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SHRM Blog Carnival: Leadership & Engagement

SHRMWelcome to the March 14th edition of the SHRM Blog Carnival!  The HR Mouth of the South is thrilled to be hosting this next round, which focuses on best practices for leadership and engagement.  We asked our SHRM bloggers to consider the following: “What does your company (or another company you know of) do right when it comes to motivating employees and embracing corporate cultures?  How do these best practices transcend through the company and reflect on the bottom line in terms of revenue and customer satisfaction?

We received a fantastic collection of thought-provoking perspectives, from how leaders need to continuously develop, to engaging volunteers, to asking (and answering) the tough questions.

Whatever you’re hankering for in terms of leadership and engagement, the SHRM Blog Carnival has once again offered up an appetizing array of thought leadership desserts.  (Yes, that is my sweet tooth talking once again.)  And now is NOT the time to skip dessert!

The Greater Cincinnati Human Resources Association serves more than just vanilla ice cream in 2011 And Beyond: Leadership Competencies Have to Include Capacity for ChangeRandi Sandlin entices us to the table by reiterating the need that leaders should learn something new every day.

The Illinois State Council of SHRM offers a delectable treat in Employee Engagement for Volunteers.  In it, Dave Ryan points out that there are many simple, but effective concepts to get the most out of volunteers.

Rocket HR, the official blog of the North Alabama Society for Human Resource Management, presents some chocolate in Leadership – Asking Tough Questions.  Our friend Ben Eubanks reminds us that leaders have to ask the tough questions to uncover hidden issues and address them.

The Birmingham Society for Human Resource Management‘s blog, SHRMingham shares some delectable toppings with Engagement Made EasyApril Dowling discusses how employee engagement can be made simple when you let the employees you’re trying to engage make the decision on what they find engaging.

Now, for the HR Whisperer‘s crème brulée (take) on this topic…

The world-famous canine behaviorist Cesar Millan once said, “when humans bring a dog into their lives, they are looking for a companion… what they may not realize is that they are getting a teacher as well.”

This is true in a business sense, too.  When we bring a leader into our fold, we should get someone who can teach or positively influence others.  But teaching goes both ways…is it really possible to teach someone to be an effective leader or is it just genetics coming into play?

Leadership by its definition is a very complex.  Some say that leadership is a natural thing, that we are born with the innate qualities it takes to be a leader.   A large body of historical research supports the theory that leaders born with specific elements of the “Big Five” personality traits, will be successful in leadership roles.  More recent research by Daniel Goleman supports this by demonstrating that effective leaders have high emotional intelligence (EI).

Now, behavioral theories state that specific behaviors differentiate leaders from non-leaders.  This implies that leadership behaviors can be taught, i.e., leadership is a competency that can be broken down into concrete sets of trainable skills.  The most comprehensive of the behavioral theories resulted from Ohio State University research conducted in the late 40s where the researchers narrowed a thousand different leadership dimensions into two categories: (1) task/structure and (2) relationship/consideration.  The managerial grid developed by Blake and Mouton and the contingency leadership theory developed by Hersey and Blanchard in the 1960s serve as the landmarks for what we call “situational leadership” today.

Personally, I think good leadership it is a combination of the two – which brings us back to our original question:  can people be trained in leadership?

The answer to me is yes.  Strong, results-driven leadership development programs have the same critical components, which include an opportunity to develop the skills necessary to:

  • Run the task/structure of a business, such as strategic planning and financial management,
  • Foster the relationship/consideration in teams, such as communication and conflict management, and
  • Enhance the self and understand behavior by opening the Johari Window through extensive feedback and coaching, such as 360° profiling.

Another question:  if nature and nurture are important elements of leader effectiveness, how does experience play a part?

Many believe that the value of on-the-job experience is a strong predictor of leadership effectiveness. Research, however shows that experience alone is usually a very poor predictor of leadership.  There have been numerous studies of military officers, shop supervisors, and school principals that demonstrate that experienced leaders tend to be no more effective than leaders who have little experience.  The problem seems to be in situational variability, which influences whether or not experience will transfer to that situation.  Another problem is the assumption that the amount of time a leader spends in a particular position is really a true measure of experience.

So, leadership development programs need to provide both training and experience through action learning projects.

Remember the heroes of September 11?  They may not have had the particular experience of being attacked by terrorists, but may have had experience leading others and influencing them to action.  And that’s what we really need in any successful leadership development program.


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  1. Came in through RocketHR’s site, love Ben’s “Leadership-Asking Tough Questions” post. Definitely takes some tough Q&A to get real answers sometimes!

    I’m enjoying your other contributors as well. Thank you for this round up.

    I completely agree with your statement on leadership development. It really does require thorough training and experience through active learning and leading. Otherwise it’s just text book information without application.

    Thanks again!

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