A cult of "celebrity leadership" has contributed to the humbling of Scottish institutions such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and must be changed to avoid damaging consequences for the economy, according to an influential new report.
The Economic and Social Research Council warned today of a backlash against a trend in business and the public sector where "leaders privilege wealth protection and risk management at the expense of wealth creation".
It says this has led to a "general loss of trust" by the public which must be offset by a fresh approach to public sector leadership by the Scottish Government if its vision of a more successful Scotland is to be realised.
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The report says that global concerns around leadership are "especially sensitive in Scotland following the major financial services companies' fall from grace".
It identifies a trend of "celebrity leadership in which leaders are credited with having all the answers and are rewarded as a result". Although it doesn't specifically name people like former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin, the report says: "This has led to the uproar around their role which has been seen in institutions such as RBS and the Dunfermline Building Society."
The report stresses the need to improve leadership qualities in the public sector, claiming that, though there has been an expansion in leadership teaching, it is not regarded as being of critical importance and its impact is often poorly evaluated.
As an example, it points to failings highlighted by a survey that showed only 27% of healthcare staff believed their senior leaders managed change effectively and only 43% believed senior health board managers were focused on meeting patients' needs.
A further damning criticism also referred to unpublished research that showed there was a dominant view from workers that senior managers were "too interested in playing politics, not interested in patients and disconnected from professional colleagues".
Separate surveys of Scottish Government employee surveys showed they didn't think their senior leaders were visible enough, had little confidence in them and did not believe the government was well managed.
Graeme Martin, of Glasgow University's business school, said: "In Scotland, leadership has been seen as key to making the public sector more effective. Although the way it has been taught until now has its virtues there has been duplication of effort, a lack of sharing ideas of what has worked and little evidence that our investment in leadership development has been a good one.
"Public servants, university business schools and consultants must work together to help leaders learn from each other."
Keith Grint, of Warwick University, added: "Individual leaders don't have all the answers and we shouldn't expect them to, but they can ask the right questions and inspire new thinking and leadership education must help them to do this." Reshaping Scotland, a major conference, will be staged by The Herald on Wednesday, June 17, to discuss radical ideas about how Scotland's public bodies may work in the future. Hosted by The Herald's Alf Young, it will be held at the Nevis Suite at Hampden Park. A day delegate rate is £150, including VAT. Tickets can be obtained by calling 0141 302 7410 or 0141 302 7407.