When the alarm goes off at 5AM, it’s early. Not that 5AM for me is earlier than it would be for you, but just the simple fact that it’s early. In fact, during winter, it’s also so dark. I rise with the sun naturally, which is early enough, but to rise in the dark…ugh. So why does my alarm go off at 5AM? To workout. Up and at it, I dress and head over to join the other crazies pumping iron at the gym. I often think, “What are we doing up? Do we know that lots of other people are sleeping right now?” But that’s the beauty of it. We work out at a less crowded gym and can get all of the facets of our workout done rather easily without waiting for equipment. So, is that motivation enough to get up and do this?
Not really. The decision to do this, for me, is based upon what working out does for me. I am healthier; I have clearer thoughts; I feel better; I have more energy for the day. The effects of working out are really good. But I only get to experience this because I made a decision…a decision that costs me something.
In HR, we have the ability to be the heartbeat of our companies. We can be that culture-designer. We can set a tone for our teams, our departments. And that starts with the decision to “set the alarm.” Leadership costs. All great movements cost people something, especially the leaders. Whether it was Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr..costs were counted and accepted. If you study great leadership, you’ll see this theme running throughout the lives of those examples.
Now, I know in HR, we may not have the national or global platform that the persons mentioned did. That’s okay. It’s not about recognition, but rather, it’s about an inspiring influence. We have the privilege of engaging with lots of people that work at our companies. It’s no accident that you are in the role you’re in. So use that position to breathe new life into the work that needs to be done by changing perspectives. Help your teams have the eyes to see the bigger picture, to see how much the one part of the puzzle he/she does matters, to understand how each part is dependent on the other. Lead people to efficiency, to teamwork…to greatness.
Many moons ago, I was working for a major retailer. One of the jobs often overlooked was janitorial. Most employees hardly acknowledged the work done to keep the stores clean. I observed a sad janitor emptying trash while two associates were speaking; neither associate even said hello, but neither did the janitor look up to be open to any conversation. I wanted our employees to appreciate this player on the team. I chatted with this janitor about how grateful I was that he was doing what he was doing. I made sure to find him a couple of times a week in whatever department he was in and chatted for a moment with him (so that other employees would see my example). I had a name tag ordered for him. His demeanor began to change and his interaction with other employees occurred. I am not saying that he became “besties” with anyone, but I am saying that he was now seen by other employees as a person and not just a function.
Leadership costs. It takes time. I did not have to use my time to find that janitor. I could have just been willing to chat when it was convenient to me, when I happened upon him. Lasting effects don’t work that way. If I only workout when it’s convenient…um, hello! No workouts for Johnny! I have to get up early to do it or my day will swallow me, and it won’t happen. When you are at work, be deliberate about your schedule but put time in for those relational interactions that help to lead the culture of the organization.
It’s best to start small. Take your time and decide on those initiatives that need leadership. Figure out ways to make it happen for you in the course of your day or week. Just as you might not have much effect if you do something like this once every six weeks, you won’t have as much effect if you’re trying to change a large component of the company on your first shot at directed leadership. It might not be received well because there’s not much, if any, history of your leadership to rely on.
Let me interject here to say that there is a HUGE difference between managing and leading. You cannot accomplish great change by just managing. Leading is setting a new course, traveling a new road towards a goal, and calling those around you to greatness. Managing, while needed, is not the same thing. Perhaps you’ve been great at managing the administration of talent or the organization of function…good for you! That has to be done, but that’s really just managing well what’s already there. Your value as an HR professional in your company is about doing your job well; leadership, I believe, is part of your job.
And lastly, though there are other components, it needs direction. Empty leadership is silly. If you are able to truly garner the attention and the buy-in of employees who are willing to go where you lead, and you have no where planned to take them, major fail. Develop a plan, review the goals of it with your CEO or whomever you answer to, work with managers in brainstorming engagement of the plan (get them on board) and make a decision to remain energized and enthusiastic even when it gets a little difficult.
Again, leadership costs. Everything mentioned here is sacrifice-related. Often, I tell people, “it’s not about you.” So much has been written on servant leadership and the various perspectives on it, so all I will say is that if you are in HR and think that your comfort is why you are in that role, then I would encourage you to find another field. Human capital management is sacrificial in nature. Dealing with, serving and encouraging talent means laying aside, at times, rights that you think you might have. It’s not always convenient or pretty, but it’s what we get to do.
What are you willing to do today to get started leading? What do your teams need? How can you bring solution? I know that when I workout, I may not look the prettiest. Old t-shirt, basketball shorts for a guy who can’t play basketball, clenched teeth during bench press, a few grunts escape during curls…not pretty. But I am not worried about looking good while doing it; I don’t have to. My focus is on the results it gives me. What you can do now might not be the prettiest job to get done, but see that it gets done. Think about how the results will benefit your company.
Can you lead this initiative? Can you lead it by setting other managers up for success? What might you have to sacrifice? Listen, if Boy George is willing to tumble for you, and he doesn’t even know you, then I am sure you can figure out ways to lead those around you in spite of the sacrifices it may mean.
Count the costs and make a decision for effectiveness in your organizations. Truly, I know that there is greatness among you; act upon it!