Liz Kershaw: Four million bosses can't be wrong

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The Independent Online

"Have you ever noticed how your boss is always a complete wan-ker?" Alexei Sayle used to ask in his stand-up show. "World War Three's just broken out. The factory's on fire and he's poncing up and down waving his arms around chanting 'Three cups of coffee, Sandra!'"

As we learnt in this Tuesday's Nice Work (4 pm. Radio 4) there are now four million such people in the UK (managers that is). Yes four million. And every year another four hundred thousand put a first foot on the management ladder. Never before have there been so many chiefs and so few Indians. But while quantity is not perceived to be a problem, quality is. And apparently this is preoccupying both business and government at the moment. So the presenter Philippa Lamb set out to find out what it takes to be a good boss.

Is there a textbook answer? Well there are plenty of textbooks on the subject as we heard Lamb discover on a visit to one London shop. Our knack of making steel or cars may be shot at but production of self-help manuals is evidently going great guns. "There must be 30 or 40 feet of business books here," she reported, "and three or four hundred of them are on management or leadership." Is there a difference? Oh yes, as we were about to hear. But first, are any of these tomes worth the paper they're written on?

Very few, according to Mathew Gwiver, the editor of (yes, there's a magazine about it too) Management Today. "Most of them are just Temazepam between hard covers. Simply dreadful and badly written," he confirmed. Healthy sales would therefore suggest that, in these tough times, at least the publishing industry can still compete worldwide by managing to identify a market and peddle just the kind of second-rate products we don't really need.

For instance, according to Gwiver, currently much in vogue are those manuals featuring historical figures and there are several such titles which make good boardroom reading. Elizabeth I CEO (As in weak and feeble woman but the heart and mind of a king etc presumably?) Patton on Leadership (that'll be General, not Chris, of course), and Inspirational Leadership, Henry V and the Muse of Fire. Yes if only he'd been around at Rover or Vauxhall recently: "Hey you guys! Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry, 'God for Harry! England and Saint George! But failing that lads, there's a new Starbucks down the road looking for some staff."

Tomorrow, on Radio 4, Changing Places visits Barrow-in-Furness. Listeners of leisure, that is, those of us not actually working at 3pm, will hear the show (which makes Martin Lewis's proposed Good News on telly sound depressing) cheerfully tell us that the town's biggest employer was once a firm called Vickers, who made ships. Remember them? Did you know that on a launch day, such was community pride in local achievement that the whole town would turn out. Then, in the early 1990s, (and, incidently, with little coverage from the national media who had by then tired of whingeing miners and their like) 10,000 workers lost their jobs in 18 months. The apprenticeship schools were demolished and a buzzing industrial area was decimated.

But hey ho! As Sandra Sykes chirpily reports, due to new "projects" and "partnerships with local stakeholders," which have brought about "models for diversity," we now find skilled craftsmen, trained to construct huge ocean liners and submarines, have not left town to seek work. For the sake of a few bob, some hope and a bit of dignity, they've learnt new "lifeskills" and diversified and are now fixing and hiring out old bikes donated by well- wishers. How proud Norman Tebbit must be.

"That's such a brave thing to do" says Sykes to one such chap. Brave? Oh sure, when the other "life choices" are the dole, debt and grinding terminal poverty. Elsewhere in this once heartland of heavy manufacturing we heard how the locals are learning to do up the two-up and two -down houses. "Where DO you get these properties?" asked an incredulous Sykes. Well, they do tend to go rather cheap where no one can actually pay their mortgage. "And the best thing is you've now got a job!" she enthused to John whose apprenticeship and NVQ had previously led only to a life of leisure.

Across town at the medieval Abbey, Sykes is delighted to find that things are looking "very buoyant" as "touist attracters" [sic] are developed and locals learn to cater and "look for gaps in that market"

Yes, all across the land those all important new service industries are springing up phoenix-like from manufacturing's ashes. Everywhere, shining examples of regeneration. A real Jerusalem where those dark satanic mills, once the workshops of the world, are now "heritage" or "craft" centres churning out balsa wood parrots from the Philippines, wind chimes or four-foot-high mice for covering Hoovers. A post-industrial plethora of potpourri and cafés selling criminally priced coffee.

Not much broth but four million cooks (Sorry, leaders – they, we were told, set the tone of any set-up) chanting, "Three café lattes, please Sandra!"