When it comes to role models, whatever they might claim, the average chief executive sees themselves as an Arsene Wenger or a Jose Mourinho.
That is, either a serious-minded, elder statesman or woman who is not interested in the latest management fad but has a very clear view of what a well-run local authority looks like; or a highly ambitious, confident winner who knows how to get a local authority to over-achieve, who expects things to be done their way and falls out with the hierarchy soon or later but will move on to another high-profile job due to their impressive track record.
Chief execs who think like this are of course deluding themselves. This is how they would like to be seen, not how they are viewed by staff, colleagues or members. A director I worked for was an affable boss who inspired loyalty in their staff and was genuinely committed to improving services. Their weakness was they tended to be influenced by the last person they spoke to and had a reputation for frequent changes of mind. During the course of a long car journey, the director told me their favourite song was by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers because it summed up their management ethos. The song? I Won’t Back Down. To prove the point they put the Best of Tom Petty CD on and played the track twice, so I could dwell on the lyrics.
To counter this sort of delusion, feedback is essential, but it is not enough to ask for feedback from your subordinates. It’s a brave or foolish manager who tells their chief executive they talk too much and don’t listen enough, for example. Who is going to contradict the chief executive who claims their door is always open? Who is going say their habit of putting managers on the spot in front of members or other senior managers feels undermining? So 360-degree feedback, even if it is anonymous, won’t tell you what you need to know. In my experience the most effective way for a chief executive to get useful feedback into how their behaviour effects those they work with is to use a third party such as an executive coach who can provide feedback.
We all have secret role models. None of us see ourselves the way others see us. Highly effective senior mangers have some insight into their own behaviour and how it effects those they work with. They then use this to be more Arsene Wengerish or more Jose Mourinhoish as the situation warrants.
Blair McPherson is a former director of community services at Lancashire CC and management author