Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


In the last couple of years, the British Government has had a number of complaints about its managerial style. It’s not surprising as few British politicians have any meaningful managerial experience. The new First Minister of Scotland, who went to the same school as I, apparently did one year working in a call centre before heading straight into politics.

The UK government has had two enquiries into senior Ministers charged with bullying. In one, the result was clear cut but the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, ignored this and left the Minister in place; it was a decision that played a small part in him being forced out of office. The second report was more nuanced, but the Minister did resign promptly.

There have been complaints that he should never have been appointed in the first place or should have been sacked much earlier, but I prefer the due process, as it avoids people being pressured out of work because of hearsay or unproven complaints from recalcitrant employees.

Whether in government or the tannery, management is difficult. Experience tells me that identifying good managers early in their careers can be difficult, and some of the best I have worked with never struck me as be likely candidates when I first knew them, often a decade or more earlier.

Social media expands to fill available work time

Perhaps I was influenced by the hilarious managerial textbooks that were around early in my own career, like the Peter Principle and Parkinson’s Law. The latter argued that work expanded to fill the time available and probably needs updating to “social media expands to fill available work time” – and leaves you dreadfully stressed by uncompleted essential tasks.

The Peter Principle states that employees get promoted until they reach a level beyond their competence so that ultimately every position will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfil the duties of their positions. Often this is because an excellent technician gets moved into a general management or CEO role and flounders with some of the many tasks involved.

We certainly often see the Peter Principle in action today, but better continuous training means that preparation for promotion is much better. This is especially important in family-owned businesses where sons were once considered “born to lead” with disastrous outcomes. Now, with more thought, family members arrive better prepared, and at long last daughters are being recognised as capable team members and leaders.

Management is certainly much more complex than in the days when hierarchy and patriarchy were standard practice. But, while some aspects of good management are being politicised as “woke”, I see in most of the complexity elements historically demonstrated by many well-run tannery SMEs.

Business culture

In fact, what is fundamental here is the culture established in the business from the top. Respect and integrity are two fundamental aspects of this, and I fail to see how putting them centrally into a proper governance setting is other than correct.

When Boris Johnson ignored a thorough and complete review of one of his senior ministers, he added to a pattern of failure to respect the people who worked for him, the institutions, laws and regulations that it was his duty to uphold, and the integrity required by all of those who hold elected office. A leader has to lead by example and arguing that they are somehow exempt from proper behaviour only creates a downward spiral.

If we want the leather industry to prosper, it is vital that we carefully consider employees and the community in which we work; that we do not use the excuses of so-called globalisation and capitalism without thought for what is right or wrong. Accepting sourcing that is low-cost primarily through ignoring environmental damage or slave labour creates short term ills and has enormous long-term implications.

We have learned now that there is appropriate capitalism and there is pure greed, and that there is good globalisation and one that only does harm at home and abroad. Rampant, thoughtless approaches to both have highlighted many risks and evils which might have been moderated through wiser management in the boardrooms and governments.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

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