You wouldn’t be surprised to hear the military described as having strong leaders − you might be surprised to hear their style of leadership recommended for the public sector.
“Strong leaders”, is code for leaders that don’t negotiate, attempt to persuade people or feel the need to explain their decisions. These are the type of leaders who use expressions like “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” and “this is not up for discussion or debate”. They are the type of leader who interprets dissent as disloyalty.
A report by management consultants Orion Partners last year recommends military-style leadership if the public sector is to get through these most turbulent of times.
‘In the NHS and local government we have long gone past any pretence that the changes are practice led rather than finance driven’
Only Orion doesn’t recognise the type of strong leadership we traditionally associate with the military, it refers to “brain-friendly” leadership where leaders get their staff to understand why change is good for them and the organisation.
The report claims there is more evidence of this type of leadership in the armed forces than in the civil service, despite Ministry of Defence cuts of over £4 billion and 54,000 redundancies.
Brain-friendly leadership does, however, appear to assume it is possible to demonstrate to staff and the wider community that despite the upheaval of major changes, redundancies and service reductions, the end result will be worth it. Presumably this was the thinking behind the government’s change of leadership of the NHS for someone who was a better communicator!
A different style
‘We are now seeing reports about the impact of budget cuts on the quality of care in the NHS’
I don’t know about the armed forces, but in the NHS and local government we have long gone past any pretence that the changes are practice led rather than finance driven.
Local government is not providing a better service to local people as a result of cutting up to 50% of its budget and the staff working in local government are not more secure in their jobs or financially better of as a result of increased pension contributions and pay freezes. Local people are not more satisfied with their services now that libraries, swimming pools and day centres have been closed.
We are now seeing reports about the impact of budget cuts on the quality of care in the NHS. So neither staff nor patients are likely to be persuaded that major changes are for the better.
A separate report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and the Public Sector People Managers Association called Leading Cultural Change also talks about the need to take staff with you in implementing major changes. However, rather than trying to persuade staff that changes are in their best interests or will result in better services, they argue that it is about explaining why change is unavoidable, that the task is to make the best of it and that this will involve new ways of working.
The leadership task is one of negotiation and retaining the trust of the workforce. This style of leadership also requires excellent communication skills − not to sell an unpopular idea but to foster openness and a faith in the leadership