HR leaders are relied upon to provide solutions to their organisation’s people problems. Their influence is most critical in the boardroom, where they have the responsibility for the development and engagement of the senior management team.
What does good leadership look like today and how can leadership development programmes address any gaps? These were some of the questions that we posed to a round table of experts at our latest HR leaders forum in London.
You might promote a seasoned finance professional with years of solid performance within your organisation and sector. But if this newly appointed finance director doesn’t display the same flexibility of behaviour as your other board members or lacks the empathy to deal with the concerns of his or her department, then they won't be an effective leader. We call this emotional intelligence and in 2018 its this form of intelligence that is valued more in leadership than the traditional technical knowledge and skills of the past.
Examples of constructive behaviours were discussed by our forum members. One HR director from the online trading sector talked about a leader's ability to show their vulnerability, which comes from having trust with others. Another HR director from an FMCG background concurred as she added: "Individuality is important. Good leaders are honest about who they are and what they are good and not so good at."
Another positive leadership behaviour that got heads nodding around the table was an ability to cope with and foster disruptive innovation. A willingness to look at and change the organisation or department plan on a regular basis is vital.
A message that we heard loud and clear from our forum was that a 'one size fits all' approach to leadership just doesn't work. One head of talent & organisation development working in the food and drink sector shared the thinking behind their recent leadership development programme: "We thought: 'what does our board need in a volatile, uncertain environment?' We concluded that they didn't need different behaviours or skills but they did need flexibility – they need more than one approach.
Accordingly, our leadership development programme gave our leaders three approaches to strategy development. We ask our leaders to think hard about the context in which they apply these and to decide which strategy is right for each challenge."
On top of flexing their style, leaders need an agile approach to their communication and influencing style, brought about by leading a multi-generational workforce.
One learning and development director for a pharmaceuticals company revealed how this plays out in her organisation: "As workforce demographics change, leaders must adapt their approach and consider whether the way they do things today will continue to work in the future. Millennials expect more transparency and communication and leaders need to address that. Not everything can happen behind closed doors and organisations are going to need to shift in their leadership style to keep people engaged."
Models like the seven universal triggers of emotion are useful to refer to when checking how well your leaders are communicating and influencing others. Fear is triggered by a loss of something of value. Anger is caused by having a goal blocked. If you see fear and anger in your organisation it might be time to address the underlying causes of these emotions with your leadership team. Once you deal with those you can lead effectively through most circumstances.
One head of talent development in the automotive sector led the conversation in this area: "Listening is incredibly important. Good leaders will have the ability to know the impact they have on others. The higher you get the less feedback you get so leaders need to seek out others and ask how am I doing?' on a regular basis."
Strong leaders will also know when to follow. Board members will need to follow the direction of their CEO or managing director and at other times, will need to buy into agendas driven by their peers and team members. Senior people require the emotional intelligence to deal with this while achieving corporate objectives.
Leaders who will succeed are the ones asking themselves: 'How do I show up and impact others? When do I mentor? When do I coach? When do I direct?' Leaders shouldn’t drown people, they should empower and support people to come up with a course of action and have the resilience to achieve this in a complex environment.
We run a series of HR leaders forums and our next one is in Covent Garden on Wednesday 18 April. Forums are free to attend but spaces are limited so get in touch to find out more and book your place.
Connor was recognised as one of six finalists in the best L&D/HR consultancy category at the CIPD People Management Awards 2017. Our leadership development work for the senior leadership team at Flogas was selected by a panel of judges as one of the six best entries for the award.