Who is your compass?

The UK news was awash last week with contestants for media villain of the week – almost as if there was a competition to outdo one another. And without commenting on any of the specific stories or individuals, the question that came to mind when reading each of the stories was, “who let you get there?”

My genuine belief is that most people aren’t inherently bad, whether in the world of work, politics or sport. In the same way that I believe that most people come to work to do a good job, I don’t think that is any different for those in leadership positions in their respective fields. It is convenient for the media to portray it differently and it often suits the public zeitgeist to have someone to blame. But it strikes me that often the issue is more that people have lost their way, rather than intentionally set out on a particular course.

So why does this happen? Well it might not be the only factor, but there is no doubt that the failure to surround ourselves with people who are willing to speak up when they think we are heading off course and our willingness to listen to them plays a significant contribution. There is a weird dynamic that arises as a result of organisational power, where those around think that their success and progress is based on their ability to tell those in power what they think they want to hear. We all remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes from our childhood and probably laughed at the vanity, the pride and the ultimate stupidity. In our adult lives, do we consider which character we best represent?

Everybody needs at least one compass, the person that holds them true to who they are and what they are trying to achieve. We need someone who has little to lose, or is not afraid of losing what they have and is willing to hold up the mirror, to speak the unspoken truth and to bring us gently back onto course. Not in order to point out our failures, but to make us more successful. And we need to open our arms and our minds to those voices and trust that they want the best for us, no matter how hard the truth.

So my question is, who is your compass?

HR needs the workplace more than most

Over the last few weeks I’ve written about the need to bring people back into the workplace and to find a new balance of flexibility. There are countless reasons why this makes sense, which I won’t repeat again, but you can read some of them here and here. Last week the same calls were made first by the CBI and then by the UK Government. Cue outrage from the normal quarters within the people profession, busy munching on their homemade granola.

Whilst the arguments for a gradual return to the workplace span all job types, for those in the HR profession there are particular concerns, which makes it doubly ironic that many in the ranks are championing their own demise. Once again, we have drunk the proverbial Kool Aid and not stopped to think through the implications of the arguments that we make.

Lets start with the administration that forms part of every HR function, no matter how we try to streamline it or remove it altogether. People need to get paid have changes made, get issued contracts, have records kept and a whole host of other activities. The arguments for systematization will only become stronger with teams absent from sight and if people are really necessary, why pay the higher wages of the UK when the work can be outsourced to other parts of the world? What difference does it make if the process is standardised and the only connection is digital?

Then we have the other aspects of the work that we do. If we are learning remotely, then why not buy the content in, we can digitalise the whole process allowing subject matter expects to buy directly in from providers, no need for costly intermediaries who only interact with the business online. Delivery can be recorded by and consumed at the time and need of the individual regardless of the business that they’re in. What value does the internal recruiter have, when interviews are scheduled by Zoom, following an advert automatically placed on a job board and they’ve never met the hiring manager?

The argument around widespread homeworking assumes that the value that we perceive we can add in this way is matched by the value of those that employ us. That’s a dangerous assumption to make and one that has, over the years, consistently shown to be mismatched. Our job now is to build on the fantastic work that HR professionals have delivered over the last six months, to demonstrate our knowledge of the broader societal and economic impact of organisations and work and to articulate the importance of culture and shared values. The overwhelming evidence is that this prospers better in person than online, we can choose to champion that agenda or to slip backwards at our peril.

When the going gets tough

Sometimes life as a leader just gets tough. You reach a point where you feel like you’re putting in more energy than the reward you’re getting out. It is hard to see the future, to plot a course, to be able to understand where you’re leading to. The whole thing feels tricky, challenging and relentless.

It is at these moments that we get an opportunity to better understand our character, to test ourselves, to learn who we really are.

Do we face into the challenges? Do we ride the wave? Or do we walk away, either physically or metaphorically, and leave the responsibility to someone else?

Give me ten successful leaders and I’ll guarantee all of them will be able to recount a moment where they’ve faced into a situation like the one I’ve described. Where they haven’t known the answers, felt alone, worried, lost. And I can guarantee that they’ll describe how they stuck it out, overcame and eventually found the clarity they needed.

They won’t talk about how they hid, disappeared, abdicated or absolved themselves of the responsibility for their team and themselves. They’ll talk about how they overcame.

Whatever challenge you’re facing into, there are people around that can support, people who’ve been through the same or something similar. People who are there to help. It doesn’t matter how senior or junior you are, we all sometimes need help to figure things out. There is always someone to ask.

But what others can’t do for you is bring the resolve, the grit, the resilience and the strength to see things through. That’s something only you can bring to the party and that is the part that determines the kind of leader you are.

So what’s it going to be?

 

Hold your nerve

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve arrived at an event, a dinner or a networking session and walking into the room it appears that everyone knows everyone else. And of course, I know no-one. My mind searches to try and understand which magic black book I don’t have access to, which club I’m not part of. And how on earth I’m going to cope with the next period of time amongst strangers.

A similar experience struck me recently when I joined a new fitness class. Everybody looked so adept, so well drilled and rehearsed and there was me flailing around like Bambi on ice. The dread of attending staying for the first four or five sessions, feeling that I would be the incompetent in the room compared to the others who clearly must practice every waking hour to be able to do so well.

And of course, joining a new organisation. The way in which people speak, the knowledge they have about how things are, how they were and how they need to be. Their confidence and understanding, the well rehearsed patterns and protocols and their seemingly effortless delivery. As a new starter, you just bounce around the edges feeling incompetent and out of your depth.

With the passing of time we realise that people are just making small talk at the event, there are others stood on their own, those that know one another are welcoming and inclusive, you can interact as much as you like. ¬†At the gym, the routines are known, but the execution is patchy, the guy catching his breath, or missing out a couple of reps because of fatigue. The new colleagues at work have a pattern, but they still have problems they can’t solve, they have a shared history which includes their collective mistakes.

As our brains seek to make sense of situations, they draw patterns, make assumptions and are drawn initially to simplicity. Our fears and concerns express themselves in worries of inadequacy that we need to control and contain. Time gives us data and data provides contradictions. There is no perfect system, or perfect individual, there are flaws and imperfections everywhere if we choose to observe.

At the end of the day, we’ve just spent longer with ourselves and observing our own, no wonder we notice them first.