Last Friday we organized group discussions for all master students about 5 different leadership books. We noticed something peculiar in our groups: in one group the HR students stayed together when they had the opportunity to mingle with the others. In another group the HR students advocated in an assertive way the most complex leadership paradigm. Combined they reinforced the idea: “HR doesn’t like to leave it’s comfort zone and is naively idealistic.” When you extrapolate this, it’s in many organizations the perception about the HR department.
This raises the question: how could HR take more leadership?
According to many studies based upon the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg, 2001) the person who best represents the norms, values, attitudes, behaviors of a group has the most influence over the others. Stated differently, if you want to become a leader of a group, become prototypical for that group. If you want to lead line managers, than you should know who they are, want they want, how they behave, how they feel, how they think. So HR leaders start by listening and adapting to line managers, rather than offering relatively complex processes and models invented in isolation.
So how can we help HR become leaders?
Imagine if the HR students were integrated in other masters and had to practice HR for those groups, and got coached and challenged in that role. Imagine that they learned about strategy together with the students of global management, about efficiency and processes with students of supply chain management, or about innovation, and entrepreneurship together with yet other masterclasses? Or that they would try to solve task and relation conflicts in teams of other masters, etc?
The chance that those students will emerge as organizational leaders in the future seems much higher. They will not only have learned the language of the line managers, but they will also share their values. And this will help them to create a shared strategic vision together.
Hogg, M. A. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 184 – 200.