Leadership - it’s about the people!

Written by Craig Scott-Hill

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

Having worked in Human Resources for over 20 years, I have learned that people can be good managers but poor leaders.  My profession continually tries to improve the leadership capability of a business.  We see first-hand a wide range of leadership skills – both the great and not so great.  We remember the occasions where we are called on to try and resolve things when they don’t go well.  Often on reflection we can see critical points in the relationship when leadership opportunities to communicate difficult information have been missed.

Lots has been said about what leadership is and is not.  But I find it strange that we consciously forget leadership is about people, in the moment of managing instead of leading.  Like the example of BLM – a recent study says:

“BLM (Bottom Line Managers) serve as low-quality exchange partners with their employees…In turn, employees reciprocate by withholding the very thing their supervisor desires—performance.”1

So, if we focus too much on bottom line results (like targets, profits etc) then instead of actually improving results, we can make things worse.  By low quality exchanges with people, where it is more about numbers and less about people, we effectively devalue the relationship.  Instead we need to spend time in valuing the relationship so people will feel they are led and not just managed.

Te reo Māori provides us with another perspective - ārahitanga or guidance in English – which is another way of thinking about leadership.  To follow a guide, you must have trust in the path they want you to follow.

Trust is the foundation of leadership, people need to believe that their leader knows them as a person.  They will need to feel they are understood, listened to and supported.  All things that BLM will not provide.

If leadership is about people, and its foundation is built on trust,.-then why is it that so many leaders instead make it about other things that demonstrate the manager doesn’t value the relationship?   For example, when I joined Fair Way I noticed that many of our performance conversations were about performance objectives.  Makes sense, right? After all isn’t performance what it is all about?  We need to meet our numbers and KPI’s, besides it’s what most managers talk about in their performance catch ups.  Fair Way is doing what any other organisation would do.   

However, the problem with this is that it assumes that trust has already been established. As leaders your people need to know you have their backs, that they can trust you, and that you will look out for them.  How then can you possibly do this if you don’t really understand your people?  We introduced a new way of having performance conversations using the 10/10/10 model and provided training to all people managers on how to have quality conversations that start with the person not the work.

If you spend some time ensuring each person is able to talk about what is on their mind, what things do they want to discuss?  What concerns do they have?  All of this before you start a conversation about KPI’s.  This way people know you have put their concerns before statistics, KPS’s profits, targets etc, instead you may find yourself talking with them about their families, or how they are having trouble at work, or if they have nothing to talk about, they may be happy to get right into KPI’s.

I believe leadership is a journey of life experiences and to be a good leader you must understand yourself and be willing to adapt and grow.  Otherwise you will not realise your full potential to lead others.  To be a great leader I believe we must know one’s self including being comfortable with who you are, having an unrelenting (realistic) focus on performance, fundamentally believing in people’s capability and humanity, and valuing and investing in relationships with others.

If people have a good leader not only will they be willing to follow, but to create their own paths and from this deliver great performance.

Interestingly Fair Way are often the leaders in many respects for people looking for resolution to their disputes.  We do this by being their ārahitanga, leading people through a process they are not familiar with and we start this with learning about them as a person (valuing the relationship).  We even build on their own capability to resolve the issue with our help (believing in people’s capability).  We are driven by knowledge of our ability to use our expertise for good, we know we do this well, and are driven to deliver a high-performance solution for our customers.

1 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0018726719858394

About the author

Craig is General Manager: People & Culture at Fair Way. He has extensive experience in Human Resources, gathered over 20 years across a range of industries mostly in the private sector. Craig is passionate about aligning the best of People and Culture through pragmatic solutions that deliver improved performance outcomes for business.

Craig joined Fair Way in July 2018 to contribute leadership towards becoming an employer of choice leader.

If you would like to get in touch with Craig please email Craig.Scott-Hill@fairwayresolution.com