Andrew Thornton on Heart and Servant Leadership

HiBL final logo with strapline

I have the honour of speaking at the Servant Leadership conference in London next week. For me, Heart in Business and Servant Leadership come from the same source. The Servant Leadership principle is simple – that as leaders, we need to serve – serve the people who work for us, serve our communities, serve the planet and serve our shareholders.

This notion (as with that of Heart in Business Limited) is the opposite of being short-term, profit focused, which to me seems to serve only the leader and in theory the shareholder. I say in theory, as in practice, I know that excessive focus on shareholder value tends to lead to short-termism and the destruction of long-term value.

In preparing for my Servant Leadership talk, I have been pondering on what has gone wrong with the current business model. Talking to CEO’s and commentators, I see that the old business model is based upon control; by controlling as much as possible, a business can try and manage the outcome, which is inevitably profit driven. Three factors are putting huge strain on this model – the pace of change, social media and growing consciousness (for an excellent report on the first two, read “Thinking the Unthinkable A New Imperative for Leadership in the Digital Age” commissioned by the Churchill Institute). Regarding growing consciousness, the Millennial generation are so much more conscious than previous generations (both in where they choose to work and how they choose to spend their cash) and this is having an effect on the rest of us.  There is a global general rise in consciousness, meaning that so many of the things that companies could get away with in the past are becoming less and less acceptable.

So, faced with these three factors, companies need to either transform from the ‘control model’ to the ‘empowerment model’ or they will end up end breaking (I define this as a massive loss of shareholder value)– like BP, Tesco and maybe even VW. The ‘empowerment model’ creates a clear and meaningful purpose (beyond making the best widget in the world so we can make piles of cash), empowers its people to deliver this and finally creates a culture that encourages truth.

If I look at Thornton’s Budgens, that’s exactly what we are doing, our purpose being “Your community supermarket that really cares”.  While we have had this purpose for a number of years, we didn’t have the other parts of the empowerment model in place, so our team were still trying to control everything. This put an increasing strain on those controlling (the managers) and made life less and less fulfilling for those being controlled.

So as part of getting everyone in flow and doing what they love, we have appointed internal coaches, who are helping everyone get in their flow and empowering them in that role. So far, so good and since we started this earlier in the year, I have noticed a raising of the general energy levels.  And… Sales have risen by 8 percentage points!

Looking to truth; over the last two years, we have been running sharing circles, using talking sticks and have formed a company council, all of which have helped people to see that it is safe to be more truthful. While we haven’t got to our ‘truth destination’ yet, we are well on the way and I know this place is a much more fulfilling place for everyone to be.

With heart,


Andrew Isaac Thornton