Sweet dreams are made of this

I recently spent a day in London with 500 managers from a multitude of UK organisations. When they were asked what issues and concerns they faced every day, there was a long moment of silence. Then, one by one, a whole list appeared.

They included issues such as:

  • How can we enable all people to make a difference?
    What are we frightened of, and what is holding us back?
    How do we tackle our less-able performers?
    How do we show that we actively listen to ideas?
    How do we influence upwards, across and down?
    How do we create leaders who desire to serve people, rather than expect people to serve them?

The list went on, and the rest of the day was spent trying to work through the issues. Looking at the 50-plus items that were presented, they appeared to fall into three clusters: their own behaviour; the behaviour of other people; and, transforming their organisation into something better.

The issues were not targets, tasks or specific projects, but self-awareness and self-improvement, understanding and motivating others, and transforming the organisation. All require leadership, not management, and learning, not training. This was interesting, because so much of management is spent reacting and dealing with internal issues. This is part of the problem. The danger is to see these issues as individual problems.

The issues raised by managers are not new, and they are not isolated to the UK. They are intrinsic to organisations – whether a company, hospital or government department. What keeps managers awake at night, is trying to deal with a fast-changing world while stuck in an outdated mindset that includes the structures, cultures and work practices. The problem is management, and that includes human resource management – a role that requires courage and leadership.

We have developed organisations based on a post-Second World War model that focused on a need for stability and growth in the western world. The mindset at that time was based on regarding people in a hierarchy based on intellect, background and wealth.

However, in this rigid structure was also the belief that with hard work, study and luck, an individual could advance. So the great build began and large companies expanded, sharing responsibility for the welfare of employees with governments. At the same time, education raised its bar with ambitious requirements for highly-educated individuals.

Today, the workforce has a mindset where personal responsibility is often dormant, and replaced with compliance that is reinforced through management control. We have ended up with Compliant OrganisationsTM.

In rebuilding our world, we also created problems that prevail across business and society. In the past decade, a different drum has been beating: the need for leadership. As a result, there are leadership books and training courses in abundance. Yet little, if anything, has actually changed. If we know the solution, why doesn’t it work?

The reason why leadership courses have largely failed, is because they are trying to simply graft leadership on to management and management thinking and structures. A different approach is required for the transformation necessary in the 21st century. We call it The Leadership Organisation.

What managers need is support from those in training and human resources to challenge how they perceive the world, run organisations and their role. Most of all, managers need to develop their leadership potential, and that of others around them. This is not about sending fast-track graduates on a university course, but about encouraging learning every day.

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