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The greatest Briton: Lord Reith

first_img Previous Article Next Article If the BBC can do it, so can Personnel Today. We want to know which Britonyou rate as the greatest people manager and leader of all time. Personnel Todayhas invited 10 leading figures in the field of management to nominateindividuals they believe are the best, and then convince you they are right. Tovote, visit the voting form where you will also find summaries of all 10nominees. The voting closes on Tuesday 4th March 2003.This week’s nominee is:Lord ReithBy Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work FoundationSuccessful leaders create successful organisations, and the greatest litmustest of success is the organisation’s ability to prosper over time. It isn’t difficult to create short-term success – any fool can squeezeprofits out of a company to reward the shareholders today at tomorrow’sexpense. And equally, it isn’t difficult to take the money from taxpayers orshareholders, and start up an organisation. The real issue is whether the leader can build foundations secure enough forthe organisation to endure. I believe that the necessary condition for organisational success is thecreation of a sense of purpose at its core which everyone – customers,suppliers and above all, employees – understands. The books have to balance, ofcourse, and there must be a franchise that produces a flow of income in excessof costs. But the genius is to line up the organisation’s values with what itis doing, so that everybody knows what they are about. This is much more than a mission and values statement. It offers everyone inthe corporation a sense of direction which transcends the daily grind and givestheir work meaning. They are there to serve a genuine economic and social need,and are both necessary parts of society and the economy. Work matters topeople, and successful organisations are those which manage to convince theirworkers that because their organisation stands for something, they too standfor something. Once established, the benefits are profound. Everybody has an idea of whatthe organisation should be doing. Power can be delegated to individualmanagers, administrators and team leaders, because they know the broadparameters that inform their decisions. The organisation can concentrate itsefforts in areas that are in line with its long-term aims, from research anddevelopment to marketing. There is a shared culture that permits everybody toparticipate in company-wide conversation – the origin of shared values, aimsand effort. This is how trust, commitment and creativity are developed. A unique organisation Every organisation seeks this alchemy, but few achieve it. Which is why mychoice for the Greatest Briton in Management and Leadership is Lord Reith, thefirst director-general of the BBC (1927-1938). Britain does not have many great organisations in either the public orprivate sector – indeed, they can be counted on one hand. One reason that somany services are poor and goods second rate in the private and public sectoralike, is that we do not organise ourselves well. Our organisations are secondrate because nobody has taken the care to think through their purpose andconstitution. But the BBC is an organisation that works. It has an internationalreputation for integrity that most employers would die for, and is renowned forconsistent creativity, which generates extraordinary loyalty – and we have LordJohn Reith to thank for that. In many respects, this Scotsman was a thoroughly inadequate human being:vain, self-centred, prudish and, by the end of his life, self-pitying. But he did something unique. He did not just assemble the first engineers,producers and presenters in the mid-1920s who were to be the core of thefledgling BBC. He gave the infant organisation a sense of purpose which hasguided it to this very day, which new entrants – whatever their politics,values or previous career – cannot escape from, be they a sound engineer, ayoung producer or the new director general. The BBC’s job is to inform, educate and entertain at the highest quality aspart of its duty to the public who watch and listen to its output. As a publicservice broadcaster, it is obliged to earn its licence fee by appealing to thepublic and acknowledging all their disparate interests. Just look at thecontrasts between Songs of Praise and The League of Gentlemen, or Radio One andRadio Four. It was Reith who unwaveringly insisted on this ethic and the BBC’s purpose.Any manager could have started a national broadcasting organisation, but ittook a genius to build an organisation around a public service broadcastingethic – and one that continues to defy efforts to privatise it to this day. Nobody has come up with a substitute for the licence fee, and nobody – noteven Lady Thatcher in her heyday – has ever dared to privatise it. It beats its rivals in the private sector because of its dedication toexcellence, creativity and impartiality. Of course, it does occasionally fallfrom grace, but in the round Britain would not be without the BBC. Reith was its director general for little more than the first decade of itslife, and he left it more than 50 years ago. Yet, it still bears his imprintand continues to prosper. Some leader; some legacy. Reith’s CV1889 John Charles Walsham Reith bornin Stonehaven, Scotland1922 After fighting in the First World War, he was appointed asthe first general manager of the BBC1927 Knighted. Became director general for next 11 years1940 MP for Southampton1942 Minister of works and buildings1948 Annual Reith Lectures established in his honour1971 Died Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. 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