Debbie White is scathing about the leadership qualities of many managers. The senior HR manager at mortgage specialist Cheltenham & Gloucester (C&G) says that too often they are willing to accept mediocrity and fail to recognise the enormous influence they can exert on an individual’s performance.
“I think there’s some truth in the saying that ‘leaders are born’; not everybody can do it well, but unfortunately a lot of people think they can.”
This sounds surprising coming from White because the implication seems to be that some senior managers on C&G’s newly launched Inspirational Leadership Programme (ILP) are incapable of becoming good leaders.
But her point is that learning leadership skills is not straightforward. “Good leadership that drives high performance is very, very difficult and rarely found. It needs concentrated effort. Understanding the needs and motivations of those that work for you is essential; motivating people to want to achieve things with and for you is a sign of good leadership; unfortunately, many mangers abuse their position and mistake this for good leadership.
The ILP was launched 18 months ago to encourage senior managers to make the transition from leaders in a hierarchical sense to those who inspire others within the organisation to perform to the best of their ability.
White believes it is important to go beyond the mechanics of management such as holding team meetings, carrying out personal appraisals and setting targets. She says the danger of being restricted to this is that it fails to deve-lop those who are meeting targets yet have the potential to do much more.
“As a manager, you can tell people to do things and make things happen but you’re not necessarily motivating them. That’s the fundamental difference. Leadership is getting underneath people, understanding their motives and pressing the right buttons at the right time so that you are maximising the potential of each individual.”
She says good leaders need strength of character to confront under-performance as well as to bring out the best in people. “My view is that every under-performer is recoverable, provided you spot it in time and do something about it. But a lot of managers are willing to live with mediocrity and say ‘if that’s what they want to do you should let them get on with it’,” she says.