Terra Nova training and development

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Principle Centred Leadership

Philip Roycroft, 1997

The public's overwhelming response to the governments 'back to basics' policy has surprised many, not least the government itself. What was conceived as a public relations presentation exercise has touched on a raw nerve, and triggered a major crisis. Why should the integrity and moral example of our political leaders suddenly be of so much interest to us, and does it have implications for those of us in positions of responsibility?

I sense that there is a growing crisis of confidence for leaders and managers in the nineties. A crisis which is being brought about by rapid and radical cultural changes within the world of work, the family, and in the wider community. Few people have been left untouched by these changes. We live in an atmosphere of uncertainty, where cultural norms have been challenged, taboos broken, and in which it has become increasingly difficult to be certain about anything. The institutions and attitudes which stifled creativity and enterprise, and made us so inflexible and uncompetitive in the past, did however make life more predictable, and did lay down norms of behaviour to which most people conformed. Deregulation has done more than liberate people from the impact of bureaucracy, it has also cut growing numbers of people loose from the burden of social responsibility, and from the need to address ethical and moral issues. This liberalisation has in part created a moral vacuum spawning a long line of miscreants such as, Maxwell, Saunders, Nadir, and De Lorean. Their legacy of cynicism and amorality will be with us for a long time to come. On the other hand perhaps we should be grateful to them for placing Principle Centred Leadership on the agenda for the nineties.

"The secret to life is honesty and fair play. If you can fake that you've got it made."

Groucho Marx obviously recognised how critical integrity and trustworthiness is when it comes to influencing others. Cynics would say that his clever twist highlights the direction in which modern management training has been going. A variety of influencing and motivational techniques based on aspects of psychology are enabling negotiators, sales personnel, and aspirant managers to gain the competitive edge, and get one over on their colleagues or the customer. While the quick fix approach focuses on techniques, systems devotees have been having a field day on management competencies! We have been encouraged to strive for improved efficiency and performance, to develop more discipline and objectivity based on standard competencies which can be measured against performance indicators. Although undoubtedly based on a genuine desire to improve quality this sometimes robotic language reflects an approach which is at risk of creating a separation of the work function from human qualities and values. It is as if the discredited planners of the sixties who separated the need for mass housing from the human need to belong to a community and for individuality, are alive and well and drafting S/NVQ's competencies in all aspects of humanity. What value humour, integrity, creativity, intuition, sensitivity, loyalty and vision? Leadership is an Art not a Science. The competence approach to leadership is like painting with numbers. From a distance it looks like the real thing, but on closer inspection it is less convincing, it appears flat and lifeless.

"When trust is high we communicate easily, effortlessly. We can make mistakes and others will still capture our meaning. But when trust is low, communication is exhausting, time consuming, ineffective, and inordinately difficult." - Stephen R. Covey

Trustworthiness and competence together provide the key to effective leadership. It is understandable that attention in recent times has focused almost exclusively on competence and technique, trustworthiness is a much more challenging nettle to grasp, and one that has major implications not just for managers, but for organisations and the wider community.

  • Can a voluntary organisation which neglects the rights of its staff be trusted to deliver quality care to the disabled?
  • Can a company which exploits the resources of a developing country be trusted in its dealing with its employees in this country?
  • If senior executives take a pay rise while imposing a freeze on their employees, how will this influence trust?

Terra Nova is not alone in its belief that personal qualities, values, and character provide an essential foundation on which to build effective leaders. Within the RAF officers are screened and selected almost exclusively on the basis of qualities such as integrity and compassion. They believe that these qualities provide a sound foundation on which skills and techniques can then be built. The Management Charter Initiative in Scotland recently stressed the importance of personal competencies as an essential foundation and context within which to appreciate and develop other competencies.

The most obvious implications for organisations who share these views may well be to review their criteria for selection, recruitment and promotion. But what about those of us who's qualities fall short of Mother Theresa? We strongly believe that personal qualities can be enhanced through training and development at individual, team, and organisational levels. Terra Nova has recently run a series of workshops exploring the subject of Principle Centred Leadership. The interest stimulated by these workshops encourages us to believe that this is a significant issue, and one which has particular relevance for those involved in organisational change, where sensitivity, trust, and openness are essential. Perhaps most importantly, delegates have been able to identify practical ways in which to enhance and develop personal qualities, starting with greater self-awareness. That however is a story for another day!


Articles in this section:

Intellect, Will and Passion: The Art of Facilitating Outdoor Development Training

Putting Fun Into Work

Developing a Learning Organisation

Hearts & Minds Wins Latest Work Force Battle

Principle Centred Leadership

Becoming an Employer of Choice

The Half Hearted Virus: A trainer's tale of despair

Leadership: Death of the Hero?

Engagement: Increasing productivity by gaining the commitment of the workforce