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Sunday, September 22, 2002

'Caring leadership' lives, author contends
'Not everybody's been a jerk,' Kentuckian says
By Bill Wolfe
The Courier-Journal

In a time when some greedy executives lie to employees and stockholders while leading their companies into scandal and bankruptcy, is there really such a thing as ''caring leadership?''

George Manning, professor of psychology and business at Northern Kentucky University, thinks so.

''There is a critical mass of truly great organizations being led by truly great individuals,'' Manning said. ''Not everybody's been a jerk, you know.''

Successful bosses care about their work and people, not just stock options, said Manning, who just finished writing ''The Art of Leadership.''

When supervisors forget that, things start to go wrong, said Manning, who was in Louisville on Thursday conducting a leadership workshop at LG Energy Corp.


Managers who lie betray the trust and respect of their staff, he said. ''Without trust and respect, an institution will fail. It's the glue that binds people together.''

Manning, with colleague Kent Curtis, has written 10 other books, including ''Ethics: Fire in a Dark World,'' ''Leadership: Nine Keys to Success'' and ''Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World.'' His new book, due out in mid-October from McGraw-Hill, targets current and emerging leaders.

The publication deals with issues such as leadership ethics and employee development. It also ''deals with the whole issue of employee morale and performance,'' Manning said. ''They go hand in hand.''

Manning's approach was well received at the Cinergy gas and electric company in Cincinnati, where he recently conducted a workshop.

''I think what it boils down to is how managers treat employees,'' said Wendy Nepute, Cinergy's manager of organization development, who invited Manning to the session. ''It's really good business sense.''

Manning's approach contrasts with the ''old formal-style management where the focus was on the results at whatever cost,'' she said.

Cinergy wants to attract the best workers available. ''Those managers that develop their people are a magnet for talent,'' she said.

Dan Gregory, a consultant for physician groups in Maine, has known Manning for several years and commended his ''pragmatic and comprehensive approach to leadership and management,'' he said. ''I've used segments of it in a lot of work that I do.''

''The neat thing about George is, in his presentations, he always lets you learn something about yourself first,'' said Dave Vogel, vice president of retail service for LG&E Energy, who brought in Manning on Thursday. After a Manning workshop, ''you understand a little bit about those who work around you.''

''The No. 1 thing that people want from a leader is integrity,'' Manning said. ''The No.1 definition (of integrity) in America is honesty -- the boss always tells the truth, as he or she believes it to be.''

A boss should also show ''decisiveness and courage and strength. You've got to be good and strong.''

For years, some business leadership has seemed to drift from the values that once exemplified success, Manning said. ''There was a time in American literature when people would read about success. It was always about character. Honesty. Hard work. The winners were that way.''

After World War II, leadership focused more on technique, he said.

The stories about CEOs cashing out of failing companies with big bonuses and stock options demonstrate a failure in business philosophy, he said.

''Sick societies can make sick behavior. Toxic institutions can make people sick. If you reward short-term selfishness as opposed to long-term service, what's going to be done is short-term selfishness.''

Despite the pain and problems that lapses in management ethics have caused, they might also have created a ''really big opportunity for change,'' he said.

''It's got everybody's attention.''

Manning said he doesn't advocate an excessively softhearted management. ''It's very important for a leader to keep the bar high and not tolerate shoddy performance,'' he said.

''You do have to care about the task, and you do have to care about people. Call it humanistic, call it caring leadership, call it what you want.''

Manning, who has conducted leadership workshops for such companies as AT&T, IBM, GE and Marriott, also stresses the need for managers to maximize employees' potential, without being taskmasters. ''How you do this is to get the right person in the right job in the first place.''

Under challenged employees will be bored; overmatched employees will be anxious. Workers whose jobs match their skills ''will be in a state of psychological flow,'' Manning said. ''When they are there, they are going to have maximum enjoyment, minimum pain and torture.''

Another tip, Manning said, is ''to pay attention to the middle stars'' -- the average workers. ''A lot of leaders get into the habit of paying attention to the superstars and the fallen stars,'' he said. ''You need to pay attention to everyone on your team.''

''Know this: What gets celebrated gets repeated. What gets reinforced gets done,'' he said. ''If you've got people who are enthusiastic, appreciate them. Emotions rub off.''