Great leadership – 2 sides to every story

On 17 September, 2020, James Timpson, CEO of Timpson Group, tweeted,

“It’s my birthday today and I’ve given myself a written warning. All Timpson colleagues get their birthday off as an extra day off, but I’ve sneaked to see our area managers at their Xmas planning meeting. Couldn’t resist the opportunity to say thanks for all they’ve done.”

The reactions were positive (no surprise really, given that James Timpson seems a nice bloke and the Timpson Group have a good reputation as an employer):

  • “…great leaders do great things.”
  • “Can I come and work for you please?”
  • “…the future of compassionate business.”
  • “So many could learn so much from you.”

And it’s true, people will learn. Because leaders are role models and we often take our cue from the boss, consciously or otherwise.

Before continuing, let’s be clear. There are no profound rights or wrongs here. As blog posts go, this is an opinion piece (possibly more accurately, a devil’s advocate piece). The aim is not so much to criticise as to provoke a thought, maybe even some reflection…

We’ve seen a few representative reactions from Twitter (though, by far the most common replies were either, “Happy birthday!” or “It’s my birthday too!”). James Timpson seems to be an admired leader, who put himself out just to say a nice thank you to the team. Now, how about the other side of the interpretive coin…

  • He’s not practicing what he preaches. The company policy is that all ‘Timpson colleagues’ get their birthday off work as paid leave. But the CEO didn’t. The policy says one thing, the example suggests another.
  • As far as role modelling behaviour goes, this tweet either says, go the extra mile and reward good performance… or it says, the company will pay you to take the day off on your birthday, but sometimes you shouldn’t take it.
  • The ‘excuse’ was the desire to thank a team at their meeting. Was there really no other opportunity? Couldn’t he have found another good time to say, “Well done, all,” and still take the day off on his birthday (i.e. comply with his own company’s policy)?

I don’t want to be a curmudgeon (too late?!) And I definitely don’t want to over-criticise James Timpson, who seems to have done this with the best of intentions AND received the best of reactions (win-win). And wouldn’t want to dis Timpson as a place of work (a quick google suggests they’re a very well-thought-of employer). The slight niggle is that, in role modelling terms, it’s just not consistent.

Maybe this is an example of the unicorn-like ‘happy workaholic’; the always-on executive whose dedication to work includes the team, and whose role modelling is therefore strongly authentic (even when – especially when? – it goes against company values or policy).

Looked at in this light, perhaps James Timpson’s tweet is a good example of authentic leadership…?


If you’re interested in senior leadership, and role modelling, check out our executive coaching services and range of Boardroom Effectiveness options; or give us a call on 01582 463465 – we’re here to help.

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