Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: I used to have a really nice boss. My new one is all 'targets' and has no time for staff. What should I do?

A: Fancy having a boss who wants you to deliver!

I regret I have little sympathy. Delivery is what it's all about and target-setting must be an integral part of driving an organisation to success. What would you prefer - working in an organisation that's making money and achieving its purpose (even if that does mean a lot of hard work) or a nice organisation where there is not really very much demand on anyone (with the threat that the organisation might go out of business)?

The chief executive's top priority is to run a professional and enterprising organisation, not to be nice. Of course, being 'nice' is a bonus, and I don't think being nasty is particularly productive either. But there must be a balance.

Suspicious of 'nice'

Personally, I am always suspicious when I hear plaudits about bosses who are regarded as 'nice'. One of the problems of being a boss is that sometimes you have to do difficult things such as terminating people's contracts. That's not nice, but it's often necessary to achieve success.

Someone who is a poor performer is going to affect work colleagues, who will simply have to work harder. Coping with a financial crisis in the third sector also requires hard decisions, and sometimes these decisions involve making redundancies - I guess that's not nice either, but it's necessary.

Of course, it's not possible to know exactly what you're getting at or anything about the personalities involved - and it's very easy to generalise.

There are as many leadership styles as there are leaders, and every individual has their strengths and their weaknesses. In particular, the bit about "no time for staff" could be a problem. Your boss will not get far without staff on his or her side.

Results are vital

So I guess the real answer here is going to depend on results. If the approach of the new boss really drives up business, that has to be good.

If it is so unpleasant that it drives down morale and hinders working relationships, that's bad.

Have you talked to this person about the issue, or are you just quietly fuming in the background? Don't wait for the situation to develop further.

Go and have a chat with your new boss and try to get an understanding of the parameters of your relationship and what drives them. You can explain what drives you and how you can work together.

I realise change can be difficult, though.The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: "Everything flows and nothing stands still... You can't step twice into the same river."

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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