Leaders who don't nurture people make my blood boil

Treating staff with respect is key to a successful workplace, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Do you know what makes me really angry? Charity leaders with awful interpersonal skills, that's what. Outside observers of our sector often assume that people who run charities are all saintly types - kind and considerate, energetic and inspiring, yet tolerant and patient. Hmm.

Ever since my charity, Julia's House, topped the rankings of this year's 100 Best Places to Work in the Public and Charity Sectors, a survey of employees in numerous workplaces published by The Sunday Times newspaper, we've been asked by various organisations about our management methods. I've been happy to share these, in the hope that it spreads good practice.

But we've also been approached by people whose organisations appear to be run on very different lines. You know what I'm talking about. You've probably experienced it yourself at some point: rampant egos; overbearing bosses who don't listen; organisations that carry out staff surveys and then quietly bury the results; high staff turnover; low morale; and a feeling that success is achieved in spite of the leader, rather than because of him or her.

Bottom-line activity

It's time for some plain speaking. If you are a leader who thinks workforce engagement is not a bottom-line activity, think again, Sherlock. Want to spend less time and money on recruitment? Then hang on to your staff for longer by treating them better. Want people to work harder and be more productive? Then listen to their ideas and act on them. Want to avoid losing your most talented people? Then create a talent development programme that gives them opportunities to take on more responsibility.

Some leaders excuse their lack of soft skills by telling themselves that they are on a mission: they see themselves as dashing cavaliers who don't have time for such niceties. Actually, they're just bad leaders.

Wasted potential

In too many workplaces - yes, even in our saintly sector - you will commonly find the quiet woman with a brilliant idea who has had her confidence eroded by a manager who doesn't listen; the mercurial man who appears to like fighting the system but who would actually relish more responsibility; the talented mother who will leave if she is not given more flexibility; the long-serving, reliable coalface worker whose maturity deserves recognition with a role as a mentor; the middle manager who feels under too much pressure to 'walk the floor' for ideas because the boss thinks it's unimportant; or the backroom team that has never been told that every ship needs a great engine room.

It makes my blood boil that the potential of these people is being wasted. They will respond to brilliant leadership. And they are out there, waiting for their leaders to catch up with them.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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