Tina Mitchell shares her leadership experience

What do you see as the key to unlocking colleagues’ potential?

It’s about creating a culture of self-belief, which helps colleagues feel safe. When colleagues feel safe they’re more likely to operate outside their comfort zones and start to take risks – that’s where true development and personal growth comes from.

What are our biggest challenges in leading and coaching colleagues through change?

Everyone takes on change, or reacts to change differently. So the first thing to remember is that one approach doesn’t fit all. It’s about managing it at an individual level because if you ‘slow down to go faster’ you’re more likely to get to a period of sustainability. Sometimes we take a blanket approach on how we engage colleagues in change, which invariably won’t work.

Explaining the ‘why’ for people around a specific change is so important too. When you slow down the discussions around change to genuinely explain the ‘why’ with great storytelling, then you’re more likely to land the change successfully.

What would your team say are your two biggest achievements in the past six months?

I think they’d say our focus on leadership capability and the development of a much more transparent performance culture across our division.

To underpin both of these, we’ve worked hard to make sure there’s a capable leader for every team. I genuinely believe that before you do anything as a team you’ve got to have the right leader in place. This means we’ve invested in the right level of capability for each of our stores.

By doing this we’ve accelerated great performance, but equally, where appropriate, we’ve had difficult and honest conversations with colleagues who haven’t been delivering.

The hard work has really paid off and we’ve moved from being reliant on external talent to being much more self-sufficient and recruiting from within our business.

What are your people priorities for 2019?

There are three: continuing to strengthen our leadership capability, landing and sustaining great change, making sure that our Ways of Being Co-op are woven into everything we do.

Our Ways of Being Co-op are key. To get a great leader in every shop they need to be a Co-op leader. Not just from a financial perspective (eg deliver great profit and loss numbers), but the whole bit around community and looking after colleagues. If you genuinely live and breathe our Ways of Being you’ll be a great leader.

We need to continue to take complexity away from colleagues to create more time to do the right things and have the right discussions. Our messaging to colleagues also needs to be simple and consistent.

Who’s been your main influence on how you lead people?

To be honest, I don’t just have one single person who’s influenced me. I’ve learned, and continue to learn from the people I work with, as well as those who work for me. You never stop learning – that’s what I’ve taken on board throughout my career. Even a bad experience is a learning experience.

To lead people well you need to take responsibility for your own development – that’s really important. When you have a curious mind-set, even something that on the face of it doesn’t seem like a learning opportunity will transpire into something useful.

What’s the bravest decision you’ve ever made?

It’s probably when I left Selfridges to join Tesco. I did my graduate programme at Selfridges and learned my trade, so you couldn’t get more different from running a department store to going into food retail.

It was a risk but I needed to prove to myself that I could cut it with a blue-chip retailer – and somewhere which was a faster-paced, multi-site business, with lower margin and very much male-dominated.

The safe thing to do would have been to do what all me peers did and just move around all the different departments at Selfridges. I think they thought I was insane when I said I was going to Tesco.

If you could share one hidden secret/top tip to being a successful leader – what would it be?

I’ve got two. Listen twice as much as much as you talk – be mindful of what people don’t say as much as what they do say. Secondly, surround yourself with the people that will tell you what you need to hear, rather than what you want to hear.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Early on in your career it’s really tempting to feel like you need to be a version of somebody else. So one that I always share a lot is around authenticity – it’s better to be a first rate version of yourself than be a second rate version of somebody else.