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Who’s the boss? By Louise Druce

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We all want a boss we can look up to but many managers are so bogged down in their day-to-day routine they are failing to exhibit inspirational leadership qualities or haven’t developed the right skills to deliver them. Rather than risk losing the respect of their team, they need to lift their heads above the parapet and start managing their own training and development.


Go on, admit it – how many times have you thought you could probably do a better job than your boss? It could be because you don’t agree with some of the decisions they have made because you don’t understand why they made them, or maybe they always seem to be in meetings and never solving the problems on the office floor.

Whatever the reason, most staff would prefer a manager they can look up to but fewer than four in 10 claim to see examples of inspirational leadership in their workplace, according to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), which is inhibiting their own performance and leaving them unengaged.

It’s not so much a case of ambivalence towards their staff that means employers are failing to live up to their desires, cited by the CMI as genuine shared vision, real confidence and trust in teams, and respect for employees, colleagues and customers. So many managers are bogged down in their day-to-day routine they are failing to exhibit great leadership qualities or haven’t developed the right skills to deliver them.

Rather than risk losing the respect of their team, it’s time for employers to start lifting their heads above the parapet, says Jo Couson, director of marketing and corporate affairs at the CMI, and face the need to manage their own training and development as well. “It can be a lonely position,” she empathises, “but a strong manager will accept that they don’t have all the answers.”

Stop, look, listen

When it comes to finding a solution, though, she points out that training and development is very individual and has to meet with the company’s needs and objectives. “There are a whole range of qualifications tailored to support strategic goals as well as opportunities for coaching and mentoring. But training can be informal as well as formal. For example, employers can attend seminars, encourage dialogue and networking with peers, and interact with other managers,” she adds.

Of course, every company has its highs and lows, and a few spats along the way. What Couson is looking to encourage is opening up the lines of communication so employees don’t feel that the only time they are noticed by their boss is during the annual appraisal or when they have done something wrong.

“To be inspiring you have to show your own personality, not hide behind a suit. People need to believe in you as a person and feel they can relate to you before they will allow themselves to be inspired.”

Andy Green, CEO, BT Global Services

“It’s very much a two-way process where people feel comfortable enough to come into your office and talk to you. This fosters trust and mutual respect between both parties,” she says. “It’s also about showing recognition and thanking people for their work – not all the time but for specific efforts.

“If people aren’t coming to you, you need to take a temperature check on how the team are working together. There is a line between ensuring that your team knows you are accessible but also giving them the confidence to deal with issues themselves. They have to take ownership and accountability. A leader needs to give them the space and ability to do that. It’s about encouraging people to learn and creating an environment where people don’t fear making mistakes.”

“Listening is also important,” Couson adds. “Sometimes as a leader you can talk a lot but you need to take into consideration the views of your colleagues for a more productive and innovative workforce. At the same time, be clear about goals and objectives, and review them regularly. You need to know what skills your staff has and when to stretch them, but also know how far you can stretch them and how much intervention you need to give.”

Three times a leader

Andy Green, CEO of BT Global Services, believes a leader has three roles: setting the tone, defining the strategic agenda and selecting the people and assets. Again, communication plays a vital role in the successful delivery of these elements. “To be inspiring you have to show your own personality, not hide behind a suit,” he continues. “People need to believe in you as a person and feel they can relate to you before they will allow themselves to be inspired.”

KPMG’s HR director, John Bailey, has also identified three main qualities that a manager needs to motivate employees: a mindset of wanting the best for their people and their firm, the ability to engage at a human rather than theoretical level, and making time to listen, understand and coach.

So what about the holy grail of showing genuine shared vision, confidence, trust and respect for employees, colleagues and customers that workers are craving? “On vision you have to be prepared to keep communicating at all levels over a sustained period,” Green advises. “Confidence and trust come from shared values – ‘trustworthy’ is one of ours. It is particularly important in a services business that we are able to have confidence that everyone in BT is committed to delivering for the customer.”

Not every manager has achieved CEO level but Green argues that even though the scale of the challenge varies greatly depending on where you are in the organisation, good, inspirational management at any level needs a balance of leadership, empathy and cultural understanding. Both senior executives and middle management also have a responsibility towards supporting each other.

“As CEO of a global business, it’s important to me that I have a strong management team with devolved authority,” he says. “Local management will naturally understand the local environment best. We have a lively debate while we’re developing plans. Once they are defined I need to know that my team – wherever they are in the world – will implement the strategy in the way I would if I was in their shoes.

“The combination of shared vision and business values with great local knowledge is a winning formula but finding the right balance of trust and control is essential.”

Taking the lead

To try to encourage better relationships between managers and staff, BT, like many other firms, conducts employee surveys, back-to-the-floor days, road shows, newsletters and ‘all hands’ calls. The difference, Green says, is how it is done. “We have to agree and communicate a common goal and direction, and then the management of each team has to use two-way communication to bring alive the strategy and change programme, and make it relevant to the individual,” he emphasises.

Not every single manager in the UK is going to be naturally blessed with the fire and flare to motivate their staff, no matter how hard they try. However, it is the fact that they want to try that is key, and where firms can do more to help nurture the leaders of the future. The CMI survey shows that only 36 percent of individuals have access to advice from their seniors through informal mentoring opportunities and just 15 percent of line managers are responsible for implementing training and development within their teams, a figure which has halved since 2000.

Bailey believes managers need better access to a broad range of support including information on specific aspects of staff management and on what is available, training programmes and access to people who can help, such as HR professionals.

“Some people are born with the skills that enable them to become good managers, others need help – so it depends on the individual,” says Green. “But it is important to offer support and training to managers who know they need it and to have a system to identify those who need help but don’t realise it.”

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