The HR Juggler

Posts Tagged ‘Leadership

Brain

The CIPD’s HRD conference seems a long time ago already. However, there is much on the session I attended on Senior Female Leadership Talent that I have not yet written about and much of the content has continued to percolate around my brain long after the conference finished and initial blogs were shared. The topic matter isn’t easy, but that’s never a good reason in itself not to share the content and reflect further on it…far from it!

Catherine Sandler of Sandler Consulting was the second speaker of this session and she shared her research, experience and insight on the topic of senior female executives, which was fascinating and could easily have filled a session in its own right…if not several. I hope to do it…and her…justice, in the overview I have pulled together below.

Catherine posed the question of what motivates women and asserted that any discussion around enabling more women to perform at senior executive levels has to delve into this. Whilst motivation is of course individual, the most common themes for women are working on something that they care about, feeling valued and feeling that they can make a difference.  This is markedly different from the answers that men typically give to the same question.

Catherine described a flip-side to what women at their best can deliver, which is that relatively few women are comfortable with leadership and the concept of power. Women often want to be liked and therefore may feel that there is a trade-off that they have to make to become successful, which can set up an inner conflict and potential for guilt or insecurity.  Harmony tends to be important to women and there can be a real fear of how they are perceived by others, particularly if they believe they are seen as arrogant, bossy or selfish.

As a consequence to this, women can have a tendency to avoid conflict, which at a senior level manifests itself with how they interact with their peers, their ability to hold team members to account, and the way in which they interface with their boss. Catherine’s findings indicated that women find it hard to be assertive in these situations, which is reflected in the use of language.  Women are apparently four times more likely than men to start a boardroom contribution with an apology (e.g. “I’m sorry if this has already been covered”) or a modifier (e.g. “it may be that I have misunderstood what you are saying, but…”). I found the issue of language as it relates to women in the workplace a fascinating one and I have already found myself paying greater attention to it, both for myself and those around me.

From language, we moved onto the issue of delegation, why it is often so difficult to do effectively, yet is crucial for career progression and can be seen as real limitation if an individual is not perceived to be good at it. Men and women both expressed a fear failure in their reluctance to delegate; however after this, the reasons for not delegating became markedly different by gender. For women, the other reasons they resisted delegating tended to be a sense of perfectionism, an excessive sense of high personal standards and a wish to protect their team. For men, it was typically because they felt they could do the task much better and faster than anyone in their team below them and often also a wish to retain control.

Linked to this issue of delegation, Catherine also asserted that in her experience, women tend not to be as good at managing their own careers and that one of the key elements of doing this is for the female leader to hold their existing team to account, which in turn creates more time for an individual to focus on their own self and aspirations and how to fulfil them. Apparently this applies to surprisingly senior women and she painted a powerful picture of some of the limitations that women can inadvertently place on themselves and their progression.

Catherine shared some interesting insights in terms of work that she had done with women through coaching and impact programmes to provide support and help them to overcome some of their inherent disadvantages in the senior management teams they work in. As an exercise around leadership brand, she asked each woman to identify three qualities that set them apart as a leader. What was interesting was that words such as supportive, compassionate and kind are frequently used in the early stages of this exercise: all of which are undoubtedly true for the individuals as personality traits and personal values, but as leaders the individuals are much more than this.  Catherine described her role as help each woman to turn their leadership brand into something that inspires both them and others around them and remarked that almost always the senior women she works with are far better than they think they are.  In many ways it is a mental and psychological journey for each woman, to own a description that does them justice. This has a huge confidence building impact and Catherine was passionate about the fact that this should be done at the most junior levels of any organisation.

Another exercise that Catherine described was asking the women to bring along a situation that they find difficult and provide an opportunity to role play and practice in a safe environment. The issue of language is key and she helps women to develop assertive techniques in the words and phrases that they use and to ensure that their own objectives and the core message are well prepared and clearly defined. Follow-up sessions after a three-month period and support from peers are helpful in identifying, using and developing their assertive voice. Self-insight is very important in order to shift some of the inherent gender disadvantages to a more positive stance.

This brought Catherine’s part of the session to an end and there followed a lot of interesting questions and engaged debate. I think it’s important to note that there was no suggestion that the above applies to all women and clearly generalisations have to be treated with caution. What was fascinating to me though, was that the content of the session was not merely about flexible working, equal pay and childcare, but that it moved beyond into some really thought-provoking ideas about how talent and diversity can be nurtured within organisations paying attention to some of the less obvious issues around language, motivation, delegation and core values. That can only be a good thing.

Before I attended this session, I was definitely not in favour of women only groups and leadership and impact training targeted specifically to certain genders. I’m not sure I have been completely won over, but I am certainly more open-minded now that there can be some benefits. I do have a remaining niggle though that we shouldn’t get too caught up with gender per se, but that we should ensure that the relevant development is available to all who need it, and that the prevailing culture of an organisation will make a huge difference to the ability of women to progress within it.

I’d love to know what you think!

Potential really is everywhere and in everyone. We sometimes have such a narrow perception of what constitutes potential in a work environment and assign individuals to categories or labels such as high potential, leadership potential, management potential…the list can go on and on. Inevitably, the names within these categories can change, and the quality of conversation that accompanies this perceived change of status varies enormously, if indeed the subject is raised at all. It is not always the empowering, motivating experience that it could be.

As an experiment, I asked my six year old daughters what they understood by potential. Thinking about it carefully for a few moments, one of them tentatively replied, “having imagination…?” She then went on to explain that her teacher at school had asked the class what they would like to be famous for, and that she had responded by saying that she’d like to be known for playing badminton really well. My other daughter then chimed in to say that she’d like to be famous for being an author and writing books that other people loved to read. At their age, they see no limits to their possible achievements, only potential for making things happen, which is just as it should be. And perhaps there is a real link between imagination and potential, the ability to see beyond where we are now to where we want to be, the courage to try new things and learn new skills, to follow our hearts and always believe we have more to give and to grow.

Enabling people to explore their potential and bring their whole selves to work, including their aspirations and imaginations, can be truly transformational and create huge loyalty, as demonstrated in this recent article about why employees’ big dreams should be every company’s top priority. We sometimes need to be reminded to have the imagination to see not only our own potential, but most certainly to take the time to listen to how other people perceive theirs. Really listen, without assigning labels or categories.

Potential is everywhere, and in everyone…we just need some imagination to see it. What are your perceptions preventing you from seeing or asking today? I’d love to know.

How much do you invest in the leadership capability of the younger employees in your company? Those individuals who are at the very start of their careers and who will undoubtedly be the senior managers of the future?

Today was hugely special, as we held the first Young Leaders Conference for our division, attended by 50 staff under the age of 30, as well as some of the current (invariably older!) senior managers and directors. Inspired by our employees who attended One Young World, the intention for our internal event was to enable people to network, to learn about leadership, to share experiences and to enthuse and engage individuals who have huge amounts to offer, if we take the time to listen. It is a two-day event held at the conference facility of London Zoo with a dinner this evening, attended by Informa‘s CEO and Group HR Director, as well as our divisional directors. It’s worth noting that we ran an application process open to everyone under the ago of 30, rather than doing any form of preselection.

And honestly, today was brilliant. The energy in the room was fantastic, there was a real freshness of perspective and thirst for learning demonstrated in all the delegates, and best of all there was an ongoing buzz of conversation: people getting to know each other, forging connections and making friends. Some inspirational speakers, practical tools, open dialogue about how senior managers had built their careers and made the most of internal and external opportunities, collaboration and interactive and engaging exercises, culminating in a memorable whole team exercise involving a drumming and percussion workshop at the end of the day.

It was a great day and I’m sure tomorrow will be too. Time will tell of course, what the long-term impact of this type of event will be…but I definitely have high hopes of a very bright future indeed 🙂

 

It’s funny, isn’t it, how some of the most important and powerful lessons we have to learn, or be reminded of, more than once.

Early in my career, less than a year after I had started my first HR job, I was lucky enough to take part in a leadership ‘outward bounds’ course which took place in the far north of Scotland. It was a memorable experience for a number of reasons and at times quite extreme…from arriving at the remote location by canoe and each member of the team performing an eskimo roll in the freezing loch before entering our accommodation; to abseiling, orienteering, hiking and attempting to climb the 100 foot mast of a boat whilst sailing in less than calm waters. Whether these types of courses are the most effective way of developing leadership skills is a separate question – I shudder slightly to remember parts of it – but overall I enjoyed the experience immensely and certainly learned a lot.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was through my first (and last!) experience of rock-climbing. The learning was two-fold: firstly as an observer on the ground below, my role was to encourage and guide my colleague as she climbed the seemingly sheer rock-face, describing where she could place her hands and feet to progress to the top. Here, I tried my best, but I underestimated the level of help that my colleague (also a first-time climber) needed and the powerful impact that a knowledgeable and confident coach can have on performance. I didn’t communicate to her as frequently, succintly and clearly as required; I dithered and so did she…I lost confidence and so did she…and she didn’t make it to the top.  She held only herself responsible, but I knew that I could have made more of a difference to her performance; particularly when it came to be my turn to climb and I scaled the rock face successfully, thanks almost entirely to the expert, confident, encouraging guidance I was given from another colleague below.

I can’t describe the elation, disbelief and sheer joy I felt when I reached the top…I vividly remember hugging the HR Director and exclaiming that I had done it and him remarking with conviction that I could do anything I wanted, if I set my mind to it, believed in it and worked to make it happen. A powerful lesson learned…and one that I fully embraced and was embedded into my consciousness.

And yet, if I’m honest, I have had to learn that lesson, that I can do anything I want to, many times, not least because the inner monologue that plays in my mind often begs to differ and advances a different view, one of potential issues, of limitations, of uncertainty. One that forgets that with discipline, commitment and preparation, plus a little self-belief and imagination, pretty much anything is possible. I doubt I’m alone in that regard. Understanding when to ignore and override one’s own inner monologue is perhaps the most powerful lesson of all.

I was reminded of all of this whilst walking on Friday, training for the Moonwalk, which is now only 6 weeks away.* I have been following the training plan, feel quietly confident and am enjoying becoming fitter and healthier. And for some time now, I have been questioning not whether I can do it, but thinking and planning what my next challenge might be, once I have undertaken and completed it. That’s a good feeling and an exciting one, as I have again been reminded that I can achieve so much more than I sometimes believe. Not only that, but I have far more impact on the success of others than I often realise…and that is certainly something that I want to remember and act on, not only during the moonwalk, but also at work and at home. I want to be the person who successfully encourages the other individual to the top of the rock-face, not just be the person who manages to achieve it myself.

What about you? What leadership lessons have you learned, either once or many times?  Any rock-climbing stories?! I’d love to know :).

* If you would like to sponsor me for the Moonwalk, you can do so by clicking on this link – thank you!

 

 

Communication…however much we think we are doing of it, we almost always need to do more. I had a powerful reminder this week that its very easy for leaders to become out of touch with what their teams are thinking and feeling. And that if left unaddressed, some of the small issues can quickly become magnified.

Talking about the issues doesn’t always solve them..but it’s often the first step for jointly agreeing how to make things better. Building trust takes time and communication takes perseverance, to get past the point where people are able to be open and honest with you, rather than telling you what they believe that you want to hear.

So let’s remember not to stop talking, even when it feels difficult. And even more importantly to carry on listening, even and especially when we are only hearing part of the story.

What have you been reminded to do more (or less!) of this week?

 

 
Are  you a leader? Do you feel like one? Do you always feel like being one? Does anyone?
 
It’s my suspicion that many of the people that we consider to be leaders don’t necessarily perceive themselves the same way. Seeing ourselves as others see us is perhaps the biggest challenge of all, whether at work, at home or amongst friends…we all have the power to influence, to inspire and to initiate action. We are all leaders in some capacity or context.
 
In the workplace, I see many reluctant leaders…people who have been promoted on the strength of their technical and operational abilities, who at times struggle to be the leader that they believe their team or colleagues expect…to be the expert communicator, the approachable manager with the open door who can coach, motivate and guide individuals to where they need to be. Perhaps in truth, there is a little of the reluctant leader in all of us.
 
Being a reluctant leader is fine…chances are you are just as good a leader (if not a better one!) as the individual next to you who exalts in their authority and status. Having the self-awareness to understand the shadows we cast as leaders is vital to become the best that we can be.
 
What do you think?

I have recently had the pleasure of reading my children almost all of the Roald Dahl stories, the only exceptions being The Witches (we did try but far too scary as they are only 5!) and the more autobiograpical books such as Boy and Going Solo.  I loved reading them, the children loved listening to them and we have been jointly enthralled by the wonderful and brilliant story telling of an exceptionally gifted man.
 
Some of the books such as Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach I remember reading and devouring as a child; others such as Matilda, the BFG and Danny, Champion of the World I have discovered for the first time as an adult.  I have no doubt I will read all of them to my children many more times and that when they are old enough they will continue to read and enjoy them on their own.
 
Much of the charm and brilliance of Roald Dahl’s writing is in his vivid portrayal of characters, their actions and values. More than anything else, his characters are defined by whether or not they are kind. The author explains –
I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else. If you’re kind, that’s it.
We don’t talk about kindness in leadership much. We certainly don’t talk about it in a business context. And yet, it is one of the most powerful and deep-rooted human values that there is, a true differentiator of people and a mark of authenticity. I wrote in a previous blog post about bringing your values to work and treating others as you would wish to be treated.
 
Of course we often need to make commercial decisions and the role of HR is not, nor should it be, to be everyone’s friend. But that doesn’t mean we should forget or be afraid to talk about some of our core personal values either.
 
I’d love to hear your views.

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