who have been promoted because of technical ability or academic knowledge can
benefit from being taught leadership skills, reports Rob McLuhan
management training has rarely been given the same priority in the public
sector that it receives in the commercial world. All too often, employees have
been promoted to positions of responsibility because of their technical
expertise, rather than any motivational skills or vision for the organisation’s
growing numbers of public sector organisations realise this handicaps their
ability to move forward. Many are now making leadership skills a priority in
their recruitment and development programmes. This applies as much to
lower-ranking team leaders as to chief executives and department heads.
is one of several NHS trusts to provide its senior managers with coaching in
the qualities needed to run large teams, while universities, regulatory bodies,
local authorities and government departments are also paying increasing
attention to the need for leadership skills.
new mood is epitomised by the BBC, where being a manager is not a career path
as such, and individuals are traditionally promoted to leadership roles because
of their skills as editors, programme-makers, and technical engineers. In
September, the organisation embarked on a multi-million pound training exercise
to provide management skills for 7,500 employees.
year’s wide-ranging consultation exercise revealed an overwhelming desire for
inspired leadership and more consistent management. Director-general Greg Dyke
sees these as crucial to his vision of the BBC becoming the world’s most
four-year training programme is being undertaken in partnership with Ashridge
Business School and will be mandatory for everyone who manages more than three
people. Unusually, all levels of staff will be involved. "In most
programmes most of the effort is expended on the top people, and decreases as
it goes it down the hierarchy," says Nigel Paine, head of training and
development. "This focuses on juniors equally. If we get the bedrock
right, it will see them through their career."
will initially be given a broad understanding of the roles and responsibilities
of a manager, being shown how to conduct appraisals and handle difficult
situations. They will also be coached in skills such as inspiring creativity in
the team and getting the best out of people, as well as taking responsibility
for the group’s performance. "We want people to do things differently, and
success or failure will be measured by how much their behaviour changes,"
particular problem with the public sector is that it tends to discourage risk
and enterprise in favour of consistency and accountability. For instance, civil
service employees often become cynical because of the resource constraints
under which they operate. At the top level, permanent secretaries are close to
ministers and not expected to be leaders themselves, but to give loyal and
often in the public sector, employees find that things are not explained to
them and they are not consulted or listened to," says Mike Emmott,
employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development (CIPD). "What is needed are leaders who get people engaged and
energised. People will follow if you show you are going somewhere, and given
encouragement, there are those who will take charge at all levels."
skills are just as important for those in relatively junior roles, such as the
manager of a local Jobcentre who oversees a team of 20 people. "The scope
is smaller, but the manager still needs to weld teams together and make sure
the right resources are in place," Emmott says. "They also need to
recruit the right people, prevent unnecessary conflicts, and handle the small
change of people’s everyday lives."
are significant differences in management style, which can be a shock to people
entering the public sector for the first time, agrees Steve Nicklen, head of
public sector coaching in the Penna Board Partnership. "A great deal of
importance is attached to due procedure, often at the expense of delivering
results, and this can be paralysing," he says.
government is concerned, there are issues of integrity that do not arise in the
same way as in the private sector, Nicklen adds. "It is difficult for
elected 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."
agencies are finding that leadership skills figure ever more strongly in the
requirements for filling senior posts. When Penna Resourcing sought an
individual to run Jobcentre Plus, it went to the private sector for someone
with a successful track record in sales. Additional competencies were gravitas,
and negotiating and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to think
strategically and take the organisation forward.
agency also recruited someone to lead the appeal service through a period of
change, overseeing a department with 900 staff in 11 offices spread across the
country. Here, an ability to lead change management was critical to ensure the
messages were disseminated correctly and avoid staff attrition.
professionals play a crucial role in many organisations, and leadership skills
are the key to achieving positions of strategic responsibility. The Society of
Personnel Officers (Socpo) emphasises the importance of continuing professional
development (CPD) in winning leadership roles, facilitating promotion, change
aim to make sure HR directors and managers are equipped across the whole range
of skills to take top positions in organisations," says Mary Mallett,
Socpo’s strategic director (organisation and development). This is becoming
increasingly significant, she adds, as many local authorities no longer have an
HR director on the main board or chief officer group, but cluster the function
with other corporate services. Socpo wants to ensure HR directors are in poll
position to take these resource jobs.
in particular is dogged by poor leadership, as department heads tend to win
promotion through a brilliant academic record, which has little bearing on the
business of handling and motivating people. This problem has recently been
addressed by the regulatory body, Ofsted (see box). It has also been an issue
at De Montefort University, which realised it needed to improve its leadership
if it was to attract better students and increase its funding.
university worked with HR consultancy DDI on a development centre for its
senior education managers, and also put them through a 360-degree assessment.
"This made the university realise that leadership skills are extremely
important in trying to influence and motivate staff," says DDI marketing
director, Lucy McGee. "It gave them an understanding of a skillset they
had not appreciated until now, because their skills are teaching."
has also worked with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to develop a
competency framework across three levels of the organisation for selection and
promotion. It trains managers to carry out behavioural interviews, measuring
past performance against those competencies to predict future performance, and
to avoid hiring individuals who show no strength in those areas.
government is also addressing the question of leadership skills. One major
project is being carried out by the Leadership Development Commission, a joint
initiative by the Employers Organisation (EO) and the Improvement and
Development Agency (IDeA). This uses Prime, an online development programme
created by the Cabinet Office, which aims to set a common standard for
leadership at all levels.
more than 400 local authorities all doing their own thing, it is not easy to
learn from best practice, and you get more value from it by joining it
together," says Martin Horton, director of knowledge and learning at IDeA.
what skills are typical of a good leader? "They should be able to clarify
objectives and articulate a vision or sense of purpose," says Horton.
"They create a framework and set the rules by which they want staff to
work towards that vision, motivating them to do what needs to be done. Along
the way, they listen, shape, and modify, giving encouragement, but also holding
people to account."
a nutshell, we are trying to raise self-awareness," Horton continues.
"We want people to be aware of the impact they have as leaders, to ask
what they are doing well, where they need support, and what they need to
learn." One danger is that when people get to the top, they think they can
stop learning, and they need to remember that it should be a lifelong process,
is also an issue for the health service – the NHS Leadership Centre recently
investigated the qualities associated with successful and outstanding
performance at senior level. An in-depth study carried out by the Hay Group
revealed personal characteristics of self-belief, integrity and
self-management, together with the ability to empower others and hold them to
account. The study revealed that NHS leaders were capable of engaging in
complex behaviour, but the best did this more often or with more sophistication,
instead of simply imitating leaders they regarded as successful. They had
internalised leadership concepts, ideas or practices, and had made them their
incorporated these findings in a series of briefings and documents, which were
offered to NHS trusts across the UK to use as practical development tools. One
outcome of the study was the discovery that NHS leaders were found to be
lacking in the ‘drive for results’, a competency concerned with explicit and
ambitious goal setting, and leaders were encouraged to be tougher in this
is leadership development in real-time, a live consulting project with
pragmatic and common sense outcomes," says Steven Sonsino, a director at
the London Business School, which has been involved in the NHS’s continuing
personal development programme. Sonsino stresses that leadership development is
an ongoing process, involving learning on the job, creating reflective managers
who learn from their experience.
example of the NHS driving for better leadership is the Harrogate Healthcare
NHS Trust, which, this year, put all 12 members of its executive team through a
special coaching and assessment programme.
programme was carried out by RightCoutts, and began with consultants observing
a working meeting to understand the team dynamics. They were then involved in a
strategic day led by Miles Scott, the newly-appointed chief executive.
consultants carried out a 360-degree appraisal to gain further confidential
feedback on individuals. Finally, they met with the directors on a one-to-one
basis, using psychometric tests to help them identify their development needs.
director, Tony Martin, argues there is no one way of ‘cloning’ leadership, and
that there are a variety of methods for improving each individual’s potential.
"The work we did broadened their perceptions and helped develop
characteristics of good leadership, synergising these with their own working
styles to produce the best possible outcome," he says.
suggested 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 had
helped the trust to win three-star status in July. "Without doubt, the
organisation is making the progress I wanted to see, and the coaching has been
a helpful tool towards this," says Scott.
drive to improve the quality of services has put the public sector in the
spotlight over the past few years. But until recently, the perception was
always that the heart of its problem was a lack of funding. Clearly, there is
an understanding that visionary leadership and skillful people management are
just as important, and wide-ranging initiatives such as these will surely go
some way to improving the way that public sector organisations are run.
Emphasising leadership qualities
education regulator Ofsted decided to improve its process of recruiting senior
staff, aware that although it was good at recruiting academically-gifted
people, it needed to put greater emphasis on leadership.
Sugrue, Ofsted’s newly-appointed head of recruitment, developed seven
leadership competencies that reflected the strategic thrust of the organisation
and the skills required to realise it. She enlisted DDI to develop a
day-in-the-life assessment that gave participants the opportunity to test drive
their skills in a realistic setting. Twelve candidates were short-listed to
compete for four divisional manager roles.
emphasis was placed on leadership rather than technical skills, since these
alone do not necessarily make for a good people manager. "Many senior
managers were sceptical about tools such as psychometrics," Sugrue says.
"We needed to have a reliable preview of how consistent behaviour
manifests itself in each role, and that the candidates would see as
were asked to resolve conflicts and form partnerships with colleagues to complete
a difficult project, while answering e-mails and dealing with interruptions.
Participants’ abilities to tolerate stress and manage priorities were tested as
part of their suitability for a senior leadership role. All activities were
taped and replayed for later review and evaluation. Ofsted’s board members then
interviewed candidates using a structured technique.
selection decisions had been made, all candidates were given feedback on
strengths and areas for development, a move that was well received.
"Whether they got the job or not, they all said they felt the experience
had been challenging, professional and immensely thorough," Sugrue said.
individual had been sceptical initially, feeling he had a clear idea of his
strengths and weaknesses. Afterwards, he admitted that although he had believed
he was good at planning and organising, at a higher level, this showed up as a
benefit was the positive reaction to the fair awarding of promotion. Staff
recognised that while technical knowledge was important, it was not the only
success criterion for a good divisional manager. "It is beginning to be
understood that there is a difference between doing and leading," Sugrue