Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

‘No place to hide’? The realities of leadership in UK supermarkets

This article explores the realities of managerial work in two major British
supermarket chains. While the prescriptive literature welcomes the displacement of bureaucratic management by rote with leadership, empirical accounts of what managers actually do underscore how the purported tenets of leadership tend to disappear upon closer inspection, even at the discursive level. This study observes and discusses the discrepancy between the rhetoric of leadership articulated by executives
at the corporate head offices and the actual roles and responsibilities of managers in stores. Work was tightly controlled and managers had little real freedom. We draw on empirical evidence to argue both that while leadership in practice secured only trivial freedoms such freedoms were highly valued and that academic analysis should follow these managers in their ability to distinguish between rhetorical flourishes and reallife job design. Leadership in practice is mundane and local.

Keywords: leadership, leaders, managers, control, deskilling, supermarkets, retail

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