Can leaders be excused for “being authentic” when they have offended, belittled or blundered their way through something? I’m sure we have many examples of people who have spoken their minds or behaved in a way that has caused more friction, ripples and strife than it has resolved issues. And yet, the get out clause of, “at least I was true to myself”, or “if being authentic offends you, I’m sorry but that’s just the way I am”, seems to be so easily thrown out as a reason to justify a course of action or to be authentic leadership. Being an authentic leader isn’t just about being yourself, it’s about adding wisdom, insight, sensitivity and awareness to the way you behave and speak. An authentic leader is someone who is bold, candid and honest, as well as being , considerate, selfless and a stand-out role model.
When I transitioned into an HR career 25 years ago, I didn’t realize what a “compelling resource” HR professionals can be to an organization. I didn’t stop to think that as an HR professional I should be behaving in a way that provokes others to think, stimulate change, challenge the status quo and deliver results. But that is exactly what HR professionals should be doing.
In his article titled “Insight-led HR” for the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development in the UK (April 2011), Lee Sears describes the critical requirement for HR professionals to have “Organizational Insight” (business, organizational and contextual savvy). Being professionally trained to deliver first-class HR solutions is almost a given, but where value is really added, is in the role of a “provocative pioneer” as we engage with the business in which we work. Asking questions and proposing solutions that add clear value, is where HR professionals are judged as an asset and not a cost.
HR professionals should always be able to complete the sentence, “my personal value as an HR professional is …” The completion of this sentence should be quantitative and explicit – never something like, “to support managers and help people manage their careers”. Much rather something like, “to recruit key talent that builds organisational capability, directly impacting business results in a positive way and increasing shareholder value”. HR is sometimes referred to as a “support function” or a “corporate function”. That’s ok, as long as we earn a reputation for being a “critical function” through our value, professionalism and judgement.
As HR professionals, we can be a compelling resource to our colleagues as we embrace the four elements desired of leaders as described by Goffee & Jones in their book, “Why should anyone be led by you?” (2006), i.e. authenticity, significance, excitement and community. People should find us exemplars and champions of these virtues! It’s great when your team members give you feedback that they are inspired by you, challenged by you and get a real kick out of being in your team. It’s sobering to ask the question, “Why should anyone be led by me?” I once asked individual members of a Board of Directors to answer this question for themselves and I heard bland answers expressed in the third person, none personal – great for a team response, but it would have been even more powerful to have heard individual responses recognizing their own personal impact!
I recently worked with an organization whose CEO said this, “it is only by raising the bar of our personal capability as well as developing our teams to deliver stretch goals that we will be able to deliver the ambitious targets we set ourselves ….”. I used this as my banner and focus for developing leaders in that organization. The phrases / words that jumped out at me are; “raising the bar”, “deliver” and “ambitious targets” – they are compelling, active and focused. Maybe in my early HR days I would have focused my role around the words “capability”, “teams” and “ourselves”. I know these are important as well, but business priorities should drive HR behaviour, not our pet HR projects.
One could argue that “how HR is seen” is a matter of perception and that others always see HR in a certain way. Berelson and Steiner, in their book Human Behaviour (1964), define perception as, “…the complex process by which people select and organize sensory stimulation into a meaningful and rational picture of the world”. My observation of the HR community, is that perception and reputation are often created with due cause. If HR is seen as a compelling partner in day-to-day decisions as well as in strategic leadership, then we really are achieving something. It’s our job to earn a reputation and create a perception based on the quality of our contribution, the weight of our arguments and the professionalism of our delivery.
HR professionals can be, and should be a “compelling resource” for every organization. We will be just that, if we lead ourselves and our profession in the way described by Warren Bennis (1994), “The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision. The leader has a clear idea of what he/she wants to do – professionally and personally – and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.”
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Engaged as the design architect for a large professional services organization, Neil created an innovative and multi-dimensional leadership development experience to intentionally invest in the growth of future partners. This program is a 3 year journey, comprising off-site development, leadership projects, assessments and coaching. Structured around the firm’s strategic drivers and values, the program focuses on the critical dimensions of importance to the firm’s present and future leaders. Led by business leaders, with a blend of internal and external expertise, this program has been lauded as a critical element in the future success of the company. Neil designed the program elements, collaborating with a small team, and led the design execution of the program. Blending appropriate assessments to provide personal insight, challenging participants to deliver key organizational challenges, and stimulating development through subject matter experts with critical engagement, have all been key components to this program. This is a flagship program which is at the forefront of professional services development.
Designed and program managed multi-phase leadership development program for N. American energy company. Coordinated design of content with external vendors, internal leaders and SME’s. Ensured clear application of learning as well as stimulating content. Program managed multiple programs across USA and Canada. Designed executive development program in partnership with leading university business school. This program contained a balance of high academic value content as well as practical business leadership content.