Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Soft is Hard

I have become involved in a fascinating Blog discussion with my friend Sriram in Hong Kong about the merits of ’soft’ and 'hard' approaches to leadership and management. Sriram's excellent Blog is at this link http://ksriram.blogspot.com/

It made me think about this subject quite a lot. It is an interesting topic that is very close to my heart. I have always believed ‘Soft’ can definitely be ‘Hard.’ I worked in the NHS for 35 years and at various times in my career;

  • I was told I was too soft as a manager - I should be harder
  • I was told my heart ruled my head too often
  • I was told I did not have the ruthlessness needed to reach the top
  • I was told I was too close to the staff I manage
  • I was told I was too close to patients and their carers
  • I was told I was too easy going
  • I was told that I was idealistic
  • I was told I was too trusting of people.

I would probably agree with all those things said about me.

However with time to now reflect about that list I would rather be remembered for those 8 qualities then a list of the opposite 8 qualities;

  • Too hard
  • Head always rules heart
  • Ruthless
  • Distant and removed from staff
  • Distant and removed from customers
  • Inflexible
  • Pessimistic
  • Miss trusting of people
I have never accepted one has to be ruthless and hard to be successful. Just because one is concerned about other people; fairness; integrity; and the other ‘softer’ stuff does not mean one cannot at the same time, be decisive and consistent. There is a balance to be found.

I also think the qualities in the first list do not mean that you cannot be ‘tough when the going gets tough’. I am happy to receive counter arguments on this. I will carry on being driven by the items on list one – it has stood me in good stead for my life so far.

We all have strengths and preferred styles – mine happens to be more on the softer side. There is always a risk that people will take advantage of good nature but I remain optimistic and trusting.

The greatest leader I have ever met is also the most humble and ‘soft’ person I have ever met. His concern is always for people.



Rocky said...

I would like to compare that list to qualities of notable leaders throughout history. Which list do you think would describe Gandhi? Mother Theresa? Hitler? ETC... It would be interesting to see a more full list and make comparisons.

Trevor Gay said...

It would be fascinating to do that Rocky.

These are just my observations of course. I do not expect everyone to agree with my list. Everyone will have ther own lists of effective qualities of leaders and managers.

I suspect Mother Theresa and Ghandi were closer to list one and Hitler closer to list two but then again there will probably be a mixture of the two lists in all of us.

Interesting don't you think? and the concept of camparing people to lists has some potential methinks.

If only I had the time .......

Marianne Powers said...

The difference is what you believe about other people. Whether you believe that people are always doing the best they can at any moment in time or whether you believe that people have to be made to do things. I think you believe that everyone deserves respect and compassion because everyone is always trying to do the right thing. And if something needs to be done, the leader or manager only has to be clear about what that is and make sure people have the resources they need to do it. Then people decide for themselves whether they can and whether they will. They decide whether they want to stay or go. You can't really make anyone do anything. I think that's what you know, good leader that you are.

Marilyn said...

Somewhere I heard that water, one of the softest things around, is actually one of the most powerful substances on earth. Think about it-tsunami, ice storms, hurricanes, glaciers, snow, welcome rain, life sustaining drink. Looks can be deceiving. Whoever told you that being 'soft' is a weakness misses the fundamental truth that compassion and kindness are stronger than hate and fear and are what we are all seeking.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Marianne and Marilyn - appreciate you taking the time at this busy peiod to make comments. Your insights are very helpful and I suspect my style will always be the same. One cannot change one's fundamental belief system about mangement and leadership and I would never be comfortable working in an environment where front line staff are not valued and supported by a compassionate belief system. If that means 'soft' then I buy that :-)