Brave leadership prevents problems from escalating

If you ignore small examples of poor performance, the problem will get bigger, says our columnist

Gill Taylor
Gill Taylor

Intelligent and brave managers are essential to an honest and resilient organisation, and the organisation must encourage them.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," is a quote attributed to Edmund Burke, but it might have been the subtitle to the Francis report on the care provided by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. This shows what happens when a "caring profession" stops putting caring at the top of its agenda.

Of course, the problem in that case was not with the profession itself, but with some individuals who not only lost their way but crossed a serious line - from active caring to active neglect and sometimes cruelty.

So what lessons does this have for us? There are 290 recommendations in the Francis Report - for my money, however, it all boils down to the fact that managers must take the right action, even if it is scary.

Good managers establish a culture and actively maintain it. They wander around, giving praise where they see good performance and having a quiet word where things are not right.

Cultivate intelligence

These managers should cultivate intelligence and bravery. Intelligence is needed to be aware of what is going on; bravery is needed to have challenging conversations when they are necessary, and the sooner the better.

If you ignore small examples of poor performance, the problem will inevitably get bigger. If you are frightened of having assertive conversations with your staff and reminding them how things have to be done, then get yourself some training.

It is critical to operate a really good complaints policy and be brave enough to investigate properly when complaints come in. Do not engage in cover-ups or saving the back of the organisation at all costs: that way lies disaster, as we have seen. From small cover-ups, larger ones can follow.

There is another area that I know many managers struggle with: they must be brave enough to have the courage of their convictions and speak up at senior management level when things are not going well. The 2012 Charity Pulse workforce survey found that 47 per cent of respondents in medium-sized charities said it was "not safe to challenge the way things are done here".

Challenge the establishment

The figure for large charities was 38 per cent, and 26 per cent for small charities. These figures are appalling and indicate that the necessary bravery to challenge the establishment is more than likely lacking in many organisations.

It is particularly hard to summon such courage if you feel like you are on your own. Burke was on the ball when he said: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Managers with a lone voice will be more successful if they gain enough support for change. And if there is no other option, they must blow the whistle.

Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant

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