From leeks to democratic leadership.

Good governance and growing up

In a reversal of my younger self, I have become convinced power should not be confined to one individual or clique.

The young farmer who planted his first leeks at Riverford 36 years ago was an egocentric maverick with a desperate need to prove himself. Governance, had he known what it meant, would have seemed like a boring obstacle to getting things done. As the years passed and Riverford grew, this approach became exhausting for me and those around me; it was time to grow up, share the load of leadership, and value those who questioned me.

In the years running up to Riverford becoming employee owned, I became fascinated by what sort of governance produces the best decisions and the most sustainable growth. Growing up wasn’t so bad after all; it was an exciting new challenge. We were able to write our own constitution, based on my ‘Founder’s Wishes’ and refined by the responses of co-owners; you can read this document on our website. And in our fifth year of employee ownership, we have just won the Good Governance Award from the Employee Ownership Association.

We are still working to improve our governance – particularly including more diversity in our decision making – but this award is a positive reminder that we are on the right road. In a reversal of my younger self, I have become convinced that:

1. Power should not be confined to one individual or clique. The safest decisions are made by consulting widely, and by welcoming and seeking to understand those who disagree.

2. Egos can provide drive but should be balanced by service, a desire to be useful, and the ability to listen.

3. You must accept pragmatic compromise. Life is long, with many battles which cannot all be fought today.

4. Reality is complex; unquestioned, ideologically held dogma is dangerous and always wrong.

5. Honesty, with others and with yourself, is essential.

Thinking about good governance and then reading the recent news has offered a stark contrast. The larger and more mature the organisation, the greater the importance of these principles – and yet, beyond our fields, mature governance has collapsed. Every one of my rules has been comprehensively broken. The decisions we all depend on are being made by the narrowest of ideological cliques, who banish anyone who disagrees and lack a democratic mandate. To save the country I love from tearing itself apart in a childish frenzy, we urgently need better governance. I can see no way of achieving this without a general election.


Leave a Reply

  1. Oh Guy, how often your words make me shout YES as I read them.

    I have despaired for decades that running a country could be attempted by a room full of shouting people acting like a spin-off Public School debating society, and pursuing either personal enrichment and/or Idealogical extremes.

    Self evidently in real life we work cooperatively and listen to other opinions- whatever we are trying to achieve.

    I have no idea how we fix such a fundamentally broken system, but an effort is necessary more than ever before.

  2. It’s always such a relief to read your words Guy. To know that I am not alone in my thoughts and ideals is reassuring in these very troubling times.
    You are proof that no one should be able to use the excuse “it’s just good business tactics” to get away with clearly bad business practices that are unethical and unsustainable .
    You prove that there is a much better way – thank you !

  3. Thank you for your opinion, which I wholeheartedly share.
    The devil, as per usual, is in the detail. I would love to vote Labour when we eventually get to vote again. But they also insist on sticking with the old rules and won’t change the FPTP (first past the post) voting system, which I believe to be at the root of a lot of our problems. As you said in your post above: power in one hand (or one party) is not a good thing. A coalition, compromising and working for the greater good, however, is the way forward. So I vote GREEN.

  4. I, too, agree with what you say Guy but I would like to add a couple more points which, in my opinion, are essential to restoring health to our democracy.

    1. The government (of either party) should return to taking care of the people as opposed to taking care of the corporations (and hoping the corporations take care of the people). This has handed the power to the corporations who can now lean on the government to introduce measures to ensure that they DON’T have to take care of the people – making it illegal to protest, destroying the unions – if it hurts their profits.

    2. Make online privacy a right and the default position. The internet has become a data harvesting tool of mass surveillance. Every time we visit a website (and press ‘accept’ to make that annoying message go away) countless eyes are upon us trying to work out what motivates us, angers us, what makes us act and how we make decisions.

    A used car salesman, armed with this information would know exactly what to do and say to make me buy his car – no messing about, he knows how and why I make my decisions. In this relationship, the salesman has all the power and I have none. Whether or not it is the best car for me is immaterial – it is the car he wants to sell me. However, without all that personal information, the salesman (or political party) has to work hard to get me to buy (or cast my vote). I may chose not to so the power is mine.

    We cannot have a functioning democracy when companies (remember Cambridge Analytica?) can sell a system, based entirely on people’s personal data, to actively subvert it.

    Sorry that my first post on Wicked Leeks is a rant! I am also a very happy customer who received my regular veg box this morning and am excited that my box will contain parsnips soon. Seasonal food is great – I’m looking forward to parsnips!!!!!!


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