• Existing leadership theories can be contradictory
  • Systems and processes, the heart of an organisation's operations, needs to be managed, not led
  • Do's and don'ts of management

Michael Wilding
Mr Michael Wilding
Head, Podiatry
Singapore General Hospital

‘Leadership is a luxury you can afford once you have good management’ was the proposition put forth by Mr Michael Wilding, Head of Podiatry at SGH, at the AHP leadership forum on 22 July.

Mr Wilding discussed why he disagrees with some areas of leadership theory.

“First, I feel strongly that the status of a leader is bestowed by others, not by ourselves. Secondly, certain behaviours might be regarded as leadership by one group, and not by another group,” he explained.
Leadership theory can also be wrongly portrayed as a formula. Leadership books often offer guides on how to behave as a leader, as if following a particular course of action will yield a specific result.
"The truth is that all managers work with a cross-section of society and will know that an action can produce any one of several results, many of them unpredictable. X rarely leads inevitably to Y just because X is done in a particular way, and leadership is no different," said Mr Wilding.
"In addition, a vertical hierarchy with many layers provides much fewer opportunities for leadership than is suggested. Managers have a very specific role with little scope for bold leadership, though some qualities of leadership will be presented in the better managers."
In an organisation, driving its operation are systems and processes. For its survival, Mr Wilding posits that these systems and processes have to be managed, not led.
Studies have shown that high risk industries, such as surgery, anesthesiology, nuclear and commercial aviation, are now safer through tight process management.
For instance, after two Boeing planes collided on the runway at the Canary Island’s airport in Tenerife in 1977 - the world’s worst aircraft accident to date, and caused mainly by an error by one pilot – the Crew Resource Management (CRM) framework was developed.
CRM details how the full flight crew can is required to follow detailed processes to ensure accountability of each crew member including the chief pilot, a safe operation, reduce error, avoid stress and increase efficiency.
In spite of the arguments against leadership theory, Mr Wilding stressed that he recognizes the existence of leadership.
Prior to being a manager himself, Mr Wilding has had 13 managers. He shared a list of recommendations on effective management, gathered from his observations as a manager and his experiences of being managed.
3 Don’ts

1. Don’t be frustrating to deal with
“Daniel Kahneman, a renowned psychologist, did a study and found that the most frustrating thing people do is spend time with their managers! Don’t make it even more difficult for them.”
2. Don’t ignore problems
“Don’t skim over inconvenient issues or avoid tricky problems. At least make it known you’re aware of the problem and will deal with it.”
3. Don’t be nice to your managers, but horrible to your staff
“This is a surprisingly common phenomenon in the UK, but I have seen little of it in Singapore.”

6 Do’s

1. Do the innately sensible thing
“A handful of managers in my history thought they should know more than the people they were managing and they turned simple things into something complex. Do the sensible thing – people like simplicity.”
2. Be consistent
“We all have our ups and downs, but we owe our staff a consistent response whenever they come to us.”
3. 55/45
“This is how much you should represent the people you manage, versus the people who manage you. When your team knows you are representing them more than you are being a messenger for the hierarchy, it engenders trust.”
4. Be fair
“Once you have a reputation for being fair, people are more willing to accept the decisions you make even if they do not always agree with you.”
5. Suffer fools gladly
“I think it endears you to the people you work with when you make mistakes and admit the gaps in your abilities. Never humiliate people just because they’re slow to understand something, or if they do something wrong. We are all fools sometimes”
6. Say yes
“If you say no to people, after only a few times they’ll stop asking. I find saying yes a very important attribute to have, and would advise saying no only if there’s a very good reason to do so.”