The principles of interactive leadership and why she believes in it were key parts of a discussion Helena Foulkes, CEO of Hudson’s Bay Co. (HBC), had with Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), during a session at the 2020 National Retail Federation Big Show in New York City this week.

Foulkes, who led CVS Pharmacy before she was appointed CEO of HBC, said she learned about interactive leadership about 15 years ago from her business coach and has relied on it ever since.

“I tend to bring this model to each of these assignments, so to speak, because I think it transcends each of the industries you’re in,” Foulkes said. “It’s not retail-centric.”

Foulkes explained that interactive leadership includes the following five principles:

  1. Identify what’s motivating to people. Retailers too often are focused on shareholder returns, Foulkes said, “but we serve a lot of different stakeholders, and we have to think about what‘s really motivating for us and will give us a sense of pride and purpose as a team.” The leadership team at HBC has been focusing on this, Foulkes said, “and it really helps us have a conversation around where to spend our time.”
  2. Embrace paradox and complexity. In business, very few people are willing to talk about emotions, Foulkes said, but “we’re all human beings, and we have a lot of emotions inside of us. So, I try to bring them out in the spirit of paradox and complexity [where we] talk about things that are really exciting to us, but also about the things that worry us [or] that can be problems,” she said. When teams work on these competing emotions, Foulkes added, “they can get to more creative solutions.”
  3. Return authority. The definition of returning authority, Foulkes said, “is something that I’m unwilling or unable to do. I can return authority to our chairman or my board, or I can return authority to people who work for me.” However, Foulkes said it involves being “really clear about which decisions I’m going to make or which decisions other people should make.”
  4. Employ work-focused planning. Once you have your team aligned on everything you’re going after, you have to have a very solid process to manage and measure it, Foulkes said. “We have great dreams and visions, but we have to produce results, so how we execute on all of that is with good, work-focused planning.”
  5. Embrace mutuality. Foulkes said this principle is all about showing up as your authentic self, whether you’re with your board, your peers, your leadership team, or the front line. “This piece comes pretty naturally to me, but it’s really reminding myself sometimes when I’m in a position that might feel overwhelming is to be my authentic self.” Foulkes added that this principle of interactive leadership was particularly helpful to her as she has moved up in her career and has been less in a position of power. However, “seeing myself as mutual to people who had more power than I did” helped Foulkes greatly.