Sometimes leadership means putting yourself first

If you want to get the best out of others, learn to get the best out of yourself, says Unilever's CMO Keith Weed.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 13 May 2019

In a world of increasing complexity, where endless email streams tether us 24/7 to our desks, smartphones expose us to an average of three hours more media a day than before and a multiplex of mystifying algorithms manipulate our daily whims and desires, it's easy to feel drained.

When Unilever's departing chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed joined the Anglo-Dutch giant in 1983, it was much easier to switch off - mobile phones were the size of a small brick and cost over £3,000. The world, and the business, have changed a lot during that time, but something that hasn’t is how Weed defines leadership: "getting people to be at their best, all of the time".

The key to doing that is learning what makes each individual team member click (which can vary wildly) and then bringing the energy and creating the environment to enable it. That's not as easy as it sounds, says Weed, but to have any chance of helping others, a boss must first learn to manage their own energy.


"There are some managers that come into a room and just suck the oxygen out of the air. Staff suddenly become worried about whether they’ve got the sales numbers for Birmingham or whether they know what their market share is in Tesco. Managers like that are very rigorous at holding people to account, but not great if you want people to grow and create opportunities. For that you need leaders with energy.

"I’m absolutely convinced that if you fail to manage your own energy, you will take other people down with you. So I say to all of my managers, find out how to get the best out of yourself and then do it.

"I’m not suggesting you have to be an everyday impossible Tigger, but you don’t need to be an Eyore about it either. If you need to go to the gym three times a week or need to have eight hours sleep a night to make sure you’re at your best then do it, and make it the backbone of your schedule. I don’t care if you end up doing it in work time, if that’s what it takes for you to be on your game the rest of the week then do it.

"There are so many people who know how to manage their energy but just flaunt it. For me I’m a people person (which I guess is a good trait when you work in consumer goods), so I genuinely get energy from spending time out in the market and understanding how people’s shopping habits change.

"I enjoy running and if I don’t go I get grumpy, so I work that into my schedule.You have to be willing to invest in your own energy before you can instil it in others."

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Image credits: juststock/gettyimages

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