In My Opinion: Chartered Management Institute

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Chartered Management Institute companion Sue Street, permanent secretary at the DCMS, believes the priority of bosses is to earn staff loyalty

I shouldn't start an article like this. But do you really want to read any more theories about leadership? If you've only got a couple of minutes, here is what I'm going to say. First, earning loyalty is more important than being visionary. And second, people do like change, whatever the books say.

For me, having worked in both the private and public sector, there is no great distinction between leadership in either of them. As I worked my way up through the civil service and a City firm, I gave my best to people I respected, who had earned my trust and loyalty. I would not follow them blindly, but I cared more about them than distant strategic objectives. Don't get me wrong; no-one could be more determined to set clear goals with a defined strategy and modern management systems. But strategies, goals and systems alone don't deliver results.

The most important thing for those at the top is to tap into the roots of our organisations and understand what makes people tick and what frustrates them. The late John Garnett of the then Industrial Society gave me the compelling image of the 'gardener boss'. This means giving people the support and headroom to develop their own style, not racing out in front shouting: 'I'm off to the wild blue yonder with a vision and I expect you to follow'. You're sunk if they don't - or perhaps you move into the more bullying mode known as 'robust management'. Fear can drive performance for a while, but sustained high performance and morale can be achieved only by nourishing the roots.

My department of Culture, Media and Sport may be small in Whitehall terms, with fewer than 500 people, but we have a big family of associates: a total workforce of about 19,000 people involved in delivering services to the public. This ranges from internationally renowned bodies like the Tate and the British Museum, which we fund directly, to the network of libraries and local institutions that actually bring sport, art and culture to local people. Our shared - and indeed inspiring - goal is to improve the quality of life for all. But making it happen is the hard bit. My job is to set the strategic direction - but also to engage the enthusiasm of the talented people who work in our sectors to increase the impact of what we do. If I were not sincere, people would spot that straight away.

A quick way to judge is to look at the boss's diary. I could talk endlessly about how much I value our people, but if a cursory look at my weekly schedule revealed that I spent most of my time at glamorous champagne receptions - well, there are some compensations - I would be easily sussed. My electronic diary is available to everyone here. They can easily see whether I mean what I say. …