Leadership insight: Neil Lennox, head of safety and security Sainsbury's
Neil Lennox says one of the most important things he has learned is not to feign knowledge.
“Be honest. You’ll never know everything, and if you don’t know something, don’t try to bluff it.
“One of my frustrations years ago was learning all the regulations by rote. I don’t expect people to know everything by heart, I expect them to say ‘I’ll get back to you on that’. The important thing is that there is someone in the team with the necessary information.
“We have experts in everything but we aren’t all experts in everything. If I try to bluff my way through it, I’ll get nowhere.”
Another aspect of honesty is admitting your failures: “If you make a mistake, accept it and learn from it. I’ve cocked up in the past and I’ve stood in front of the operating board saying ‘this was on my watch, it was my fault’. I’m still here, so it has worked for me.”
He encourages his team to behave in the same way. “I am honest with them and generally they can tell me if they think I am wrong. I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and they can challenge me, no matter where they are in the organisation.”
Lennox prefers to lead by persuasion than by command.
“You have to flex it,” he says. “There are times for clear direction and saying ‘this is what we have to do, no ifs, no buts’. That happens in crisis management, when people will look to you for a clear steer.
“There are times when we have to be a policeman, but I’m not a fan of that. I’m much keener on coaching and educating.”
Lennox does not believe that safety and health practitioners should see themselves as being separate from organisational matters. He tries to visit stores and depots as often as he can because if he is five days a week at the central London head office “I’m not doing my job properly”.
This time out and about is not spent checking that the policies and procedures he oversees are implemented, he says.
“I will be out with my team, which is geographically spread, seeing how they are doing. And I’ll be out seeing what is going on in the business. There’s so much change. If I sit in my office and think about rolling out this or that initiative without understanding what it’s like to be a store manager at this point, I just won’t know how to land things.”
Read IOSH Magazine’s full interview with Neil Lennox