Management and Leadership

Management sometimes gets a bad name amid all the ‘leadership’ guff floating around. Leadership training is where it’s all at. It’s certainly where a lot of the training money seems to filter to. There’s a whole ‘NHS Leadership Academy’ to deliver.

The mantra of ‘leadership not management’ is slavishly muttered with little consideration of what that actually means for managers. I’ve said it often and frequently, that I am not a ‘leader’, nor am I a ‘manager’, so my view comes as one who is lead and managed and who has not had the benefit of sitting in leadership development courses. Maybe that affects my view. My stake in wanting good leadership and management, though is much higher as one who is lead and managed.

The thing that ‘Leadership’ seems to promote is that one can be a ‘leader’ without the power/authority that management bestows. Think of a people like Katrina Percy, former CEO of Southern Health, pushing the idea that ‘everyone is a leader’ regardless of where they sit in an organisation’s hierarchy.

“Leadership in Southern Health is about empowering our patients through working in a joined-up, cost-effective way. This means that in their own way, everyone here is a leader.”

To me, this is an easy ‘get out’ clause. It allows those with the power and responsibility to push out that responsibility for leadership to those who do not have the same levels of power or authority within the organisation. “You’re a leader, why are you raising X as an issue not providing Y as a solution”.

The concept of shifting hierarchies and dispersed power is another one which infects the concept of leadership. While we get whisked away in sweet little motivational quotes about leadership and dispersed power (have you noticed that those who talk about dispersed power or usually those whom the power has been dispersed FROM, rather than those who is has, supposedly, been dispersed TO), there has to be an understanding that as long as the decisions about how that dispersal flows comes from those who are the organisational leaders, they can take it back and the dispersal or flattening hierarchies become a gift from above which can be taken back at will — which actually renders both those concepts as faintly ridiculous in practice.

So enough with leadership, I’m going to turn my attention to management which is oft disparaged but actually is much more important as a concept and role. Management has an assigned and recognised place in an organisational hierarchy. It doesnt matter, to some extent, on the personality or charisma of the manager — they have their post and have responsibility for decisions about staff.

So why do we disparage the concept. This morning, there was a news story about an IT company where everyone starts work at 9.06am. This reminded me of on of the service managers in my second social work post.

I was employed to work in a social work team which covered over 18s (apart from learning disabilities and mental health which had specialist teams). We mostly worked with older people but also adults with physical disabilities. We worked in a small locality office which we shared with another local authority team. Our service manager opened the office at 9am. She locked the office up at 5pm. She did not allow people to come early or stay late. She told us all to redirect our phones to reception between 1pm and 2pm and would get annoyed if she saw us taking or making calls (work-related — not personal) during our ‘lunch hour’. We couldn’t take work home and there was no expectation that we would. We got what we could get done in the working day which we were paid for. This was before we had completely moved to electronic records. She wandered out of her office occasionally and picked up random paper files to look through them — check the information was up to date and assessments/reviews were done.

She was firm, very firm when she needed to be but she was also incredibly loyal to the team. I remember fairly early on when I had messed something up regarding funding approvals. She took me into her office where I explained what I had done. She picked up the phone to her manager, apologised, saying she had not given me sufficient guidance and oversight regarding the case as I was still learning the role and made a plea for the funding to go ahead, saying she was willing to be admonished if necessary, rather than me. When a manager is loyal to you, you will damn well be loyal back.

I stayed in that local authority for about ten years. She was long retired by that time but it was a great education in managing and loyalty. While we ramble on about leadership training and flattening hierarchies, those who we learn from are not those who ‘teach’ us but those who show us. They may not be the sparkly leaders who can dazzle with inspirational quotes and change day pledges, but they act in accordance with their fundamental ethical values and encourage those working with them to do so too.

So where am I going with management? I’d say, don’t dismiss it. Leadership? I’ll leave it with those who buy into the sparkle and like thinking they are special. Give me a manager who knows how to manage and I’ll be far happier. Give me a manager who reflects the values that are important to me. Give me a manager who is clear with their expectations of me and who, when I do what is expected (or more) recognises that.

We see that social work is pushing money into bringing new recruits in who are all going to get their ‘leadership’ training — and that’s great. But when they get here, they will need more experienced managers to guide them through modelling. That isn’t something which is so easily taught. The focus on recruitment over retention fails to value those with experience and there’s a danger that by focussing on leadership which can, those courses say, be picked up at all levels, we lose the value of management which is more often achieved with experience. The importance of support from managers and not only ‘leaders’ is lost in the dismissal of the important role that managers place.

If we can all dabble in leadership, I guess that does no harm, but please, let’s not pretend that management is not more important ultimately. We can all play at being leaders and that might not do much harm, except by inflating a few egos which is rarely helpful, but when leaders play at being managers, thinking it is somehow less important, however well they may be trained they may be in ‘leadership’, we all lose.

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