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I was fortunate to hear Michael Luscombe (CEO Woolworths) speak this week on his approach to leadership. Woolworths would be one of Australia’s largest employers. The sheer quantity of people and their diversity represents a major communication challenge.

I have blogged previously about ’employees are the new customers’. Employees are a media in their own right. 100,000 employees all speaking well of their employer speaks powerfully to customers and suppliers and reinforces the marketing message. People like doing business with organisations that treat their people well.

So when the question was asked. ‘What do you do daily to influence this?’ Mr Luscombe responded, ”you have to practice what you preach.” He said, “if we as an organisation are committed to reducing greenhouse emissions then I must lead by example.” He traded in his big car for a far more fuel efficient hybrid car. “People know you are serious then, everyone,” he said.

“Australia is a very egalitarian society – we still cut down tall poppies, our people like to see me line up in the canteen queue everyone else. It also gives them a chance to have a chat too” said Mr Luscombe.

As the leadership team goes so goes the rest of the organization. Here’s a funny thing though apparently our ‘leader of the pack’ behaviour is similar to the ‘primates.’

I read this week that  “Researchers have laid bare the behaviour of Australian bosses, revealing how everything from the pink shirt under their power suit to the size of their leather-backed chair and their choice of jargon-heavy management speak mimic the strutting and chest puffing seen among our animal ancestors.”

Bosses stamp their authority by having the biggest chair, an office with a view a louder voice and frequent interruptions to conversation.

”A favourable comparison can be made with the similar role of the alpha male in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and Japanese macaques,” states the report by the University of NSW.” according to AAP

I visited a business in the UK a few weeks ago – similar size to RedBalloon and I was amazed that the bosses sat in the windowed offices around the edge of the floor and the ‘staff’ sat at tiny workstations in the middle. I got such a feeling of them and us.

I know one thing that I have engendered at RedBalloon – it is just ‘we’. I sit right in amongst everyone else. The CFO does the dishes for everyone after the monthly company lunch. It is ‘we’, the RedBallooners, who are changing gifting in Australia forever, not me.

Is it monkey say or monkey do that is leading your organization?

Reader Interactions


  1. I am astounded at how the subjects in your blog are so relevant to us and our company it is uncanny!!
    We seem to be experiencing and thinking along the same lines as you and your wonderful team at Red Ballon yet we are in different industries.
    It really does go to show that the things you do each and every day can relate to any industry or group of people making it the “What we do” so important as you have said in today’s blog.
    I look forward to receiving many more interesting blogs and thank you for the inspiration and reassurance I get from them.

  2. Great blog, love this post in particular, specifically what you say about monkee see monkey do. May I use it in my next book? I’ll mention you….

  3. Mr. Luscombe should not be complemented for his ‘Do What I say’ style.
    In fact, this blog should be citing Woolworths in the context of ‘Don’t do what I Do’ instead.
    I have read the publicity about their social concerns and egalitarian culture. This is not the whole picture. Woolworths’ association with over 11,000 pokies (Australia’s largest) creates profit from socially disadvantaged areas. Mr Luscombe’s, in my view, statements made to shareholders about their gambling practices are, at best, misleading.
    When called to account for two unlawful killings (with 15 months of each other) outside of their Melbourne hotel, QBH, the best they could say was they they were not to blame.
    Their practice of luring children into pokie pubs and then exposing them to this very adult ‘recreation’ is a disgrace.
    One waits for some balanced criticism of their true corporate culture.

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