Taking care of leadership

business-people-huggingI’ve spent a considerable amount of time working in change and leadership roles across many industries, but I always look back on my time in the Army with great fondness, for lessons on leadership and how to work with people. One of the things that is instilled into every junior leader in the Army is that it’s a big responsibility to be in command, and above all things, you must do everything possible to take care of your people.

I know that military leadership is far from perfect, but the values of team and mutual support for leaders and followers alike is a rare find in the civilian environment. Sadly, too many executives rely on bureaucracy and formal authority to exercise control. While it’s appropriate for organisations to invest in developing structured approaches to managing work and enforcing discipline, performance can only be improved through good teamwork and having a workplace where people take care of one another.

A recent University of Sydney survey reported in the Financial Review Boss magazine entitled Crisis in Business Leadership points to several failings in how Australian organisations are being led. Of interest to me is the preliminary evidence that there is too much focus on administrative performance over the need to motivate and support staff.  I just hope that people in  leadership roles occasionally take a moment to review their own behaviours and check that they do know and support their people.

All enlightened managers must be aware by now that people usually want to do a good job, and will perform if they know someone is looking out for them rather than supervising them.

What seems to work for the military is the serious investment in developing and maintaining a culture of leadership and instilling the notion that people come first.

2 thoughts on “Taking care of leadership

  1. Your blog highlights the age-old mistake of many organisations – assuming that people who are good at their jobs or are senior enough will make good managers. When I became a manager I learnt some good and harsh lessons about what it takes to be a good one. As well as career counsellor, I needed to be a psychologist, teacher, parent, good and bad cop, work allocator/scheduler, prophet as well as mind reader (I often failed at the last one).
    I think I did ok and many of those I managed are close colleagues or have become friends – some even said I was one of their better managers. Of course I made mistakes and this is a key message of your blog – I “suffered” because I had little or no investment put into me to make me a good manager. It didn’t help that my own manager was insecure and erratic but that was the easy part – where I felt exposed was that I was on training wheels but the decisions I made significantly impacted people’s careers/lives.
    The best advice I can give to new managers is to seek out the advice of the really good managers they’ve had themselves. Finding a mentor who can give you practical advice on how to deal with issues are more valuable than the myriad of management courses I was sent to.

    In the end being a manager made me realise that I didn’t want to be one – not because of any traumatic incidents but simply because I found myself losing touch with my professional craft (communications). It has however taught me the importance of good stakeholder management and has allowed me to be more patient with people. I’m glad I had a stint as a manager as its made me more aware of the pressures individual managers face.

  2. Hi Ben,

    Thanks so much for your candour. Honest self-reflection is so important for effective leadership and management. Your comments on mentoring strike a chord; there seems to be so little invested in developing managers and leaders these days. Unless more of our organisations put some emphasis on this, I fear that the prevailing technocratic approach to management is producing mediocre results for our businesses.

    On a more hopeful note, the younger generation seem to be ignoring all this and have social interactions and the power to influence and add value that we “technology immigrants” (they being “technology natives”) can barely comprehend.

    Leadership and management in the new massively connected world may depend on enlightened individuals sharing their knowledge and helping their tribe. Or is that the way its always been?

    Thanks again Ben, got me thinking…



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