result in a more successful business but also greater personal fulfilment.
Paul Hargreaves is a B-Corp Ambassador, speaker and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership out now, priced £14.99