Why should middle managers trump the high fliers?

Written by
Changeboard Team

04 Apr 2012

04 Apr 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Cult of the leader

One of our roles at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) is to help managers use all the means available to them to develop their careers. Management and leadership books are of course a key part of this – perhaps even more so in austere times. Christopher Bones’ book, ‘Cult of the Leader’, the winner of this year’s CMI Management Book of the Year Award is a very strong example of a compelling work-related read, with lessons for leaders and managers across the UK.

Cultivating diversity

In the main, ‘The Cult of the Leader’ argues that businesses have been dragged into a phoney talent war, where we pay an ever-larger share of revenue to a handful of ego-driven senior executives. Much of what the book has to say about pay and reward is relevant to the top level CEOs and board members – but what’s of particular interest, is the impact this focus on the top performers can have on the whole organisation.

By using a formulaic focus on competencies as your main management tool and believing in finding ‘perfect leaders’, Bones argues we put too much emphasis on high-flying individuals as the secret to organisational success. What’s more, using the same competency frameworks across the board – regardless of circumstance or context – risks creating ‘clones’ and not developing or rewarding everyone in the most appropriate way.

In fact, ‘The Cult of the Leader’ argues, diversity in an organisation is far more important to its success than perfect leaders – and it should be the job of managers and leaders to create an atmosphere which cultivates this. This isn’t just diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, but it’s about the full range of skills and behaviours an organisation needs to succeed. It’s essentially about getting the right combination of people in place and making sure that talent and development is made a priority for everyone, not just ‘high fliers’.

Beyond the tick box

In large organisations, we all know that this can be a difficult task. One concern which will certainly have resonance with most managers is when the HR function and recruitment process become too ‘tick-box’, it can also become too restrictive, and limit the opportunity to reward the full range of behaviours every organisation needs. After all, who can honestly say they are ‘excellent’ on every aspect of a 360 review scoresheet?

The solution to this that Bones suggests, is a greater focus on, and empowerment of, line managers. By making sure they are supported, and that investing in their training is prioritised, the whole organisation can be helped to develop, making it more successful overall. Yet with middle managers often being targeted as a result of reforms or budget cuts, this could be a real area of risk – as Bones correctly identifies, the more squeezed line managers are, the less able they are to do their job. The challenge for all managers out there is how to make the most of the team – if they can do this, organisational success and personal reputation will naturally follow.

Christopher Bones’ ‘The Cult of the Leader’ was the winner of the CMI Management Book of the Year award 2012.