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Opinion: Enough of Leadership – How About Some Decent Management


Is it time to shelve the 360 degree evaluations and get back to basics, asks Andrew Mayo?

I want to confess to some weariness with the cult of leadership – and more than that, a conviction that it isn’t doing us very much good.

In many organisations the spend on leadership development is probably the highest component of the training budget. And yet how many organisations can show that they have better performance as a result of all this effort?

Paul Kearns made much publicity when he accused the BBC of having achieved practically nothing from millions of pounds spent on their programme. My company was asked to evaluate a leadership programme by a major retailer. The CEO introduced the project to us with a cry of frustration: "I have spent more than a million on this and I still can’t see that we have better leaders than anyone else!" We found, similarly to Paul, that there was no evidence that anything had changed as a result, although individual participants had felt considerable personal benefit. It had possibly contributed to some higher motivation and temporary loyalty, but this could not be proved.


"Educated through using 360 feedback and extensive leadership competency frameworks, people have an acuter sense of their leaders’ shortcomings."

Andrew Mayo, Mayo Learning International

One outcome is sure – educated through using 360 feedback and extensive leadership competency frameworks, people look upwards and have an acuter sense of their leaders’ shortcomings.

Of course most organisations do genuinely perceive a need for better leaders. That will probably always be true as we can never say we "now have the best", and each individual needs a leadership learning journey. You may be able to point me to some role model cases where people’s behaviour and leadership skills have visibly improved. But you will probably keep quiet about the great majority for whom this is not so.

A large government department recently completed their opinion survey and to their concern, only 13% reported confidence in their leadership (as the question was phrased). There had been two leadership development programmes in the last five years – they thought they needed another. No, I don’t think so.

I am not saying effective leadership is not important. But what distresses me all the time in the UK is awful management. It’s a good strategy in determining learning needs to look at everyday simple things that have gone wrong in the organisation and with its customers, and to work backwards as to what the cause or causes were. We’ll find time and time again that it was some area of poor management.

Why do public services often work so badly? Is it because we have a default in leadership of those organisations responsible? Probably yes – but not because they lack strategies and visions and change programmes, but because they have failed to invest in management skills. The professional management skills of planning, organising, scheduling, problem solving, decision taking, controlling, project management are just as important as the people skills so beloved of HR.

Look at one of the registers of training courses available and see how many management or leadership courses tackle these professional skills vs those focused on self awareness, self development and emotional intelligence (or similar).


"What distresses me all the time in the UK is awful management."

One of the more useful of today’s fashions is the concern for employee engagement. I am involved in some studies myself as to how this affects performance. Time and again, with people at all levels and especially the front line, the message is that management skills are a primary influence on engagement. People skills of course – communicating the right things to the right people in the right way at the right time; dealing with performance; understanding individual and team needs (as Adair would put it) – but also competence at getting the task achieved.

We can study great leaders but we cannot imitate them. We can be bombarded by endless research studies as to the characteristics of effective leadership. We can become self aware through feedback, and adjust some of our behaviours. We can try and create a vision to inspire our people. But the reality is that the vast majority of people who have a responsibility for others have limited degrees of freedom as leaders. Their objectives and agenda are set for them by others. Their job is to achieve results and solve problems, day in and day out. Lets give the 360’s a rest for a while and help managers learn the basics – and maybe customers and the public will get a better life.

Andrew Mayo can be contacted at: His consultancy, specialising in organisational and individual effectiveness can be found at


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