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Kiri Hannifin

Why compassion wins whoever you are

Kiri Hannifin doesn’t consider herself a leader but there can be no denying she is one.

Countdown’s Kiri became a household name last week for her heartfelt interview on Breakfast TV.

Unbeknownst to Kiri, who has actively been avoiding reading news or social media, there was an outpouring of support from people thanking her for “being human and showing emotion”.

Kiri’s interview on national tv came after staff and customers at a Dunedin Countdown store were injured in an alleged stabbing. The events of the past week have been incredibly tough for the general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability.

“I’ve found the whole thing so painful so I haven’t read anything about it. But the only comments I really care about are those from our team. I hope they know I care about them so deeply and that I would fight for their safety and their rights and make sure they are well and happy, so if they feel that I’m doing my job then that matters to me more than anything,” says Kiri.

The reaction to Kiri’s interview has highlighted just how rare it is for our leaders to show emotion.

“I think that showing vulnerability can be perceived as being weak. Perhaps some people believe that being more dispassionate creates a better impression. I think that there is nothing wrong with showing emotion or showing you care. I don’t think this gets in the way of the points I want to make.

“I wonder whether people in leadership positions sometimes feel they have to hide how they feel about the highs and lows of business. For me, my feelings do not get in the way of the decisions I need to make. Rather, I hope I come to better outcomes by allowing myself to take them into account.

Kiri says showing emotion is nothing new to her. She has done for years, in board room meetings and on shop floors.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I take that into whatever forum. That is just who I am.”

But for Kiri, the events last week have been so very personal.

“I feel so extraordinarily responsible I find it hard to switch off. They are my family and I feel responsible for them in the same way I do my own children.”

Just this past weekend, there were another 28 assaults recorded in Countdown stores across the country. Kiri rang ever single person assaulted to check on them.

“Kiwis are very good people. We’re kind and I know the majority of people are outraged. But there is still a not unsizeable minority who think it is their right to come into our business and treat our team like they’re not their equals.”

Kiri says this sense of entitlement is hurtful and is impacting the health and wellbeing of staff.

“They think calling someone ‘slow’, ‘useless’ or ‘lazy’ is reasonably benign in the scheme of things but it’s not and these comments are made every day – and that’s at the mild end of the scale.”

Kiri would like to thank all those who are gracious, kind and treat the teams “like somebody’s mother, father, brother and sister”.

“Because that is exactly who they are.”

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