The Leadership Academy

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    Just the other day in Sydney a business acquaintance from the European Union who now works in Australia, remarked that Australian managers were both slipshod and arrogant. Slipshod in the sense of “near enough is good enough” and “she’ll be right, mate” and arrogant in that they have a superior attitude towards their staff – “stuff the workers, they’ll do what we tell them.” He was not gender specific but I am sure he was referring to male managers of his experience.

    So what’s new? Australian management attitudes and practices have evolved from the days of the first European settlement. As we have stated in a previous article available on our Website, Managing a More Flexible Workforce:

    “Unionism in Australia had its genesis in the abysmal conditions imposed on our first workers – the convicts and emancipists – by the ‘skimmed milk’ (they were certainly less than the cream) of English soldiery who were sent to guard them and became their ‘bosses’. More often than not, poor management was exercised by arrogant, authoritative and selfish men whose sole purpose was to maximise their own interests and those of their government and corporate cronies. Little wonder that the workers felt the need to protect themselves and their interests by uniting to form what became a sophisticated and powerful force in Australian society.”

    And the problem continues as Emily Ross points out in the BRW December 18 – January 14 Leadership Article Good boss, bad boss. Basing her comments on a rather simplistic Human Synergistics International ‘Circumplex’ self-analysis process that re presents old and well established principles, Ross reveals that most managers see themselves as constructive in style while their employees more often than not see them as being either passive/defensive or aggressive/defensive.

    For at least 40 years since the first serious research studies were conducted, analyses of managers’ performance have consistently reached similar conclusions. And as far as we can see, the latest results do not differentiate between men and women managers. Why do we have so many managers who can’t seem to get it right?

    Because in our view, management and its teaching has long been the dominant practice, with leadership being little more than a desirable but not essential inclusion. Management degrees and MBAs abound but how many Departments of Leadership or ‘MLPs’ (Master of Leadership Practice) are there? How many hours are devoted to the subject leadership in graduate or even post-graduate courses that produce many of the managers in our society? In our experience, very few indeed and most that address leadership do so in a very perfunctory and inadequate way. Surely if the reasons why managers fail are largely related to poor leadership, then we must give greater emphasis to its teaching and development in our tertiary learning institutions.

    Also, the practice of management is much easier to define and evaluate, and therefore reward, than is leadership. For example, most manager role descriptions include details such as production levels to be achieved, financial targets, maintenance standards and customer relations, but very few contain KRAs and KPIs directly related to leadership performance, which if identified and structured within the context of management, can be satisfactorily measured by qualitative means. One of the results of this avoidance of leadership performance is the tendency to reward the more easily measurable. That is, people with poor leadership but excelling in management get promoted to higher positions while often lacking the most important skill set they will need in that position, for leadership normally becomes more complex and difficult the higher it is exercised.

    Good leadership demands that in addition to possessing credible management skills, managers must acquire and practice vital interpersonal relationship attitudes and skills, such as those identified by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. A key factor in developing these attributes is the ability to communicate well.

    Possession of these attitudes and skills by leaders at all levels and the ability to put them into practice in management has always been the difference between average and outstanding organisational performance. But ‘people’ skills are much harder to acquire than management skills, and it takes character, dedication and often courage to put them into practice. Good leaders understand the importance of recognising the capabilities and needs of individuals and of developing their skills. They also understand the importance of building and maintaining good teams and the vital contribution individuals and teams make in achieving the vision, mission, objectives, goals and tasks of their organizations. Poor managers and leaders ignore or avoid these issues to their and their organisation’s detriment.

    Finally, what does all this mean for women managers? Is there a different leadership message for women and men? In the broad sense no, for the requirements of good leadership hold irrespective of gender, and the pressures of management and lack of training and development in leadership apply equally to both. But perhaps women have an advantage in that they usually possess better interpersonal communication skills than men, and the attitudes and skills required for good communication have been clearly identified as those that really make the difference. But their possession alone will be insufficient because as pointed out above, the best leaders also need to be credible managers. This will mean that women must, like men, place emphasis on task achievement with the attendant danger that doing so might also become their downfall, which so often seems to be the fate of many men who are in the MANagement profession.

    Peter McDougall

    December 2003