Top class leadership can’t be left to chance if organisations are to thrive

To deliver change in the NHS it is good leaders who are, above all, needed to guide organisations and their people into the new world. However research released in August by the UK Chartered Management Institute not only highlights a shortage of good leaders but that existing managers don’t know what their strengths are.

More than 2,000 UK managers were asked which aspects of management they thought they were best at and another 6,000 managers completed a diagnostic tool to identify their real strengths and weaknesses. Self perception did not match reality.

Of the respondents 21 per cent said they were good at getting results, 41 per cent actually were, 19 per cent believed they were strongest at managing themselves, but only 8 per cent were. Also, 44 per cent said they excelled at managing people but the tool found the figure to be 37 per cent.

The survey found only 14 per cent felt they were born to lead and 63 per cent had no management or leadership training before taking up senior posts.

Leaders’ perception of their own ability is often higher than reality, be it how well they are doing compared to their team’s view, or a chief executive’s view of how well they lead their organisation compared to feedback from staff.

These results show that action is needed at individual and organisational level. But we should have learnt these lessons already. In 1999 I was on a panel examining leadership in business for the government. We found that standards of leadership needed to dramatically improve to help UK organisations be competitive. It was decided it was best for organisations to take responsibility for this themselves, with government support.


My own research then showed that only 25 per cent of line managers had the critical leadership and management skills they needed to get good performance from themselves and their people. More than 10 years later the CMI research shows only a marginal improvement with 37 per cent of managers with strong leadership skills. With only 8 per cent effective at self management, it is little wonder that people and organisations could perform better.

Good leadership is the key to success or failure. According to the Corporate Leadership Council line managers are responsible for eight of the top 10 most important factors in getting employee engagement. High engagement can deliver up to 30 per cent more effort from up to 50 per cent of staff. A good line manager can reduce the risk of losing good staff by 87 per cent. Some will assume if their organisation is doing well in the relevant ratings they must have good leadership capability. Not so. Unless you are benchmarked as the best and have high employee engagement then your organisation could do better. We urgently need to improve the level of leadership and self management capability, including the ability to be able to assess our own performance more accurately with feedback from others.

Key to starting the ball rolling is the chief executive and the HR department. HR needs to provide the chief executive with a business case and plan to convince everyone that great leadership must underpin everything, then implement it as a priority at all levels. If it works it will enable restructuring if needed, get processes more efficient, find cost savings, drive innovation, engage staff and enhance patient care.

To design a leadership development system is relatively easy. To make it work through both process and culture and deliver organisational performance improvements year on year is not. It’s about the senior management team, senior clinicians and HR working in partnership. This is not only about senior leaders; leadership needs to be developed from first line level up to ensure top quality leadership at all levels to engage staff and to create a pipeline of future senior leaders.

Leadership is the key to top quality patient care and effective cost management, to neglect it is to condemn your organisation to a long lingering decline. I hope that in another 10 years’ time we aren’t still dealing with this problem which causes so much damage to organisations, staff and, potentially, patients. l