Class: School of Management 697PP: Perspectives on Leadership.
Is [John] Mackey a visionary, charismatic, or transformational leader? Is he a leader at all? What has made his business so successful—leadership or something else?
John Mackey is undoubtedly a leader, one of the finest examples of an exemplary leader we can study. His mission to offer consumers organic and environmentally friendly food products came at a perfect time, right before a significant number of consumers demanded such products. The fact that he questioned why stores weren’t catering to people like him, vegetarians, and the fact that he then decided to cater to himself and other like-minded people, shows that John questioned the old practices of profitable supermarkets and decided to bring a new way of doing business to the table.
One sign of Mackey’s visionary leadership is his use of self-managed teams which empower all his employees. While the majority of US business follow a hierarchical structure (to a certain extent), Whole Foods is run almost entirely by teams who decide on staffing and scheduling work on their own. Giving employees significant power and expecting them to work together is a clear sign of John’s excellent leadership ability.
John Mackey also realizes the need for Whole Foods to be flexible and continuously able to change. As The Whole Foods Shebang article pointed out, John “…realized he’d have to change his tune if he wanted to hit the big time, and change it he did.” While the original mission of Whole Foods was to provide organic vegetarian foods, Mackey understood he’d have to appease his customers and allow for other products to be sold at Whole Foods. In this way, Whole Foods share similar business reasoning with Wal-Mart, in that both stores attempt to offer their customers everything they would need under one roof, so as to reduce the need for customers to travel to other stores.
Another sign of Mackey’s exemplary leadership appears in his decision to reduce his annual salary to $1. In the statement announcing this decision, Mackey provided further evidence of his exemplary leadership:
I am now 53 years old and I have reached a place in my life where I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart.”
Mackey is showing his followers to perform a good job because you truly believe the job is worth doing, not just to collect a paycheck. John is acting as a role model for enthusiasm within Whole Foods to provide customers with excellent service by himself taking compensation out of the picture. His employees can now see that John himself is dead serious about working because the work is good and worth doing, not just because it pays you well.
The Whole Foods company philosophy states two core values as:
They are our most important stakeholders in our business and the lifeblood of our business. Only by satisfying our customers first do we have the opportunity to satisfy the needs of our other stakeholders.
Extraordinary Customer Service
We go to extraordinary lengths to satisfy and delight our customers. We want to meet or exceed their expectations on every shopping trip. We know that by doing so we turn customers into advocates for our business. Advocates do more than shop with us, they talk about Whole Foods to their friends and others. We want to serve our customers competently, efficiently, knowledgeably and with flair.
John Mackey, by reducing his salary to $1, while still working to provide exemplary service to Whole Foods customers, is setting a path for other Whole Foods employees to follow. He’s focusing his employees on core Whole Foods values, such as excellent customer service, self-managed teams, and environmental sustainability, rather than compensation. So to answer the question of how much leadership ability can be bought for $1, in the case of Whole Foods, a whole lot [pun intended].