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Lacking leadership?

Author : Tim Fryer

10 February 2012

In a business sector that is entirely dependent on the performance of people, the quality of leadership is critical. But are there enough quality leaders out there and where is the next generation coming from?

In the last FM report I assembled an argument to say that there are a lot of problems facing FMs (‘What are the issues in FM?’), but came to the conclusion that the biggest one was the often subjective view of the FMs activities – it is difficult to accurately measure what he or she does. However, Nick Parker, Bite Catering’s Managing Director, believes people moan too much about their lot as FMs, and the solution is much simpler – good leadership.

“I do find there is a lot of whinging and negativity going on. Unfortunately it is the natural state of mind for adults (kids are delightfully different),” he wrote. “The fix for me is for individuals, or an individual, to take personal responsibly and become a leader. By becoming a leader they can set a vision and others will follow. Followers can choose to follow Leader A (Vision A) or Leader B (Vision B) depending on their views. Both visions can be correct because their audiences/markets/followers are different. When there becomes space for only one vision, in a democratic world Vision A may be in play because the number of followers is greater than Vision B.

“The issue is,” he concluded, “that we don’t have enough leadership, or leaders. This becomes particularly acute in economically tough times.”

This seems to be a subject that vexes the FM industry and was also raised at the round table I mentioned in my last column. One concern appears to be that a generation of entrepreneurial business leaders are all reaching that certain age at the same time – that age when a bit of casual consultancy and a game of golf is far more appealing than the pressures of running an organisation on a daily basis. The impression is that there is nothing behind this golden generation to fill the void.

To be honest I do not buy into this theory and suspect that it may be put about by people approaching retirement who believe they are a bit more indispensable than they in fact are. To support my point (and this is not scientific enough to prove my point!) I took a look at the four pages I dedicated to this year’s PFM Award winners in the December issue of PFM. Smiling back at me were a varied and happy bunch but if I had to define the typical participant (award presenter or part of the receiving team) then I would have to say that it was of middle-aged vitality. These are the sort of people who are not ensuring that the management void will be filled, but are adequately ensuring that such a void does not emerge.

It was also announced this week that a keynote speaker at the ThinkFM event in June is to be the recently honoured Ruby McGregor-Smith who, at 48, has plenty of year’s inspiring industry as well leading the massive MITIE Group.

However, that does not mean that I disagree with Nick. For one thing it is obvious that not all managers are of the calibre of Ruby McGregor-Smith or those who lead our PFM Award-winning organisations. But the other thing reverts in part to my argument last time – how do you attract young people to view facilities management as a desirable job when it can vary so much from one facility to another and therefore lacks definition. Equally, if you can’t define what a job is, how do you train people to do it?

While BIFM would argue, correctly I am sure, that over the last decade in particular it has made great strides in remedying both of these aspects, I suspect that the clarification and training it has provided has mostly been for those already working in our sector. This is obviously as it should be, but still doesn’t do anything to raise our profile outside the FM sector. My feeling is that we are still not in a position that young people will see FM as a sector they want to train for and work in and until that happens we may, as Nick Parker suggests, still suffer from a lack of leadership emerging from the next generation.

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