My debate in the Lords last Thursday on the case for minsters and senior civil servants to be trained in core leadership skills attracted high quality speakers, including chair of the Constitution Committee, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, and Lord Young of Cookham, who – like Baroness Taylor – has served as Leader of the House of Commons and Government Chief Whip.
Although there has been a growing recognition of the need for training civil servants, less has been heard about the need for ministers to be trained in leadership skills. Leadership is not just about managing a department, but entails crucially having a vision, getting others to buy into that vision – indeed getting them to feel they have had some input – and translating the vision into action. Some ministers have clear goals, but lack the skills to deliver them. The minister, Lord True, argued that Sir Anthony Eden, had been well trained. He most certainly had not: he lacked some key leadership skills. Conversely, some ministers are skilled politicians, but lack clear goals.
Among key leadership skills are the ability to engage in strategic planning, to manage crises – crisis management is standard in leading companies – and to appreciate the environment in which one is operating. For ministers and senior civil servants, that means fully appreciating the role of Parliament and engaging with it. The fact that a ministers is an MP or peer does not mean they necessarily fully understand the institution of which they are a member. Ministers in the Commons often have little grasp of the role of the House of Lords.
The problem is not the absence of training courses. As two contributors to the debate – Lord Maude of Horsham and Lord Bilimoria – emphasised, there are courses available. The challenge is getting ministers and civil servants to take them. As I argued in responding to the debate, as long as the training is optional, you end up speaking to the converted. It is the ones who resist training who are most likely in need of it. As I also mentioned, the experience of former ministers can be utilised to help train those presently in office.
There has been some progress, as I detailed in my speech, but the challenge is to go further – what training has been provided has tended to focus on managing rather than leading – and to ensure that it is required for all ministers and senior civil servants. As I concluded, it matters – it contributes to enhancing the quality of government in the United Kingdom.
You can read the debate here.