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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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HRD Summit: The art of becoming a ‘leader’ rather than a ‘manager’


To become effective leaders, HR directors must look at how they think as well as understand both the nature of responsibility and the impact of their communications.

But, according to Penny Ferguson, managing partner at The Living Leader, during her keynote speech at the HR Directors’ Summit in Birmingham today, the majority of HR bosses generally tend to take a management approach rather than a leadership one.
But the two ways of behaving are quite different in her opinion. “Outstanding managers drive people to perform at the highest level that they are capable of, which is very much about control,” she explained. “But with leaders, it’s more about freedom and inspiring people to do it themselves.”
Because HR professionals care about people, however, between 85% and 100%, in her experience, indulge in ‘I’ communications, which is the product of a managerial mind set. As a result, they tend to say things like ‘let me tell you what I think would improve performance’ rather than asking ‘what do you think we should do?’
The problem is that, in the former instance, it is the HR director who assumes responsibility for the situation rather than empowering people to think for themselves and become accountable for their own actions.
Ferguson cited the example of a retailer that sold fresh food. Its directors were tasked with visiting each of the firm’s stores on a regular basis in order to ‘support and help’ as they saw it – or from a store manager’s perspective to check up on them and find out where things weren’t up to scratch.
Tiny behaviour changes
For a few days before the director would arrive, managers diverted staff efforts away from the customer in order to focus on what directors had said in the past that they wanted to see such as clean and tidy displays. The directors’ stance was typically to assume an ‘I’ position and focus on what was wrong with the shop rather than empowering managers to take responsibility for their own situation.
But by directors introducing “tiny behaviour changes” such as asking managers what they thought, focusing on the positives and commenting on the good things witnessed in the stores, the “change in behaviour was amazing”, said Ferguson.
For example, when a staff member was praised in front of their colleagues for creating an exciting product display, not only did that individual feel appreciated but others were also encouraged to follow suit in order to gain similar recognition.
“You can’t look at leadership without looking at the impact of communications because belief drives behaviour, that is to say, thought becomes reality,” Ferguson said.
The danger is, however, that when people come to HR directors for advice and help, they give them a solution to their problem. And “the more successful you are, the more you’ll want to do it,” Ferguson warned, even though the implication to the person on the receiving end is that ‘you can’t do this without me’.
The most empowering thing, on the other hand, was to throw the situation back at them and ask something like ‘if I wasn’t here and you had to make a decision within 24 hours, what would you do?’
“It’s a bigger gift as you’re enabling them more and more to step into their potential. In the past, I believed that leadership was about changing others, but I realised that it’s not – that’s about management,” Ferguson said. “What leadership is about is changing me so that I can truly step into my own potential and help others do the same.”
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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