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Leadership and management – staying ahead of the game

High profile management failures are often big news and nowhere more so than in football. With the recent departure of Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, questions have been raised over his managerial style. Being a manager in such a cut throat environment is a tough job, but if we look past the headline grabbing façade of the football world and go back to basics, there are a number of parallels in the qualities and skills required to be a successful manager in any business.

A report from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2012 outlined how poor management and leadership is holding back the UK’s economic growth.

Nearly three quarters of employers in England reported a deficit of management and leadership skills, while 43% of managers regarded their own line manager as ineffective. Yet improving leadership and management skills is fundamental for organisations to be able to compete in a global environment, leading to improved business longevity, better employee motivation and well-being, and increased profitability and performance. So what are the skills managers need to keep their business on top?

One particular criticism of Mancini was his lack of interest in the younger players and a reluctance to build the team from the bottom up. If we compare this to the recently retired Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, someone who has a track record of identifying and developing young players, there is a clear distinction. Not only did Ferguson rack up an impressive 27 years as manager, but this commitment led to fantastic success for both the players and the team.

For any successful business to flourish existing talent needs to be nurtured.  There is an incredible amount of untapped potential amongst our country’s young people and with youth unemployment remaining so high it is crucial not only to individual businesses but to the economy as a whole. Our recent report ‘Nurturing Talent: building the workforce of the future’ showed how apprenticeships in particular can be crucial for the talent pipeline of a business as well as helping with employee retention.

Managers have a key role to play in the development of staff and helping to create the next generation of management candidates.

Another key attribute for a manager is to be able to develop positive working relationships and ways to communicate within the business. In the case of Mancini it’s been reported this was another of his shortcomings, by failing to develop the right relationship with his players he created an atmosphere where they were not encouraged to flourish. For businesses, getting this right not only helps improve efficiency, but also translates into a harmonious workplace which attracts the best talent and, crucially, keeps it there.

The leadership style of a manager is also pivotal to develop the inspired, enthusiastic and engaged workforce needed to compete in a global marketplace. Football managers often hit the news headlines for controversial leadership tactics. Successful leadership often involves making tough and sometimes unpopular decisions, but it also needs to be about ensuring employees are encouraged to have input and are rewarded for their contributions.

In football, the fast paced environment means managers are often moved on quickly without the chance to develop in a particular club. To ensure a stable economy we need to make sure we have a continuous pipeline of management ready people. To do this businesses need to look at investing in potential management candidates from an early point in their career and equip them with the right skills and training to make sure they’re developed to their full potential.  This will help build the businesses of the future and ensure the UK stays ahead of the game in the competitive global marketplace.

Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation

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