‘The Apprentice is not a serious way of managing’ – Sheffield businessman lifts lid on how to be a good boss

A Sheffield businessman who was the first from his school to go to Cambridge University has written a book extolling the virtues of good managers.

By Dan Hayes
Monday, 12th August 2019, 8:47 pm
Author Chris Whitehead at home in Crookes.

Chris Whitehead grew up in Rotherham, the son of a gas fitter and a housewife, but excelled at school and won a place to study engineering at Trinity College.

His 30-odd-year-long business career included stints as some of the biggest firms in the country, working on projects like London’s Canary Wharf and Ponds Forge in Sheffield.

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Now in his 60s, he has recently set himself up as a management coach, written a book – Compassionate Management – and also runs a blog and podcast on the subject.

He got into coaching after studying it at Sheffield Hallam University, and was happy to discover many of the techniques taught validated the way he had been managing throughout his career.

His book discusses the psychology of management, how to be a good boss and techniques on how to get the best out of your staff.

“What I always did in management was to try to help people develop into the best version of themselves,” he says.

“Putting people first and creating a place where people can belong as opposed to having to fit in. To understand what their passions are and help them along the way.

“I was also inspired by The Apprentice in a strange way because I thought they can’t be serious with this as a way or managing.

“People are promoted without regard to their ability to manage people and as a result they wonder why people leave or morale is low.”

The father of three grown-up daughters, he says his beliefs on management also proved successful in parenting, with each of his girls pursuing very different no less successful careers.

“People don’t need to be a psychologist to be a good manager, they just need to try to understand people more and be a bit more tolerant,” he says.

“Everyone is trying to do the best they can. Very few people turn up to work and think I am just going to have a doss today.

“You need to equip people to succeed rather than setting them up to fail.”

As well as his book, Chris also published a blog where he discusses management and coaching but also occasionally strays into politics and recently posted on Brexit.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ praises those managers - and people - who are able to engage with differing points of view without becoming defensive or entrenched, with the parallels with our current political problems all too obvious.

An undoubted success story, Chris is refreshingly honest about the healthy dose of luck he has had along the way, in growing up in a family with a strong work ethic and being exposed to teachers who pushed him to develop his talents.

He reserves special praise for his old music teacher, Reg Davey, whose funeral he attended 20 years after he was first taught him the Euphonium as a nine-year-old - along with hundreds of others whose lives he had touched.

He said: “He was someone who had an unshakeable belief in his pupils and was almost irrationally supportive. One of those people who quietly make the world a better place.

“I really rail against those people who think they have got where they are simply through their own hard work and it is nothing to do with their upbringing. It is amazing what people are capable of if they are put in the right environment.”

Chris’ book, Compassionate Leadership: Creating Place of Belonging, his blog and a podcast, Compassionate Leadership: The Interviews, can all be accessed via his website at www.compassionate-leadership.co.uk.