By Alistair McIntosh, HQN CEO

“You can’t manage other people, unless you learn to manage yourself first.” That’s the big point from training sessions run by the Leadership Trust for HQN. So, who are they and why should you pay heed to what they say? Well, the trainers come from the SAS. Their main message from the heat of battle is about showing empathy. Let that sink in.

Richard Blakeway and Michael Gove want housing staff to show more empathy, too. Let’s all get behind that message. I learned it the hard way.

After I left university, I stumbled into a course on community education. There were no jobs, so it was something to fill the time. At first, I didn’t take the course seriously. That was a big mistake.

Thatcher was in her pomp, so the tutors worked out that we were going to be passing on lots of tough messages to people. We’d be running services on a shoestring and asking people in communities to do more for themselves.

The tutors gave us topics to talk about. Then the fun began. The tutors would pick apart what we said and how we said it. They were hard hitting, using their expertise on psychology, sports and education to find the flaws. If you thought they were bad, the other students who were from all over the globe would pile in, too. But it wasn’t nasty. The focus was on getting to the point where we were tough and compassionate enough to actually help people. I’m far from perfect but I know what it takes to go through proper training on empathy. And it’s not about following the herd while mouthing platitudes. That’s no use to anyone. For me, empathy is a muscle that you need to work on, or it withers.

The minister wants more housing managers to get CIH qualifications. I can see the point of that. Indeed, I’m a paid-up member of the CIH.

But letters after a name mean nothing in and of themselves. Yes, there are many fine CIH professionals. There are some lousy ones, too. Back in the day the Housing Inspectorate found that plenty of senior officers bearing CIH chains of office treated tenants badly. Recently, some landlords led by CIH members have smashed into the rocks.

Of course, you can lay these sorts of things at the door of any membership body. Ministers want housing qualifications to be on a par with those in nursing. And I get the case for that. But let’s not forget that the health service didn’t come through the coroner’s inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak with flying colours. As David Robson argues in The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes, professionals don’t always use their skills when they need to. We must watch out for complacency creeping back in.

“The here and now is the great leveller” was a mantra drummed into us on the community education course. What did the tutors mean by that? It doesn’t matter what your reputation is and what you’ve done before, you’ve got to do it on the day, every day. All of us fall short, but we’ve got to at least try and live by that mantra.

I was interviewing a union official the other day who thought consultants were part of the problem in housing. He had just read a book on this subject by Mariana Mazzucoto and Rosie Collington. Their research shows that consultants “infantilise” regulators and the public sector. Does this apply to housing? That’s for the reader to judge.

When I went to their book launch a few points hit home. Mariana was heavily critical of the poor quality of training in the public sector. And Rosie bemoaned the fact that the consultancies sucked up all the talented young graduates by paying more than anyone else. As you will know, right now we’re facing serious problems recruiting at all levels.

So, our training must get better. But we also need to be a sector in which people want to work. At the end of the day, money does play a part in recruiting and retaining people. Let’s not forget that.

Currently, some of the big failing landlords act as if they fear no foe. Maybe they think they will survive as no one else in their right mind wants to do the job. I’d suggest they think again. Mariana and Rosie find that the likes of Deloitte and McKinsey will take on any task. They might not do it very well. But if we keep going as we are, they will get a shot.