While "pants" is a term of derision in the vernacular of youth, Jeremy Paxman's exchange last month with Marks & Spencer chief executive Sir Stuart Rose has done the men of our nation a service by highlighting the importance of being supported in all the right places.
This is not the only way in which appropriate support in the right places is important, especially at work. Consider the behaviour of our leaders and managers in relation to key outcomes for staff, such as morale and intention to stay in the job. What little good-quality research there is highlights the overriding importance of nearby managerial relationships, particularly with your immediate line manager.
In Clinical Leadership in Healthcare: a position statement, Millward and Bryan concluded that "it is the quality of the relationship between leader and follower that matters most to performance-relevant attitudes and behaviour".
Sir Gerry Robinson observed in the NHS Confederation report, The Challenges of Leadership in the NHS: "Management is not an exercise in bludgeoning people. It is about getting people on side, about making them feel important. The secret is to make them feel special, part of an organisation that works, where they play their part."
Sir Gerry is supported by the research work of the Real World Group, using their 360-degree leadership development tool. This underlined the importance of their managers' "genuine concern for others".
However, for such positive behaviours from nearby managers to have maximum effect, they need to be enacted within a culture that incorporates a sense of vision. It also requires the structures and processes in place to achieve that vision. Stephen Covey in Principle Centred Leadership sees integrity and trust as forming the major foundation for leadership. He describes four corresponding principles that relate to different levels of the organisation: personal, interpersonal, managerial and alignment across the whole organisation. There is a need to see positive managerial behaviours as a means of enabling staff to achieve performance that is modelled and supported in every last little corner.
The NHS operating framework makes strategic health authorities responsible for leadership development and leadership talent spotting. It will be helpful for us to spot those who have the talent to make those around them feel better about themselves.
We need leaders who can help staff maintain career trajectories that have meaning and value for them. What we need less is the heroic high-flier who makes a big splash but then leaves others to cope with the ripples. That would be pants.
Steve Onyett co-ordinates the Care Services Improvement Partnership Networks Learning for Improvement Network for Leadership and Teamwork Development. He is also visiting professor at the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England. Seewww.icn.csip.org.uk/leadership.