leader isn’t just a job title

Leaders surround us. It’s not just about being the boss, or being on the “leadership” team or the Exec or a member of the “C-Suite”. I have had the extreme good fortune to know leaders across all levels in every role in every  organisation I’ve been in. People who provide a high level of human interaction others relate to. People who are leaders in their religion, race, peer group, sport, school and even their relationship.

Leaders show others great examples of excellent behaviour. They show people a different way. They provide an alternative solution to a difficult problem, or they simply role model how to be engaged, peaceful, resilient or unruffled. They have empathy. They show concern and they help our problems not feel as big as we make them in our head.

A post-Covid world might look very different around leadership. I feel there is an even bigger shift towards empathetic leaders. It’s no surprise that we are drawn to people who are interested in who we are, what we can contribute, how we live our lives and what impact we can have on others. We need a place to belong, a people to connect with and someone – or a group of someones who can relate to our purpose. 

The old fashioned ways of leadership is no longer best fit. Much like Zoom during lockdown allowed us to see the whole person – or at least their bookcase, art, dogs and children – leaders need to start looking as if they were in the Zoom Room of your life. 

Some of the best examples of leadership I have encountered have been demonstrated by a 20 year old apprentice and a 40 year old admin assistant. Neither of them had any ambitions to be part of the C-Suite – so not a traditional leader. They lived exemplary lives, filled with compassion, generosity and a dedication and commitment to their role and the people around them. People chose to follow them because they were inherently good. I recently posted a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about having succeeded on my Instagram page.  I feel it’s a different success to what we sometimes see in corporate life:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

It might as well say: “This is to have lead”. I love this definition. It’s one of the few things I have on my wall in the way of quotes. By this definition we have all succeeded. If we spend our time trying to be or do these things, we might just make a greater impact than “telling” people what they need to do without caring for who they are.

Leadership is a trait. It is also an ability we can develop. Development takes practice and reflection. Practice and reflection. Like most other learning we need to embed the lessons – by practice and reflection. Some have this innate trait – and I also know other’s who have learned it, well.

This nurturing leadership creates an environment of Psychological Safety. In a psychologically safe team, people fly. They feel safe to be authentic, creative, flexible and innovative. They are trusted and comfortable making mistakes. They share something before it is finished and they ask for input and feedback. They are people who don’t care a lot about ego or traditional leadership ideals. They’re usually kind, compassionate and generous people and they are authentic. We are drawn to authenticity because it shines like a beacon.

How do we become authentic? We start by listening to our people in our teams, our friends, family. We truly care what impacts them and show up when we’re needed. Most importantly though, we listen to ourselves. We pay attention to all of our voices – and whilst doing so, be kind and curious in finding out what those voices mean. We all have our own voices. I talked recently about our Inner Critic. Those voices. They are the ones we pay attention to. Not just what they say, but how they makes us feel. Sit with that a bit……that’s when true leadership starts to really kick in.

This is what I mean by being kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Do People Resist Change?

Or is it change thrust upon them that they resist? This is one of my favourite topics to understand and convey, so I surprised myself when I realised I hadn’t written about it yet.

One of my new favourite mantras is “I am that which is constant” which just serves to remind me to get back to my core, despite what is going on around me. In a world full of change, I am the only constant. The me I know and trust. I used to think that I was unusual because I enjoy change. Then I realised that people change many things about themselves all the time. We create change in ourselves throughout our lives. We change our marital status, our professional status, our educational status (as Facebook reminds us!). We move, have babies, take on sporting challenges, get a promotion or even get sick parents, partners or children – it’s all change. Some of it is our choice and some is thrust upon us. What makes us accept the changes we decided upon and resist the ones we don’t?

I have been in many professional situations where managing resistance to change was the thing I spent most of my day doing – until I realised I was doing it all wrong! It can be exhausting if you think about it in a negative way – like “resisting change”. When you master it, and think positively about how to work with people to achieve the same outcome, regardless of the process – it becomes the most rewarding thing.

As leaders, we must do what is best for the business, it’s our job. Does it really matter what journey we take to achieve it? If we propose the outcome then work together to create the solution, resistance to change is minimalised. Sometimes it takes a while for people to be clear that they don’t like the change. We all need time to think things through, so if offered some time to digest, it’s easier to swallow.

There are of course business decisions made where not only the outcome is determined, but the process is too. These are the most unfortunate of experiences, because people are affected the most; resistance is at its highest and the results might be achieved but at the cost of people’s happiness, faith in the company and enormous stress levels on all sides. I’m not naïve and I have been involved in many business decisions where the people were going to suffer, regardless of how we created the solution! These are terrible situations to be in, but as an HR Professional and Leader, these are the jobs we do.  We must either find a way or make one, as Hannibal said. (True, he was leading elephants through the desert, but some days that’s how it feels!)

Enforced change hits people personally. When we deal with resistance to change, it all stems from personal values. People may not like the proposed change because it impacts them directly in a negative way. In a personal situation, change can be managed more easily. We can speak out and talk about what we don’t like. In a professional situation, this can be interpreted as resistance.

I encourage people to speak out about the changes they don’t like, in a constructive way. I also encourage them to propose an alternative solution. If we provide people with a reason to change and the chance to come up with their own solution, this ‘resistance’ can be addressed. It’s important to make clear that although we invite a solution, if it doesn’t ultimately meet the needs of the business, we will have to keep working until we find one that does!

Resistance takes many forms: individual or organised, active or passive, aggressive or timid, overt or covert.

People can be clever about the way they resist change, or their actions can be subconscious. It just means we have to be on our game. We have to understand why the resistance is there, what are the personal issues for the people involved and how do we address them. We need empathy for why people don’t want to change. It may be that they have never had to before (it’s possible!); or they don’t agree with the way the business is changing and the direction it is headed in.

Ultimately it’s about choice.

The thing is that sometimes the direction might not be right, sometimes business has to do things people don’t like. At the point of discourse though, it is our choice to decide if we agree and go with it or if we don’t. So either bow out if you don’t like the change, or find a way to make it work for you.

I could bang on about the ways people resist change and tell you some wonderful stories – but, this is about how to deal with it, in the way I try to and from my own experience. Change needs to be based on inspired collaboration. We need to find the common ground between different needs and motivators. We need to address both the positives and negatives of changing and of not changing. Once we communicate all of those things and take the time and personal interest to understand why people are resisting, we will have a much better understanding of not only our goal, but hopefully of what drives the people who work for us.