How leaders can maximise their impact – Deborah Ancona, Henrik Bresman

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Ancona

From Insead Knowledge

Effective leaders need to know whether their ‘people hat’ or ‘P&L hat’ fits most comfortably.

A leading supermarket chain in an eastern European Union country feared an 8 percent drop in sales as discounting giant Lidl was about to enter its market. So, in collaboration with researchers, it decided to run a randomised controlled experiment. The goal was to reduce its costly personnel turnover problem, in a bid to improve quality and operational efficiency. Selected store managers received a letter from top management, encouraging them to do something about the 90 percent yearly staff turnover. It worked: Over the next three quarters, the monthly quit rate fell by 20 to 30 percent. However, surprisingly, this vast improvement led to no discernible effect on the predefined performance metrics (sales and value of perished food). In interviews, the researchers found the explanation. As store managers focused more on HR issues, they spent less time interacting with customers (to increase sales) and dealing with the flow of goods (to reduce food wastage).

Of course, the firm still benefitted through a reduction in hiring and training costs (estimated at a minimum of 400 euros per head). But at the store level, the data showed a remarkable truth: It is rather difficult – perhaps even impossible – for a single manager to wear all hats equally well. This confirms what we have been saying for years: Distributed leadership, which leverages expertise and vision wherever it sits in the organisation, is the way forward. Organisations with distributed leadership are more innovative and more adaptable. They are permeated by a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

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