Be authentic, honest and human: leadership lessons from Tesco and McDonald's

Business leaders need to cultivate trust and must ensure they are leading with an authentic 'self brand', according to the CEOs of McDonald's and Tesco Bank.

McDonald's and Tesco Bank CEOs: authenticity in leadership is key
McDonald's and Tesco Bank CEOs: authenticity in leadership is key

Speaking today at Ad Week Europe in London in a wide ranging session hosted by Oystercatchers, McDonald's UK CEO Jill McDonald and Tesco Bank CEO Benny Higgins said leaders needed to lead with honesty and integrity to drive authentic organisational culture from within.

Both speaking from sectors with experience in challenges around trust and transparency - fast food and banking - they argued the only way to encourage consumers to have trust in a business is to enact change, make tough decisions and act with integrity always putting the customer first.

Authenticity is critical – we all have strengths and weaknesses

The philosophy employed by McDonald’s internally is called the "three legged stool", McDonald said. It is a model designed to ensure the business closely engages suppliers, franchisees and employees. In turn, it enables the business to deliver good customer service, she said.

"It’s innate in McDonald’s that the customer comes first and it helps that it has a CEO that was a marketer," she said. "There are real opportunities around trust. And we’ve made decisions that have cost millions [to benefit the consumer]." For example, introducing free range eggs to the menu was a customer centric decision that was business critical in upping perceptions of qualty and trust. 

Benny Higgins said Tesco Bank had conducted research into consumer attitudes to the bank which revealed that consumers need to trust the brand on two levels.

"It breaks down into two things: transactional trust and emotional trust," he said. At a transactional level – such as trusting a bank to carry out a direct debit at the right time – scores were high. However on an emotional level, trust in the banking sector was "very low."

Behave your way into trust

"You have to behave your way into trust," he argued and financial brands needed to lead with purpose.

CEOs, he said, needed to build the right teams around them and know when to step in in a crisis. 

"I have to make sure we are commercially successful and make sure we have a sense of purpose that consumers trust.

[Leadership] is more about the human condition than business. It takes place in spot, families and communities. Authenticity [is critical] – we all have strengths and weaknesses but being authentic gives a consistent notion of what your leadership is about."

His favourite quote, he added, which he applies to leadership, is from Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, because everyone else is taken. "