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Confidence in leaders, shot

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Only a third of UK managers believe their businesses are in safe hands. Senior management teams are failing to inspire confidence in their organisation’s managers, according to a new UK report.

Only 36 percent believe their business is in safe hands and only 40 percent of managers are feeling positive about the prospects for their organisation in the current economic climate. The research, commissioned by leadership and business psychology consultancy Edgecumbe Consulting Group, highlights a lack of faith in the skills and capabilities of senior leaders to tackle the challenges their organisations face. 201 managers in medium to large UK-headquartered businesses were interviewed for the research, with the results showing that the senior management teams in many organisations are not seen to be leading their businesses effectively.

These findings suggest that there is an urgent need for leaders to step up to their responsibilities: to show that they understand the seriousness of the situation and that they can respond appropriately. Almost half (45 percent) of respondents said their leaders had become more task focused, and 61 percent said their leaders had become more short-term oriented, with only 4 percent saying they had become more long term oriented in their approach. Among leaders in large organisations of over 10,000 employees the second shift was even more dramatic: 88 percent of respondents said their leaders had become more short-term oriented in their approach, not one felt the opposite was true.

Jon Cowell, Director at Edgecumbe Consulting Group and Associate Fellow at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, says: “At one level, this seems to make sense. We have known for many years that a highly directive, task oriented style tends to work well in a crisis. But we also know that if it carries on for too long, this style causes resentment and disengagement and this erodes performance over time. In particular, it tends to stifle the commitment, discretionary effort and creativity needed to develop new ways of addressing organisational challenges.” Cowell continues: “The economic climate for many UK businesses has been tough for some time now, and this does not look likely to ease any time soon. This research suggests that leaders remain locked into a crisis mentality. This must change: leaders need to think beyond mere survival and think afresh about how to create sustainable performance in a more challenging economic context.  

“To do that, they need to focus more on spelling out the long term future they are seeking to create and aligning and engaging their people, to release the energy and creativity that will be required to achieve it. In short, counter-intuitive as it may feel, they need to reverse the shift in focus that has taken place.” Worryingly, 32 percent of respondents said that they think their senior leaders are bad or very bad at working in teams, and 30 percent think they are bad or very bad at leading. The research also looked at managers’ perceptions of their leaders’ strengths and weaknesses. Managers think their leaders are most effective at driving for results (56 percent) and at planning and organising the work (53 percent). Nearly half of the managers interviewed (44 percent) think their leaders are bad at aligning their people with a common purpose, while 40 percent believe they are bad at building and sustaining relationships. 

“This research shows that senior managers need to raise their game when it comes to connecting, aligning and engaging people. There is a strong emotional component in getting employees on board with a business’s aims. A company whose people have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve, and really believe in what they are doing, is far more likely to succeed. And the responsibility for doing this falls first and foremost to leaders,” said Cowell.

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