Taking the lead

first_imgRelated posts:No related photos. Managerswho have been promoted because of technical ability or academic knowledge canbenefit from being taught leadership skills, reports Rob McLuhanTraditionally,management training has rarely been given the same priority in the publicsector that it receives in the commercial world. All too often, employees havebeen promoted to positions of responsibility because of their technicalexpertise, rather than any motivational skills or vision for the organisation’sfuture. Butgrowing numbers of public sector organisations realise this handicaps theirability to move forward. Many are now making leadership skills a priority intheir recruitment and development programmes. This applies as much tolower-ranking team leaders as to chief executives and department heads. Harrogateis one of several NHS trusts to provide its senior managers with coaching inthe qualities needed to run large teams, while universities, regulatory bodies,local authorities and government departments are also paying increasingattention to the need for leadership skills. Thisnew mood is epitomised by the BBC, where being a manager is not a career pathas such, and individuals are traditionally promoted to leadership roles becauseof their skills as editors, programme-makers, and technical engineers. InSeptember, the organisation embarked on a multi-million pound training exerciseto provide management skills for 7,500 employees.Lastyear’s wide-ranging consultation exercise revealed an overwhelming desire forinspired leadership and more consistent management. Director-general Greg Dykesees these as crucial to his vision of the BBC becoming the world’s mostcreative organisation. Thefour-year training programme is being undertaken in partnership with AshridgeBusiness School and will be mandatory for everyone who manages more than threepeople. Unusually, all levels of staff will be involved. “In mostprogrammes most of the effort is expended on the top people, and decreases asit goes it down the hierarchy,” says Nigel Paine, head of training anddevelopment. “This focuses on juniors equally. If we get the bedrockright, it will see them through their career.”Traineeswill initially be given a broad understanding of the roles and responsibilitiesof a manager, being shown how to conduct appraisals and handle difficultsituations. They will also be coached in skills such as inspiring creativity inthe team and getting the best out of people, as well as taking responsibilityfor the group’s performance. “We want people to do things differently, andsuccess or failure will be measured by how much their behaviour changes,”says Paine. Aparticular problem with the public sector is that it tends to discourage riskand enterprise in favour of consistency and accountability. For instance, civilservice employees often become cynical because of the resource constraintsunder which they operate. At the top level, permanent secretaries are close toministers and not expected to be leaders themselves, but to give loyal andseamless service. “Toooften in the public sector, employees find that things are not explained tothem and they are not consulted or listened to,” says Mike Emmott,employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel andDevelopment (CIPD). “What is needed are leaders who get people engaged andenergised. People will follow if you show you are going somewhere, and givenencouragement, there are those who will take charge at all levels.”Leadershipskills are just as important for those in relatively junior roles, such as themanager of a local Jobcentre who oversees a team of 20 people. “The scopeis smaller, but the manager still needs to weld teams together and make surethe right resources are in place,” Emmott says. “They also need torecruit the right people, prevent unnecessary conflicts, and handle the smallchange of people’s everyday lives.”Thereare significant differences in management style, which can be a shock to peopleentering the public sector for the first time, agrees Steve Nicklen, head ofpublic sector coaching in the Penna Board Partnership. “A great deal ofimportance is attached to due procedure, often at the expense of deliveringresults, and this can be paralysing,” he says. Wheregovernment is concerned, there are issues of integrity that do not arise in thesame way as in the private sector, Nicklen adds. “It is difficult forelected officials to be honest about the impact of a government policy,”he says. “This tends to interfere with concepts such as authenticity,consistency and integrity, which are big in all the leadership textbooks.”Recruitmentagencies are finding that leadership skills figure ever more strongly in therequirements for filling senior posts. When Penna Resourcing sought anindividual to run Jobcentre Plus, it went to the private sector for someonewith a successful track record in sales. Additional competencies were gravitas,and negotiating and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to thinkstrategically and take the organisation forward. Theagency also recruited someone to lead the appeal service through a period ofchange, overseeing a department with 900 staff in 11 offices spread across thecountry. Here, an ability to lead change management was critical to ensure themessages were disseminated correctly and avoid staff attrition.HRprofessionals play a crucial role in many organisations, and leadership skillsare the key to achieving positions of strategic responsibility. The Society ofPersonnel Officers (Socpo) emphasises the importance of continuing professionaldevelopment (CPD) in winning leadership roles, facilitating promotion, changeand reskilling. “Weaim to make sure HR directors and managers are equipped across the whole rangeof skills to take top positions in organisations,” says Mary Mallett,Socpo’s strategic director (organisation and development). This is becomingincreasingly significant, she adds, as many local authorities no longer have anHR director on the main board or chief officer group, but cluster the functionwith other corporate services. Socpo wants to ensure HR directors are in pollposition to take these resource jobs.Educationin particular is dogged by poor leadership, as department heads tend to winpromotion through a brilliant academic record, which has little bearing on thebusiness of handling and motivating people. This problem has recently beenaddressed by the regulatory body, Ofsted (see box). It has also been an issueat De Montefort University, which realised it needed to improve its leadershipif it was to attract better students and increase its funding. Theuniversity worked with HR consultancy DDI on a development centre for itssenior education managers, and also put them through a 360-degree assessment.”This made the university realise that leadership skills are extremelyimportant in trying to influence and motivate staff,” says DDI marketingdirector, Lucy McGee. “It gave them an understanding of a skillset theyhad not appreciated until now, because their skills are teaching.”DDIhas also worked with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to develop acompetency framework across three levels of the organisation for selection andpromotion. It trains managers to carry out behavioural interviews, measuringpast performance against those competencies to predict future performance, andto avoid hiring individuals who show no strength in those areas.Localgovernment is also addressing the question of leadership skills. One majorproject is being carried out by the Leadership Development Commission, a jointinitiative by the Employers Organisation (EO) and the Improvement andDevelopment Agency (IDeA). This uses Prime, an online development programmecreated by the Cabinet Office, which aims to set a common standard forleadership at all levels. “Withmore than 400 local authorities all doing their own thing, it is not easy tolearn from best practice, and you get more value from it by joining ittogether,” says Martin Horton, director of knowledge and learning at IDeA.Sowhat skills are typical of a good leader? “They should be able to clarifyobjectives and articulate a vision or sense of purpose,” says Horton.”They create a framework and set the rules by which they want staff towork towards that vision, motivating them to do what needs to be done. Alongthe way, they listen, shape, and modify, giving encouragement, but also holdingpeople to account.””Ina nutshell, we are trying to raise self-awareness,” Horton continues.”We want people to be aware of the impact they have as leaders, to askwhat they are doing well, where they need support, and what they need tolearn.” One danger is that when people get to the top, they think they canstop learning, and they need to remember that it should be a lifelong process,he adds. Leadershipis also an issue for the health service – the NHS Leadership Centre recentlyinvestigated the qualities associated with successful and outstandingperformance at senior level. An in-depth study carried out by the Hay Grouprevealed personal characteristics of self-belief, integrity andself-management, together with the ability to empower others and hold them toaccount. The study revealed that NHS leaders were capable of engaging incomplex behaviour, but the best did this more often or with more sophistication,instead of simply imitating leaders they regarded as successful. They hadinternalised leadership concepts, ideas or practices, and had made them theirown. Hayincorporated these findings in a series of briefings and documents, which wereoffered to NHS trusts across the UK to use as practical development tools. Oneoutcome of the study was the discovery that NHS leaders were found to belacking in the ‘drive for results’, a competency concerned with explicit andambitious goal setting, and leaders were encouraged to be tougher in thisrespect. “Thisis leadership development in real-time, a live consulting project withpragmatic and common sense outcomes,” says Steven Sonsino, a director atthe London Business School, which has been involved in the NHS’s continuingpersonal development programme. Sonsino stresses that leadership development isan ongoing process, involving learning on the job, creating reflective managerswho learn from their experience.Oneexample of the NHS driving for better leadership is the Harrogate HealthcareNHS Trust, which, this year, put all 12 members of its executive team through aspecial coaching and assessment programme. Theprogramme was carried out by RightCoutts, and began with consultants observinga working meeting to understand the team dynamics. They were then involved in astrategic day led by Miles Scott, the newly-appointed chief executive.Theconsultants carried out a 360-degree appraisal to gain further confidentialfeedback on individuals. Finally, they met with the directors on a one-to-onebasis, using psychometric tests to help them identify their development needs. RightCouttsdirector, Tony Martin, argues there is no one way of ‘cloning’ leadership, andthat there are a variety of methods for improving each individual’s potential.”The work we did broadened their perceptions and helped developcharacteristics of good leadership, synergising these with their own workingstyles to produce the best possible outcome,” he says. Feedbacksuggested that the coaching had real impact in meeting the executives’ goals,for instance, helping them reduce the maximum wait for outpatient appointments,surgery, and accident and emergency. It was also felt that the programme hadhelped the trust to win three-star status in July. “Without doubt, theorganisation is making the progress I wanted to see, and the coaching has beena helpful tool towards this,” says Scott.Thedrive to improve the quality of services has put the public sector in thespotlight over the past few years. But until recently, the perception wasalways that the heart of its problem was a lack of funding. Clearly, there isan understanding that visionary leadership and skillful people management arejust as important, and wide-ranging initiatives such as these will surely gosome way to improving the way that public sector organisations are run.Casestudy: OfstedEmphasising leadership qualitiesTheeducation regulator Ofsted decided to improve its process of recruiting seniorstaff, aware that although it was good at recruiting academically-giftedpeople, it needed to put greater emphasis on leadership.GrainneSugrue, Ofsted’s newly-appointed head of recruitment, developed sevenleadership competencies that reflected the strategic thrust of the organisationand the skills required to realise it. She enlisted DDI to develop aday-in-the-life assessment that gave participants the opportunity to test drivetheir skills in a realistic setting. Twelve candidates were short-listed tocompete for four divisional manager roles.Theemphasis was placed on leadership rather than technical skills, since thesealone do not necessarily make for a good people manager. “Many seniormanagers were sceptical about tools such as psychometrics,” Sugrue says.”We needed to have a reliable preview of how consistent behaviourmanifests itself in each role, and that the candidates would see ascredible.”Candidateswere asked to resolve conflicts and form partnerships with colleagues to completea difficult project, while answering e-mails and dealing with interruptions.Participants’ abilities to tolerate stress and manage priorities were tested aspart of their suitability for a senior leadership role. All activities weretaped and replayed for later review and evaluation. Ofsted’s board members theninterviewed candidates using a structured technique. Onceselection decisions had been made, all candidates were given feedback onstrengths and areas for development, a move that was well received.”Whether they got the job or not, they all said they felt the experiencehad been challenging, professional and immensely thorough,” Sugrue said. Oneindividual had been sceptical initially, feeling he had a clear idea of hisstrengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, he admitted that although he had believedhe was good at planning and organising, at a higher level, this showed up as aweakness. Anotherbenefit was the positive reaction to the fair awarding of promotion. Staffrecognised that while technical knowledge was important, it was not the onlysuccess criterion for a good divisional manager. “It is beginning to beunderstood that there is a difference between doing and leading,” Sugruesays. Taking the leadOn 1 Oct 2003 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Articlelast_img

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