Whether it’s health and social care, housing or education the leadership issues are the same
Difficult people, managing change, getting to grips with absenteeism , inspiring staff, keeping standards up whilst cutting budgets, tackling bullying and homophobia, challenging poor performance, taking disciplinary action, these issues are not unique to schools. I first came across them in social services and the NHS, then in Housing and as my responsibilities changed I deal with the same issues in the library service and further education colleges. As a manager, at whatever level and in whatever area of service, you are required to provide leadership and this involves taking responsibility and getting people to do what needs to be done. From my experience the most effective leaders are the ones who have insight into how their own behaviour affects those they work with; their professional values inform their work, they are clear about their expectations, consistent in the way they operate , very determined but not afraid to change their mind or adapt their plans. This is not easy. There are conflicts, contradictions and compromises which is what I write about in my blog.
Brain friendly leadership
You wouldn’t be surprised to hear the military described as having strong leaders, however you might be surprised to hear that their style of leadership is recommended for the public sector! “Strong leaders”, is code for ‘they don’t negotiate, attempt to persuade or feel the need to explain’. These are the types of leaders who use expressions like,” turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” and “this is not up for discussion or debate” they are the type of leader who takes dissent as disloyalty. A report by management consultants Orion Partners recommends military style leadership if the public sector is to get through these most turbulent of times. However, Orion doesn’t recognise the type of strong leadership we traditionally associate with the military. It refers to “brain friendly leadership” where leaders get their staff to understand why change is good for them and the organisation. The report claims that there is more evidence of this type of leadership in the armed forces.
Brain friendly leadership does however appear to assume that it is possible to demonstrate to staff that despite the upheaval of major changes, redundancies and service reductions, the end result will be worth it. I don’t know about the armed forces but in the NHS and Local Government we have long gone past any pretence that the changes are practise led rather than finance or ideologically driven. Local Government is not providing a better service to local people as a result of cutting up to 50% of its budget and the staff working in social services, housing and schools are not more secure in their jobs or financially better off as a result of increased pension contributions and pay freezes. Local people are not more satisfied with their services now that libraries, swimming pools and day centres have been closed. Whether it is hospitals or schools, neither staff nor patients/ parents are likely to be persuaded that major changes are for the better.
A separate report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) and the Public Sector People Managers Association (PPMA) with the title ‘Leading Cultural Change’ also talks about the need to take staff with you in implementing major changes. However, rather than trying to persuade staff that changes are in their best interest or will result in better services they argue that it’s about explaining why change is unavoidable, that the task is to make the best of it and that this will involve new ways of working. The leadership task is one of negotiation and retaining the trust of the workforce. This style of leadership also requires excellent communication skills, not to sell an unpopular idea but to foster openness and a faith in the leadership.
Blair McPherson former Director of community services author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk