Negative management styles

West Midlands Ambulance Service staff were up in arms recently after their health authority spent an astonishing £10,000 on a survey construed by many as insensitive. The Making Leadership Cool research aimed to identify key characteristics of good leadership and asked staff to rate their chief executive, Ian Cumming, as well as historical leadership figures, including Hitler, on a scale of ‘coolness’.
Badly handled from the outset, the survey has tarnished the authority’s corporate reputation. It has also raised further serious concerns about the standard of management within the healthcare sector. Crucially it highlights the very real possibility that similar poor management decisions could damage the sector’s future if something does not change.
Managers within the health authority were short-sighted to approve the survey, and failed to consider its potential for negative publicity. The subsequent furore caused by the inappropriate subject matter rendered the entire exercise pointless and their commendable attempts to examine the leadership within the organisation, and how staff react to it, went completely unnoticed.

Addressing management issues
In many ways, this could be written off as another example of health sector management gone bad, amid countless other stories of organisational and management failure that have dented the reputation of the NHS in recent months. That said, in commissioning the research, NHS West Midlands had made the decision to proactively examine what styles of management work best, so they could create an appropriate leadership development programme. In doing so, they were acknowledging the importance of adequate management and leadership, and most importantly, conceding that there are areas for development.
The problem is that, in the healthcare sector, bad management can cost more than just the reputation of an organisation. As the investigation into the management failures at Mid Staffordshire PCT showed, in the worst case scenario, it can even cost lives.
Taking action to address management inadequacies, as long as it is properly handled, is an important step in the right direction. The West Midlands Health Authority was right to be concerned. Recent Chartered Management Institute (CMI) research revealed that more than half (56 per cent) of the health sector workforce thinks the dominant management style within their organisation is negative. The three most common styles according to healthcare workers are authoritarian (25 per cent), bureaucratic (19 per cent) and secretive (12 per cent). Hardly desirable management traits.
These statistics are worrying. Only six per cent of health sector workers describe their bosses as trusting and just four per cent think senior staff are empowering. With figures like that, we can be in no doubt that the sector’s management and leadership needs to change.
Bosses who think that management styles have no bearing on business productivity and profitability must think again. Managers must now get serious about their development for the good of their organisations.

View of managers
Considering the negative perceptions that the workforce have of their bosses, there is a danger that negativity will seep throughout the sector. If this continues, it could even affect employees’ desires to go on to occupy senior roles. CMI’s research revealed that almost one in five health sector workers (19 per cent) said the traditional stereotypical ‘suited and booted’ view of managers puts them off becoming managers themselves. If this is allowed to fester, and talented individuals within the sector shy away from senior posts, it could create a significant skills gap at senior level that would be difficult to bridge. At a time when the sector urgently needs talented and innovative managers, it’s never been more crucial to nurture the leaders of the future.
The sector faces tough times ahead. As the private sector begins to recover, it is widely acknowledged that the public sector still faces something of an uphill struggle. The health service is already bracing itself for severe cuts, as the new coalition government prepares to slash public spending in a bid to reduce the deficit. Now, more than ever, strong, capable and talented managers are needed to help pull the sector towards recovery.
CMI’s Economic Outlook report, which tracks business confidence amongst the UK’s senior executives, reveals that the recession is still severely impacting on 51 per cent of public sector organisations and shows that job insecurity is at record levels. With the impending threat of cutbacks, levels of morale have hit an all time low. 78 per cent of managers say morale has worsened over the past six months.
Strong leadership will be vital to pull the workforce through, helping them to cope with challenges including the emotions of losing colleagues to redundancy and on a practical basis, coping with increased workloads to compensate for reduced teams. It’s not just about style though. It’s also about skills.

The need for training
According to CMI research, at best, only one in five managers in the UK holds a professional qualification. Managers cannot expect to do a good job, and produce good results, without appropriate training. There is no excuse for managers who fail to take their personal development into their own hands, or employers that fail to support their management teams in developing.
As a busy manager in today’s tough environment, it’s all too easy to put personal development low on the list of priorities, but in fact, it’s the lynch pin upon which success or failure of both the individual and the organisation depends.
Today, managers need to possess a variety of skills and abilities to stay at the top of their game. By identifying their strengths, as well as developing any weaker areas, people can take positive, proactive steps towards becoming better all-round managers.
Once someone has got to grips with their personal development, the ability to lead and develop staff will follow. Staff satisfaction will naturally increase in organisations where managers provide a clear purpose and direction when delegating tasks and guide employees through any problems. By communicating issues clearly to staff and operating a ‘door is always open’ policy, managers can create a culture of trust and respect, allowing workers to instinctively feel more involved and motivated. Furthermore, goodwill and engagement not only improves people’s working lives but also adds to the bottom line in the form of productivity, retention rates and employee loyalty.
Considering the current disillusionment of UK management, both in the general workforce and among managers themselves, the need for a drastic improvement in leadership is something that cannot be delayed. The statistics and recent negatives stories show that managers need to take the helm. Good leadership is something to be admired. Isn’t it time you lead by example?

Ruth Spellman is the chief executive of CMI, the UK’s leading professional body for managers.

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