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Supervision and leadership skills – review

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Title: Supervision and Leadership skills
Author: Peter Gilbert and Neil Thompson
Publisher: Learning Curve Publishing
Format: File, c300pp plus overheads
Price: £195inc (£145inc to L/As, NHS and VBs)

This pack comprises a mixture of text based material focusing on the theory of supervision and leadership. After an introduction, the first main section sections cover various aspect of supervision and leadership; this is then followed by a series of exercises, case studies and overheads; bringing up the rear we have a general conclusion (which may actually serve better as part of the introduction), together with an extensive list of further reading; and, bringing up the rear, an empty section for your own resources.

The intended audiences are relatively wide, comprising "team leader or team managers or others involved in supervising and leading groups of staff (section heads for example)", "senior mangers, both operational and strategic", "staff in Personnel or Human Relations who are responsible for advising others on supervision and leadership matters" and "councillors, trustees, directors and other involved in policy development, implementation and review". I think not!

The reality is that the audience for this material is, if anybody, trainers who need a resource pack containing materials around which they can plan and run supervisory and leadership skills workshops. More about how well this pack does this later.

But first let me explain why I don’t think that all of the defined audiences will find this pack of value. Firstly, the line manager/supervisor reading it for self-development: the pack is too dense, too academic and mainly contains group as opposed to individual exercises. Secondly, the senior managers, executives etc: in all honesty, I cannot believe that any senior manager is going to spend time ploughing through the material (and its style and layout is not conducive to "dipping").

So, that leaves us with trainers. … just how well does this pack serve their needs?

Well, as a practicing trainer/educator (and I draw a distinction here), I feel that what most trainers want is simple, well presented material able to be used either as a “course in a folder” with suggested target audiences, learning outcomes, timetables, handout masters and so on, or as a resource base to support the development and delivery of their own seminars, workshops or courses. What we have goes part of the way to satisfying only some of these needs.

Firstly, looking at the "Setting the context" section. This comprises a rather dense take on the various theories of supervision, self development, leadership and so on. The presentation is, in my view, uninteresting and difficult to engage with: more diagrams and visual models, text boxes and judicious use of clipart would have helped. Similarly, I found the material designed for a solid read rather than as working resource material, more subheadings and structure would help in this context. Finally, the text is written from a very academic point of view (with references galore): useful though this is in academic circles, I would suggest that the professional trainer needs more practical guidance on how to apply the theories and the learning that may come from them rather than their mere repetition.

Moving on to what should be the most useful part of the pack, the resource material. Entitled "Training and development", this section offers a series of 22 exercises equally split between supervision and leadership, a series of mini-biographies of 12 "leaders" and 16 overheads for use in conjunction with the exercises. This section is perhaps the most disappointing. The exercises look useful enough (though without actually running them one never can know) but they fail to refer in any way to previous section… perhaps some linking of the theory and the practice would be useful? Also, they lack two further elements: firstly some form of briefing master to delegates and secondly the all too vital facilitator’s "crib sheet" of what to look for at feedback time!

Moving on to the biographies I had two initial impressions. Firstly, what are they trying to illustrate (again a trainers de-brief sheet is useful) and secondly, how do some of the subject relate back to “leadership”? (in particular, Tanni Grey-Thompson’s story of overcoming her spina bifida to become a paralympic athlete is inspiring, but seems to say more about personal determination than leadership or team playing). The final part of this section offers us what I can only say are the least well-produced set of overheads I’ve seen for many years! (admittedly, the review copy stated that it did not contain acetate overheads, but I assume that their format and layout will be the same).

So, that leaves us with the "Conclusion" (betraying some academic roots here?) and the (empty) "resources" sections. Twenty of the conclusion’s 30 pages are taken up with further reading and organisations to contact, and four with feedback and a plug for the authors’ consultancy services (nothing wrong with that). The remaining ones are a brief summary of the main themes of the pack, perhaps more useful as part of the introduction in my view.

Overall I think that this pack’s faults lie in the execution and presentation rather than the principle and concepts behind it. As someone who earns at least part of their living from researching, authoring and designing learning material I can see what a good edit and re-think could do. Time spent on re-jigging the raw text, making the links between the theory and the practice and developing further trainer guidance would help make this pack a much more useful resource.

In the meantime, my view is that if you want to read up on the theory of management, supervision, leadership etc then I would suggest that you go out and buy a standard textbook or two. Otherwise, I would find little in this pack to commend it to a busy trainer.

Neil Wellman
NetWork Associates
[email protected]

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