This blog has touched from time to time on the qualities of leadership. Many would agree that, whatever particular attributes a leader should have, there are few in management jobs, especially senior positions, who possesses them. From big corporations and institutions, including our government, down to small town councils, it seems remarkable how many are badly run or fall victims to catastrophic decisions or just plain neglect. Perhaps the good ones simply go unnoticed but the noticeably bad ones are by no means rarities.
What are the abilities one would desire in a leader, especially a university leader? Should they be good academics with an impressive research record? Not necessarily. There is no reason to suppose such a person should be any good at management, although in many universities a long research record is usually the only route to a senior job. Leaders should be good at making decisions, of course, but specifically good at making the right decisions. This requires understanding and insight, rather imponderable qualities perhaps; but most important is empathy with the staff who are being managed.
The best we can say about Kingston University’s management is they don’t follow the lore of academic achievement: Spiersy and crew’s research record is modest at best. The crucial absence, in common with so many other university leaders, is the skill to make good decisions. In fact the overwhelming characteristic is undecision. This is not indecision, the dithering between options, but the lack of ability or motivation to make any decision.
Over the years I have had cause to write to senior managers at Kingston and other universities, usually with a complaint or a point of concern. Each time I have been struck by how the manager never makes their own decision but defers to one already made by someone lower down the order. The preservation of the status quo is sacrosanct, the willingness to think again in paralysis. Hence there is only one option for Kingston’s senior management to deal with the tribulations of the University — cut budgets, cut departments, cut staff.
At Kingston the fear of redundancy or the sack has been part of the job for several years. Clearly this does not trouble Spiers and company, even though academics and support staff who are persistently worried are not in the best state to do their jobs. The contempt for them from the SLT is the most damning of all its failings.
Who is to hold this useless management to account? Not the government, itself one of the most incompetent ever to run this country. Not the governors who have so far presided over the steady decline of Kingston, happy in their sinecures and self regard. Not even the staff who have trouble supporting industrial action in defence of their pay, still in long term decline. The sun is shining but the climate darkening. Pull down the blinds and pretend it isn’t happening.