Tuesday, 16 February 2016 20:31

The HR Coach: Leading Others by First Leading Yourself

Written by Maurie McGarvey

Many people believe an organization's culture is the key to its success, and typically the most-desired culture is one in which employees are truly engaged. Would you agree? Might you also agree that leadership sets the example for employee engagement? After all, as the leader goes, so go the others.

Engagement is one of today’s biggest buzzwords in business, and there’s a lot of noise surrounding the topic. Google search results are endless and varied; thousands of experts real and self-proclaimed are writing about it and making money consulting on it. But we can’t make engagement happen from the outside in. Engagement cannot be forced or required, but instead has to be invited. This is the key premise that HR leaders, coaches and other people-people forget.

When we are tasked with improving workplace factors as deeply personal as engagement, we are required to dignify what makes each person’s experience different. Each of us brings our perceptions, beliefs, and life stories into the workplace every single day. Our level of engagement is determined by these unique experiences, yet HR and others have often wrongly assumed that everyone demonstrates engagement in the same way. As HR coaches, we simply guide others on a path of continuous improvement and growth, creating an environment for people to remain engaged and self-aware as we go. But can we lead others effectively without first committing to lead ourselves along this path?


The key to effectively coaching and leading others is to first effectively coach and lead ourselves. Simply stated, self-leadership is the ability to motivate yourself. It sounds easy, and as we’ll discuss shortly, it can be. But first, we have to understand that the key to successful self-leadership is conscious choice. Conscious choice provides an awareness of why you think the way you do and an awareness of who you truly are as opposed to who you’ve been told you are. Consider the idea that we are always leading, whether or not we are consciously choosing to or not. And if we are not choosing how we lead— if we are leading by default—we are allowing our past experiences and judgments to set the tone and expectations for employees. If we are choosing how we lead, we are intentionally guiding ourselves in a specific new direction.

Intention is the energy behind the messages we tell ourselves. These messages precipitate our actions and determine how often, and how effectively, we show up in our lives. When you are leading yourself from a mindset of awareness, you engage others differently than when you’re on autopilot. As you learn to choose your responses to the world consciously, you create the way you lead . . . and you create the world in which you want to live.

Pull Out (here or at beginning of article) : HR coaches recognize that creating an organizational culture of engagement begins with our personal engagement in the lives we are creating for ourselves.

The key to self-awareness is recognizing what you can control and what you can’t. Remember that at every moment and with every experience, we can consciously choose our responses. When we are leading ourselves consciously and effectively, we understand this, then we are able to lead others toward the empowerment and engagement that is born from their re-discovery of this principle. Then, as a result, employees will be in the best position to put their personal resources to use and start kindling their own leadership potential.

Recognizing who you are being

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If we want different results, we need to do things differently.” What if I told you that, if you want different results, getting them has far less to do with what you do differently, and everything to do with how you think? If we want a different experience, we need to THINK differently. We must choose our level of awareness of our thoughts and feelings, which drive how we act. Because of our strong cultural focus on measuring results in all aspects of our lives, we have developed the habit of doing rather than of being. We more typically find meaning in tangible things, which are fully present and easier to judge. Who you are being is an ongoing conditioning process, and it is occurring at all times. Becoming conscious of this conditioning, recognizing how you are changing over time, and how that compares with how you want to lead, will give you the rare insight of where you need to go next.

We view the world through filters; our experiences, our assumptions, our interpretations, and our values. We also experience the world in multiple dimensions; physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Our experiences ultimately lead us to develop our own version of reality. No one else has lived your life. No one sees the world quite the same way you do and no one knows what you know or sees what you see, or for that matter, thinks the same thoughts you think. Be quick to identify and check your perceptions and assumptions. How true are they really, and how are they affecting your achievement of your goals? What if you made a different assumption? How would that impact your results? Take time to notice how your thoughts create the feelings or emotions that then drive your actions. Our degree of awareness creates the world we experience, moment by moment. By shifting our interpretations, our assumptions and our perceptions, we create a more engaged life for ourselves and set a more engaged leadership example for others.

The ways in which we currently lead originates in life experience from what we already know. So, reflect on who you are currently being, or how you are currently showing up. What beliefs and opinions have brought you to this place? How have those beliefs and opinions affected your life? We are typically disengaged when we are preoccupied by the past or distracted by the future; we miss the opportunity to show up in the moment. To focus on the moment, practice detached involvement, in which you are both a participant and an observer of your life. While observing, you regard all experiences as important for your growth and development, and you place no judgment on them as being good or bad. You are in control of how you respond to them. In this state, you can choose not to take anything personally, to avoid making assumptions, and to let go of the need to be right.

HR coaches recognize that creating an organizational culture of engagement begins with our personal engagement in the lives we are creating for ourselves.

So now, with a clearer picture of self-awareness, ask yourself, when you reflect on how you spend your energy, how much of it is focused on trying to do things differently to achieve a different result?

Being your mission

We often segment our lives into the roles we play or the titles we assign ourselves, as employee, spouse, parent, and friend. We attempt to build walls around our personal lives and our professional lives, creating an expectation that one shouldn’t affect the other. This is simply an unrealistic expectation. We are whole beings, not just separate roles bound together and it is very easy to confuse our roles with our mission. Think of it this way, if you no longer had your job title, who would you be? Would your team still follow where you lead them? As an HR professional, it is essential to understand your personal mission because in knowing your mission you can make a more significant difference in the workplace as you become a more effective HR coach. Again, as whole beings, when our values are not served in one aspect of our lives, other parts of our lives will be impacted, as will the people around us.

To be your mission, you first have to be perfectly clear about what is truly important to you. When you think about what you value most, reflect on how those values are being served in your life. Remember that values are also products of our experiences. Values drive us, but sometimes they reflect what we were taught to want as beings more than those values reflect what we actually want.

For example, you may place the highest value on creativity, service to others, or integrity. You may value adventure, or privacy, or spending time in nature. No matter what carries the most meaning for you, you will find yourself more engaged when that value is being fulfilled. When you are feeling as though your values are not being honored, it is important to assess the reasons. Are you ever in situations that run contrary to your values? Do you surround yourself with people who reinforce your values or people who oppose them? How does being an HR leader feed your mission? How are your values being honored as an HR leader? An awareness of why you feel blocked from your values leads to a sense of empowerment over removing the blocks.

When you are clear about your mission, how can you then connect with it? First, be keenly aware of your strengths and talents. Know what motivates you; notice when you feel invigorated. Honor your hopes, dreams, and desires. Assess what your unique experiences have prepared you for and what they have taught you. Finally, envision what your ideal life would look like. Think on what feels right in your life. What is working? What is possible? What opportunities lie within perceived setbacks?

The ripple effect will impact your organization in meaningful ways you may not anticipate.

Moving forward

You are, at this moment, the culmination of your unique life experiences. Yet you have the opportunity to change your thoughts in this moment so you may begin to lead yourself on a more authentic, more engaged path. And if you are completely unique, then it stands to reason that every other individual is as well, wouldn’t you agree? If we consider that every person we meet is also a unique blend of their life experiences, then we can begin to remove judgments in how we experience others. We can recognize that we each form our own version of what is true for us, even if it doesn’t align perfectly to the absolute truth. When we understand the difference, we are able to motivate others simply by our presence, in having power without forcing. Power is inspiring others from within themselves; power is in BEING rather than in doing. The ripple effect will impact your organization in meaningful ways you may not anticipate.

In essence, leadership of others is creating influence in others, whether we can observe that influence or not. So every interaction we have with others presents an opportunity to lead. Think about your personal definition of leadership. When was a time you embodied that definition? What strengths did you draw on to make it happen? What made others follow you?

Showing up as your most authentic self draws others to you. There is nothing you need to do to force that. When you are consciously choosing how to be, you will naturally lead others toward meeting their own full potential. HR coaches recognize that creating an organizational culture of engagement begins with our personal engagement in the lives we are creating for ourselves.

Maurie McGarvey is the Senior Vice President, Human Resources Director for the Paducah Bank & Trust Company in Paducah, Kentucky. Maurie is a Senior Certified Professional through the Society for Human Resource Management, a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources through the Human Resources Certification Institute and a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner through The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching.

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