New Year’s resolutions: leadership qualities. Why Peter Drucker can still bend it better than Beckham

Comparing the qualities of effective HR directors to aspects of sex, Viagra and wearing very little underwear as part of Personnel Today’s ‘HR with Oomph’ campaign, formed a good opinion piece by Paul Kearns, director at PWL, last year (Personnel Today, 18 September 2007).

But before you all go online to see what you have been missing, the message was that being on top of your game in HR and people management is largely down to having integrity of character. The great academic and economist Peter Drucker wrote about this back in 1955 in his award-winning book, The Practice of Management.

On “tomorrow’s manager”, Drucker talked about having principles and thinking about the world in its wider context – being able to view the business as a whole, not as just one or two functions within it, factoring in political, economic and social developments as part of your own decision making. These behaviours were regarded by Drucker as critical to managing by principles, concepts, systems and methods.

Big issues

As we enter 2008, some colleagues of mine – HR directors from all parts of business and public life – recently discussed what we thought would be the big issues facing us in our working lives. What were they? Managing the poor chronic health of the developed world, changes to life expectancy, the sudden increase in the birth rate in the UK, and changes in technology, to name but a few.

Anticipating changing technology will play a big part in this. What will be the next big thing after the iPhone? What will the new iPod/Facebook generation expect from their working environment? What will be the effect of the price in oil and the credit crunch? Big, blue-sky thoughts.

We also discussed David Beckham, as being beautiful and successful go hand in hand. If all else is equal, ugly people earn less and are less likely to be promoted. An economist from Texas has shown that beauty can be a marker for other “unfakeable signals” leading to success, such as good health, intelligence and good genes. So, in your attempt to implement career advancement strategies this year, can you really fake these unfakeable signals? Well, you could if you were David Beckham, but not enough apparently to make the beauty bonus financially worth it.

Big fun

Thinking about the future is both fun and serious. In 1948, just seven years before Drucker wrote his book, the NHS was born from a prediction about what was needed for reform. Sir William Beveridge had declared war on issues that he said threatened society: want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness.

To combat sickness, a reformed health service was planned. He predicted that the new service would lead to a need for less medicine and to an annual reduction in the initial cost of £170m. By 1951, the cost was £400m, and by 1960, it was £726m. Nearly 60 years on, the NHS is still central to a huge political debate, and it’s expected to cost £105.6bn in the coming year.

Drucker ends his amazing book on the theme of integrity of character . Oomph, for him was about respect, truth and responsibility to society and enterprise. Being professional, keeping opportunity open for all, and being held to account. Leading through courage and vision as well as competence and skill. These are good New Year resolutions. Not about being beautiful.

Sian Thomas, deputy director, NHS Employers

Conference call

Want to learn more about leadership? IRS Conferences has organised a one-day ‘Advancing leaders – Improving results’ event in London on 27 February 2008.

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