Magazine article Management Today

THE HUMAN FACTOR: British Business Has Bred a Generation of Managers Rather Than Leaders. They Focus on the Figures Rather Than the Visionary Side

Magazine article Management Today

THE HUMAN FACTOR: British Business Has Bred a Generation of Managers Rather Than Leaders. They Focus on the Figures Rather Than the Visionary Side

Article excerpt

The phrase 'business leaders' is a favourite of the media. Business leaders are busy chaps, meeting ministers, taking a stance on the euro, complaining about red tape or enjoying large increases in their remuneration. But the phrase is usually misleading, for Britain is desperately short of business leaders.

There are chairmen and chief executives a-plenty, but those who can inspire and innovate are scarce. The Government, hardly awash with leadership talent itself, has spotted the gap and in 2000 it established the grandly titled Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership. Since then, the secretaries of state for education and employment and for trade and industry who were behind its inauguration have been reshuffled, and the latter, one Stephen Byers, has amply demonstrated the chaos that can be created when power is handed to someone incapable of leading even a couple of spin doctors to a common goal.

Ministers move on, but the Council has continued its quest to define what is lacking at the top of British business. The result of its deliberations, led by Sir Martin Sorrell, is likely to be proposals for reforming business education. The architect of WPP credits Harvard with helping on the way to his success. Yet I suspect Sir Martin would be leading his marketeers to world domination whether or not he'd been to business school. The most effective business leaders tend to have achieved greatness without it and, in many cases, without much schooling at all.

What they do have is determination and confidence and an ability to generate fierce loyalty. Workforces happily respond to such qualities. And with so many uncertainties affecting modern lives, there is a strong desire to be led.

A true leader cannot spend every day closeted in an office. He or she must be seen and heard if staff are to respond. Visiting the outposts of an organisation allows those running a business to see how it really operates and those who operate it to see who really runs it. Most people like to think they work for someone they respect.

When Matt Barrett took over as chief executive of Barclays, staff had been through a period of upheaval, with the loss of one chief executive followed by the appointment of another who failed to take up the job.

Barrett introduced himself to as many staff as possible, and embarked on a tough schedule of meetings around the country. …

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