Letters

Beverley Alimo-Metcalfe's feature on leadership qualities ('Heaven can wait', pages 26-29, 12 October) brings together some of the best thinking that has been quietly passed on outside mainstream NHS 'leadership' for the past two decades by one or two real leaders like Ken Jarrold.

Leadership as the 'charismatic tough guy' has deeply influenced many NHS middle managers. This model did not exist in isolation, but was part of the erosion of the 'principled motivation' mentioned in the NHS plan, which commits most staff to working way beyond their psychological contract.

It is a key element in the bullying culture, still largely untouched by new human resources policies. Empowering staff is alien to what Beverley Alimo-Metcalfe calls transformational leadership, yet it is clear that only the latter style of leadership is capable of turning round appalling morale and ensuring talents are developed and used.

The same issue reports health secretary Alan Milburn launching the human resources performance management framework (news, page 4), giving trusts until April 2001 to make 'tangible improvements' to the lives of staff.

The previous government's deepest failure was to enshrine authoritarianism, blame and reckless disregard for staff at the heart of management culture. Staff became a cost to be reduced, not an asset to be developed.

Many managers and some civil servants tried hard to side-step this culture, but its effects were far-reaching. Its legacy exists even in many organisations with policies on harassment, racism and bullying, but whose management style fears empowering staff, eschews openness and transparency, and treats constructive criticism as a bad career move.

Trade unions have been just as beset by a leadership model based on the leader as tough, charismatic (male) hero. Some of us are trying to move beyond that. Unfortunately, we are often the ones that damaged staff turn to once 'transactional' leaders have chewed them up and spat them out.

Let's have more such articles, and may its approach come to influence all those who talk of leadership but are often unable to display it, except in damaging and defensive ways.

Roger Kline Head of health