Frontlines: What makes a good manager

Even in social care there are managers who cling to authority and use fear to buttress their position, writes Nigel Leaney 

With Alan Sugar’s search for his apprentice over until next year, I once again count my blessings that I work in the caring profession. Not that all our managers ooze empathy and compassion for their fellow workers or subordinates but you stand a much better chance of encountering some of these attributes than among Sugar’s bunch of brown-nosing, back-stabbing, grasping, so-called crme de la crme of management.

As with most people, during my career I’ve had my fair share of good and bad managers and some who oscillated alarmingly between the two. But for management training, I can thank them one and all.

Often it’s the bad managers I have learned from the most. I figured if I attempted to work in the opposite way to these would-be Genghis Khans I would be heading roughly in the right direction.

After watching them lay waste to a luckless person on the receiving end of a disembowelling fork – available from all bad human resource departments – that immortal nugget of information would invariably be uttered: “I’m not here to be liked.”

Really? Well, thanks for setting us straight on that one. It would have been a toughie to crack otherwise.

Many years ago a fearsome manager stalked the land. He was feared and reviled in equal measure. Only later did I realise why. He was the victim of his own manager, a workaholic who was proud of the disease. His indoctrination into yobbish behaviour was through being the victim of it. He retired early from stress related ill-health.

A colleague told me how one look from her manager would reduce her to tears. The look would cast aside the years and she was a child again, kept after class and standing in front of the teacher.

People can manage themselves once they are rid of fear. And some managers are the most fearful of all and so cling to their authority. Authority gives us escape for when we are lost. From authority there is a short walk to violence and oppression. Once we understand the relationships that underpin our lives and all our actions, in thought, word and deed, then authority is no longer necessary. Then we come into being as care practitioners.

And school’s out – for ever.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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