I spotted this article on the Chartered Management Institute web site, reported in the Financial Times last week:

"A new survey of the workforce (5,000 adults surveyed by One Poll)
highlights the three most common management styles within UK workplaces
as authoritarian (according to 21 per cent), bureaucratic (16 per cent)
and secretive (12.5 per cent). Only 10 per cent describe their bosses as
accessible and just seven per cent think senior staff within their
organisation are empowering. "

Whilst I am deeply saddened that in 2010 very nearly half of people surveyed have deeply negative perceptions of their managers and less than 1 in 10 consider them to be empowering, I am not really surprised. I suspect that if respondents had been allowed to choose more than 1 style, the percentage of managers considered authoritarian, bureaucratic AND secretive would probably not have been a lot lower.

Regrettably, there still appears to be a pervasive belief across vast tracts of British business that management is some form of contest of ego and power, and that the "good" manager is the one who manages to crush their subordinate opponents underfoot.

It isn't just in the manager/subordinate arena that this confrontational posturing and domination is employed though. One only has to look at the massively unfair relationships that exist between many large companies (e.g. major supermarkets) and their supply chain to see similar forces at play; and in the last couple of years the banking world has given an admirable (?) demonstration of their complete disdain for both customers and shareholders.

It appears that some at the top of these organisations (mentioning no names, Sir Fred) possess a complete set of contempt - for employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and their own integrity. How else could they walk away with pockets bulging and believe that they are justified?

By the way, I really dislike the term subordinate in a work context as it presupposes a relationship based entirely on authority and control. Unfortunately though, I think the  concept of management among equals is totally alien to many senior people in business today. For them management is something you do to people rather than with them.

The most dispiriting thing about all this, is that it so clearly doesn't have to be this way. I remember attending the 1993 Institute of Directors Conference and remember Richard Branson saying "There are three groups of important people in my business - my employees, my customers and my suppliers. That is the order I place them in, because I know that if I look after the first group, they will look after the other two."

When I heard that 17 years ago, I believed that other people in business would listen and learn from one of our most successful entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the results of the One Poll survey suggest that very few did.

Unfortunately the image of manager as adversarial and dominating is only compounded by the "the damaging stereotypes peddled by the media", as Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive of CMI puts it. I believe that Alan Sugar's "you're fired" is way more damaging to both his own image, and that of business in general, than he ever imagined it would be.

Is it just coincidence that the "enterprise tsar" has not been that much in evidence since his high profile appointment? A Google search for the term "Alan Sugar enterprise tsar" has only 3 results dated later than June 2009 (the month of his appointment) in the first three pages - an article in Management Today in November 2009 asking if he is "out of touch with SMEs"; one in Metro, also in November, reporting that an employee had dropped a law suit against him for making "lewd and sexist remarks"; and one from last week reporting that he has donated £400,000 to the Labour Party.

It seems a pity that someone with such a massive opportunity to create a positive image for business and management has apparently done so little, and that the vast majority of those searching for his achievements will find only those listed above, given that less than 1.3% of searchers ever venture beyond page 3.

Despite all this, I continue to stand and work for a world in which business is a positive and beneficial activity, and where those practising it do so with integrity, fairness and mutual respect. It's a set of principles that I base my own business on, and it's what I help my clients build into their businesses. I just hope there's enough potentially positive managers out there to keep me employed!

To see the full article on the CMI website, click here.


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