4 lessons in leadership from Richard Goyder, one of Australia's most influential businessmen

Richard Goyder. Photo: Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images

Richard Goyder has led Wesfarmers for a decade now as managing director. He has overseen the purchase and transformation of Coles, driven Bunnings to its pre-eminent market position, shepherded the organisation through the GFC and since then delivered Wesfarmers shareholders a better than market return.

He knows a thing or two about leading through good times and bad, and on Wednesday night he shared his views on leadership when he delivered the John Monash Scholar Oration.

Goyder, reflecting on some attributes John Monash suggested were essential to leadership, and his own experience, has a firm view on what a good leader looks like.

Lacking ego and the need to control

He highlights “a relative lack of ego” as one of leaders’ key attributes. Goyder says he has surrounded himself “with good people” but highlights, “high ego leaders tend to do the opposite – and they always want to be seen as in control.”

Being yourself

Goyder also highlighted that being himself was important. “One thing I was determined to be, and have done, is be myself. As an individual, I have strengths and plenty of weaknesses. I have made some good calls and some bad ones. Like Monash, I have endeavoured to learn from my mistakes,” he said.

Having support through bad times

Perhaps the most important aspect he highlighted was that support and time in the role are important. “One of the issues you can face as a leader, is that if things don’t go well, people can look to move you on – for all sorts of reasons,” Goyder said.

Support of his board and senior management were important because “there have been times, post the acquisition of Coles, and during the Global Financial Crisis, where there were many doubters on Wesfarmers – indeed our share price fell to around $14 late in 2008.”

That’s important because “now, 10 years into the role, I can say with confidence that I am a better leader today, because of the experiences I have had, and lessons learned over that time.”

The message: short term focus doesn’t work.

Letting people get on with their jobs

Goyder also said he gave his business unit leaders, at Coles, Bunnings, Kmart, and in Finance the ability to lead without intereference. On that theme he added “one of my leadership lessons has been a remarkable correlation that the further a business is away from the head office, the better they perform!”

In the end Goyder says there is no magical recipe for leadership. But he does give a clear pointer on what he thinks the ingredients might be:

For me – the best leaders use their strengths, recognise their weaknesses, and surround themselves with great people.

They also have empathy for people in different circumstances.

Pretty easy right?

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