The state of the nation’s leaders

The
British Army was once famously described as ‘lions led by donkeys’. And
although the business world is vastly different to that of the Somme and
Pachendale, the principle remains the same – without good leadership even the
most dedicated of organisations will flounder.

In
recent years great changes have taken place to the traditionally hierarchical
nature of British firms. The result has been a more egalitarian and
results-driven environment. But has this put the UK in a better position? And
are the managers better skilled than their predecessors? Liz Amos, former
advisor to the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML) takes
a look at the state of UK management.

Why
has management and leadership in the UK reached such a parlous state? And why
has that situation been allowed to happen?

To
describe management and leadership in the UK as ‘in a parlous state’ is a gross
exaggeration. What we know is that the best of UK management ranks with the
best in the world, but there is a long tail of under-performance which impacts
on our economic performance. In fact, there has been a steady increase in the
award of management qualifications over the last decade – a 20 per cent increase
in the award of first degrees in business and management studies in the last
five years alone.

But
the fact is, there is increasing demand for more and better management and
particularly leadership skills – not just for those classified as managers but
for a broad cross-section of people in the workforce. The relentless pace of
change and the pressure to devolve responsibility further down the hierarchy,
as two examples, mean there is an increasing requirement for staff at all
levels to have some management, but especially leadership skills.

It
is these changing demands, coupled with the fact that until recently management
qualifications have been light on leadership development, and in too many
organisations – particularly those employing fewer than 50 – low priority is
given to management, let alone leadership development, which has opened up a
significant gap in the management and leadership capability that the UK needs
to compete and to deliver efficient public services.

If
UK management and leadership capability is not being measured, how do we know
we are lagging behind?

The
Council has spent two years gathering a wide variety of statistical and case
study evidence to establish that the UK’s management and leadership capability
does not match its aspirations to be globally competitive and to improve the
delivery of public and voluntary services. Our argument is that given the
importance of management and leadership to our future performance, there needs
to be a national resource to gather relevant data on an annual basis to enable
progress to be plotted and international comparisons to be made.

How
likely is it that the Government will set up a new strategic body for
management and leadership? How would/should it be structured?

This
is a recommendation that the Council did not make lightly, having based its
strategy on catalysing existing organisations to take action. However, given
the fragmentation of responsibility for improving the UK’s management and
leadership capability among so many stakeholders; given also their narrow
focus, we concluded that we had no alternative but to recommend a body to
champion the cause and to continue to act as a catalyst for change.

It
is not for me to answer for the Government, but I would urge them strongly to
make haste to establish the strategic body, as we propose. Without it, I fear,
we shall lose momentum.

As
for its structure, we believe it needs to be a body with clout, which can
report to the Government at the highest level, that it should be employer-led, but
in touch with suppliers, regulators and funders – all those who have a part to
play in delivering our strategy.

It
should be a strategic, not an operational body and it should be in touch with
the SSDA and the newly forming Sector Skills Councils, but not be one of them.

If
the UK is so far behind in terms of its leadership and management development,
faced with such a huge task, how realistic is it that this situation will be
reversed by 2010 as predicted in the CEML findings? Are there any intermediate
goals?

Given
the stage that the UK is at and taking the comprehensive strategy that we have
proposed that spans pre-employment through to retirement, and also addresses
practical steps to be taken by individuals and organisations on both the demand
and the supply side, yes, it is possible.

Even
more so, as we already see action being taken. The Leadership Development Best
Practice Guide, which we developed, is being followed in many organisations and
will reach an even wider audience when the Investor in People’s new Leadership
module – which we recommended – comes into being later in the year.

Leadership
Best Practice is also being taken up and disseminated by the CBI’s Fit for the
Future Campaign. There are other examples in the public and private sectors
where aspects of the Council’s strategy are being addressed – from museum
directors to HE staff, from housing professionals to lawyers.

There
is the potential for a snowball effect here, if these activities are
co-ordinated. Intermediate goals would include the Government making a
commitment to put the necessary investment, for example, into developing the
online signposting system for management and leadership learning opportunities
linked to outcomes, as we have proposed; or to adopt the strategy that we have
recommended for small firms which includes setting up a substantial challenge
fund for informal development opportunities.

Small
firms represent 1.1 million organisations and account for 30 per cent of UK
private turnover, so that would be an important intermediate target.

What
did you feel was the most astonishing finding of the CEML study?

The
gap between what individuals and organisations need in terms of management and
leadership abilities to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, and what is
provided by suppliers. Worse still was the acceptance by employers and
individuals that management qualifications do not necessarily teach you how to
manage, let alone lead, but about management and leadership. That puts the onus
on both sides to collaborate better, to be more flexible, and to recognise that
management and leadership learning is a life-long activity, needing a variety
of approaches – both formal and informal, leading to qualifications and not.

What
can be done to combat the male, white management syndrome? Should the equal
opportunity organisations – the CRE and EOC – have a part to play?

What
I think we found disappointing was that despite all the initiatives that have
been taken, women and ethnic minorities are still so poorly represented in the
upper echelons of the management cadre.

Our
view is that the lack of diversity in the senior management talent pool is a
source of competitive disadvantage and yes, it does need continuing effort by
the CRE and the EOC. But at heart, it needs action by organisations. We have
said that promoting and managing diversity is part of being a good leader. We
have recommended that as part of the evaluation of management and leadership
programmes that all best practice organisations should be undertaking, they
review the impact their programmes are having on diversity within their
organisation.

The
work that we did to develop the Leadership Best Practice Guide highlighted the
importance of developing innovative ways of building a diverse management group
that will be needed for the global organisation of the future.

We
also picked up evidence that aspects of the education system had a detrimental
effect of the diversity agenda. Some research revealed that women see MBAs as
developed for men by men. We still have a lot to do if we are to broaden the
talent pipeline for the managers and leaders of the future.

The
report mentions studying best practice and taking on board appropriate lessons:
what particular sectors and/or companies are exemplars of what should be
achieved?

The
work we did to develop the Leadership Best Practice Guide was drawn from good
practice of a number of major, well-known organisations. But it is an
aspirational tool – none of those who participated in the work were exemplars
of it all. Nor can best practice be preserved in aspic – the goalposts are
moving all the time. That is why we have recommended that Leadership Best
Practice networks be established by organisations such as the Chartered
Institute of Management, the Institute of Leadership and Management and the
Work Foundation’s Campaign for Leadership, for example, so that learning can be
shared and developed.

The
Best Practice Guide needs to be constantly improved, picking up new challenges,
and the findings widely disseminated.

How
do you envisage the structure of the National Forum?

The
idea behind the National Forum was simply to improve dialogue between providers
and their potential customers. Much of our research showed that there was a
limited and fragmented dialogue taking place, which meant that the customer
focus of suppliers at HE and FE levels was often found to be wanting.

Given
the gap, which we have identified between what the customer needs and what is
available, it is important to take steps to bridge this gap.

A
National Forum might have a part to play. However, it needs to be within the
context of the new Strategic Body that we have recommended, and it needs to
have clear objectives. It should also have a link to the Management Research
Forum that the ESRC is establishing as part of its new Management Research
Initiative. This envisages promoting dialogue between employers and management
researchers, to improve the quality and relevance of management research, ours
between employers and management providers to improve the quality and relevance
of management education and training.

www.managementandleadershipcouncil.org

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