Leading is tough…

On January 2nd a well fed version of me plopped down at my desk full of good intentions. And before I got to answering emails and walking about wishing people New Year I took some time out to think about accountability, collaboration and trust.

Before Christmas I’d queried someone’s decison on something and I wasn’t really content with their response. It just wasn’t the one I’d want them to make… That happens a lot, but I guess I it was one of the last things I did before shutting down. Before Christmas. It wasn’t a big decison, but it’s one where I can’t see something working out… And if I’d gone back and queried again that would have sent a clear messages. As it was they probably didn’t even notice.

So here is what I’ve been thinking

i) I get paid more than most people in the organisation – and that pay should be commensurate with me taking more accountability. If something goes wrong in my area I expect to be held accountable.

ii) But I want the people in my area to feel trusted and backed to make decisions

iii) But sometimes I can see problems coming down the line and in fact, I’m more experienced that most in spotting that (as I’ve made more mistakes than most), which is part of the reason why I get paid more than most.

iv) I’m also accountable for setting standards for my area – which can arguably conflict with ii)

So I’m sitting here waiting for things to progress and either me to be proved wrong (it happens) or to see how the person reacts if I turn out to be right. What I’m not doing is using a hierarchy to ensure what I think should happen happens. But maybe I should because I’m still accountable.

So I’m probably in this instance accountable for allowing some risk to help ensure continuity of trust. And then I have to ask if that’s the right thing to do for the people the organisation serves.

I guess I’m writing this because it’s about such a tiny, tiny thing. But most days are made up of similar choices but over much bigger things.

  • How much are things decided by a group vs me being paid to apply my judgement?
  • What do I let go vs what do I make a clear statement on?
  • What do I find time for vs how do I protect time to think?
  • How much is too much oversight vs how much of not having oversight is negligence

And it’s similar for anyone who leads a group of people. But I don’t think that complexity is always reflected by the experts commentating on the roles we do. Sometimes it’s a bit like watching the football pundits that you know failed to make it in management or never even attempted that role. You can speak with easily adopted authority if you’ve never had to make the same mistakes that we face (and make) each day.

‘What the modern leader needs to do is just…‘.

‘Yeah. But I’d like to see you try…’

You don’t give someone a four/nine box model and away they go… You don’t just say ‘Embrace your autonomy’ and everything turns out fine. You wrestle with this stuff every single day. And if you are me you go home and replay each day in your head second guessing each decison you made and then still come in the next day trying to give people confidence that you know what you are doing. A constant balance of unpicking and stepping forward. Because I’m paid to be good at stuff for people and I’m accountable for that.

So this is just a mini plea to the people writing/talking about leadership. Unless you do this stuff (and I mean you lead teams now – not have a rose tinted recollection of doing it half a decade ago) if you could mix some humility and understanding in with the insight that would be awesome. Because most of us know we aren’t perfect already.

And if you read this and think it is about you, but isn’t fair, then it wasn’t about you so it’s all good here.

Final thought – since I drafted this blog it turns out that my initial instinct was correct. However I’m not stupid enough to think there are countless examples every single day where the opposite is true. But on this one… Well, if you have made the same mistake multiple times you spot it when someone else is going to make it.

Will you still be authentic?

I recently started work with the CIPD. I’ll be doing a role that I consider to be genuinely worthwhile. If you live in London and work in HR or L&D feel free to connect. We’ll be doing some good things and I’d love more people to benefit from them. If you currently don’t think we are doing good things then I’ll buy you a coffee and you can tell me why. We are probably doing more good things than you think.

I’ve only ever wanted my career to pass a test of ‘worthwhiliness’ so I’m currently very happy. There is no doubt, however, that the role is a significant change. Having ambled around conferences for a couple years saying whatever I like and looking scruffy, this career move has raised some interesting questions over ‘voice’ and ‘authenticity’.

The questions I got asked most often in the run up to me starting were around stuff like…

– will you still be you? You know… authentic
– are you still allowed to blog?
– will you keep the beard?
– will you have to wear a suit?

I’ve never really understood the concept of authenticity. I understand it academically, but really I don’t find that many people ‘fake’. People talk about authentic leadership, but for me it is more a question of integrity, intent and adapting to context. My wife, my daughter, my friends, my family and people I work with will all see a different side to me – and I’ll talk to them all in different ways. Adapting your style to connect better with people isn’t inauthentic. It’s human and natural and healthy, because life isn’t about you; it’s about the relationships between you and others.

I won’t be changing my values and I’ve joined an organisation that is about championing better work and working
lives, so it’s a pretty good match for what I’ve always tried to do when I get up in the morning.

Will I change my writing or things I say? A bit. I’m probably not going to publish a ’10 things the CIPD needs to do better’ blog. But then that’s because I get to spend my days helping the CIPD try to do things better, which seems a more constructive use of my time. I will keep writing, I will keep thinking. Nobody has spoken to me about changing tone or content. Nobody has told me what I can or can’t speak about. The CIPD should be about exploring a complex world and how we have the best impact in that world as a profession, not about a clone army with one single stance or thought. We have a few vacancies currently, we are looking for smart capable people. I like to think we aren’t doing that with the intent of telling them to turn their brains off on day 1.

Will the beard go? No. It keeps me warm in winter, hides spare chins when I’ve had a week of multiple takeaways and it matches my Twitter avatar. If I lose another stone it might go…

Will you wear a suit? Sometimes, as I’ll be meeting organisations that take you more seriously in a suit. I don’t particularly agree with that mindset, but I’m doing my job to make a difference and my preference for clothing is a reasonable sacrifice for making work better for others. I won’t enjoy it though… Occasionally I’ll get to wear my on brand trainers. On the days that I can, when I don’t have external meetings, I will wear jeans. Clothes do not maketh the plan.

Oh. And yes I mean ‘worthwhiliness’, it sounds more fun than ‘worthwhileness’.