WHAT MAKES a good leader? Do you have to be gung-ho and ultra-confident, in the mode of Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher? And can anyone learn to lead? Experts currently believe that a collaborative approach is more likely to succeed than shouting and yelling, and that anyone can acquire the skills to manage people effectively.
Peter Maxwell, director of the Leadership Trust, which runs courses in leadership, says a subtle approach is essential today. 'People are less inclined to do something just because they've been told to than they were in the past,' he says. 'Persuasion is the key and that means communication is important.'
And sending e-mails is no substitute for face-to-face contact, Maxwell believes.
The aim is to get staff to share their real views and emotions. This may not be easy for those engineers who are happier with technicalities than personalities, but being straightforward with staff is a good starting point. 'Leaders should be honest. If you are, people begin to think that what you have to say is valuable,' says Maxwell.
Typically, the problem is that some employers fail to give engineers enough support when they are promoted to a management role. 'Engineers are highly skilled in a particular function,' he says. 'They reach a certain stage in their career and are promoted to management because they are good at being engineers. The problem then is that often people feel the way to get things done is to be more authoritarian, but it isn't. Listening to people is one of the most effective ways of leading them.'
Dr Jeff Keers, group training and development manager with Balfour Beatty, says that engineers must learn to understand their management style and let go of their previous hands-on role if they are to succeed as leaders.
'They need to become aware of their preferred approach,' he says. 'For instance, some may find it hard to delegate detail and look at the bigger picture, while others may find it easy to delegate but then lose control of what's going on,' he says.
'And if someone really likes to get stuck in (to their role as an engineer) then they can find it difficult to let go. There comes a point when managers aren't able to take on the detail directly, and they have to manage through other people. Some engineers find that very hard.'
Looking beyond the sector is the key to developing the right skills, says Linda McKane, a consultant with Lloyd Masters Consulting. 'For instance, the oil industry, which had a very command and control style, has changed dramatically,' she says. Co-operative working is now the approach.
'They still need to carry out technical platform construction, but the management style is now very different.'
Listen to your staff
Be honest and straightforward
Learn to let go of your hands-on role
Understand your own leadership style
Look beyond the sector for best practice role models