The UK Civil Service

Facts, Analysis and Comment.

Leadership and Management

Introductory Comments

We have all attended, or will attend, innumerable training programs, lectures, away-days and the rest aimed at improving the way we run our organisations.  It took me a long time to realise that the better trainers all said very much the same things, albeit in different ways and using different words.  And most of the more valuable lessons applied equally to the private, public and third sectors.  Indeed, I have been involved in a number of programs attended by managers from all three sectors, and (after initial mutual suspicion) it has always been the case that they quickly learn that they face very similar problems.

This chapter accordingly summarises the key lessons imparted by the best leadership and management trainers.  Reading these notes will not exempt you from attending such training, but will hopefully help you make sense of it.  They will also help you identify the rubbish advice that is offered by the less effective trainers (and your less effective senior managers).

But please bear in mind that these notes do not, and cannot, reflect the unrelenting pace at which modern managers are expected to work.  Good managers are supposed to be reflective, organised, rational and plan-oriented.  Real managers’ work is characterised by brevity, variety and discontinuity.  A study of CEOs found that half of managers’ activities lasted less than nine minutes.  A study of British middle and top managers found that they worked uninterrupted for more than 30 minutes only about once every two days.

Similarly, good managers are trained to empower and delegate.  They are told to be like good conductors: they orchestrate everything in advance and then monitor the results.  In practice, of course, managers have a number of regular duties that only they can perform.  It is a natural part of a manager’s job to meet important customers/stakeholders, attend retirement parties, meet government officials (or vice versa), and so on. 

So although the advice on this website is sound, it cannot help you find the right mixture of leadership, planning, empowerment, change management and so on that will fit your particular circumstances.  But it will certainly help reduce the number of mistakes that you make.

Speaking of which, management is a bit like driving.  It’s all about taking decisions, often every few seconds – how to react, what tone to adopt, when to change the subject.  However hard we try, some of our judgements will be wrong, but hopefully inconsequentially so.  Good managers, like good drivers, simply make fewer faulty decisions than others.  And firm but fair managers can apologise and move on, for their colleagues recognise their worth and forgive the occasional blemish.  Unpopular, unfair managers find that their mistakes are leapt upon as evidence of their inadequacy. 

One final point before you turn to the detail:- just as the manufacturing sector, the retail sector, the tourism sector, etc. all face different challenges, so civil service leaders and managers face particular challenges as a result of the political ambitions of their political masters and their opponents.  These lead to difficulties when it comes to innovating, and managing big programs.  I comment on these as necessary.

Please follow the links in the sidebar to read more detailed advice. The topics are listed in a logical sort of order, but you don't need to follow it if you don't want to.

 

 

Martin Stanley