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How to Lead from Where You Are

Source | : By Christina Folz

PHOENIX—If you believe leaders must be outgoing, success-driven and positioned at the top of the corporate ladder, it’s time to update your thinking. Today’s leaders are often reserved, energized by failure, and have roles all over the organizational chart, including at the bottom. While they are powerful, their strength and influence come from the inside out, not the other way around.

“[We live] in a world where traditional authority has less and less currency, where prescribed roles are less and less relevant,” said Polly LaBarre, founding member of Fast Companymagazine. Technological advances and demographic changes have accelerated the speed of business to the point where bureaucratic top-down leadership models no longer work very well.

Even so, “the vast majority of people still labor under the dead hand of business as usual,” said LaBarre, who delivered a keynote speech at the recent SHRM 2017 Leadership Development Forum.

The good news—and a key takeaway from the conference—is that opportunities to lead are available to anyone willing to step up and take them, including HR. “We have got to get around this bias in business that says big change comes from big leaders,” LaBarre said. “The most world-changing innovation often starts very small.” Below is some advice on how to effect change as a 21st century HR leader.

Let failure fuel you.

At nearly every session and keynote, the same paradoxical message emerged: To succeed as a leader, you must embrace failure. “Innovation is a numbers game,” LaBarre said. “The pace at which your organization [moves forward] is a function of how many options you can generate, how many experiments you can run.” And experiments, by their very nature, sometimes end in flops and failures.

“For every Amazon web service that is eating the world, you’re going to have an [unsuccessful] Amazon Fire phone,” LaBarre said. In fact, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself described his company as the “best place in the world to fail. Have you ever heard a CEO brag that failure is its core competence?” she asked.

Entrepreneur Sarah Robb O’Hagan, who spoke at the closing general session, counted getting fired from her role as director of marketing at Virgin Atlantic as one of the best things that happened to her career, because the experience shaped how she approached her dream job—with Nike—when it finally came along. “My failures taught me the humility that was deeply needed to succeed in the right environment,” said the author of Extreme You (HarperBusiness, 2017) and CEO of Flywheel Sports in New York City.

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