Home' HR Monthly : November 2015 Contents PERSPECTIVE
OVER THE PAST 15 YEARS, AT LEAST, THERE HAS
been a consistent stream of articles on what the best modern
leadership looks like. Phrases such as authenticity; servant
leadership; having a strong moral compass; and practitioners
of diversity and inclusion feature consistently.
As HR practitioners we know this material, and will try
to find ways to apply that profile of the future modern leader
within our own organisations, containing parts of identifiable
best practices but also inevitably parts that are uniquely ‘us’.
There are many challenges in succeeding with this.
Let’s take the term, diversity. A good place to start is to
ask how much diversity do we have within ou rselves? How
prepared are we to change to different circumstances in our
jobs, and to the needs and demands of others around us?
Over the past decade I can recall a number of instances
where I was very uncomfortable at work, due either to what
that job entailed, or whom I was working with. I don’t think
I would be alone here. The instinctive response is to externalise
the problems you face and to find solutions from changes in
others. Down the track we may look at our own performance
– perhaps prompted by a close colleague. In a recent edition
of the Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra reported
on why leaders struggle with authenticity, and how companies
are training their emerging talent to cope with what this
As the world is rapidly changing, so the demands on us will
change. L eaders will get pushed out of their comfort zones,
and either resist or cover that discomfort, unless positively
coached and prepared beforehand to take on such disorienting
Two extreme situations can occur. Leaders who are
chameleons can usually make a good fist of their first 90 days
in the job, but can bluster when they later stu mble due to
ignorance or inability. On the other hand, those who are true
to themselves, will enunciate their doubts on taking on new
challenges, winning initial support for their honesty.
But how do colleagues react? To the chameleons – there may
be immediate respect and confidence that this is a great leader
going places, who will take us along. Later it becomes clear
that, behind their mask, there is a lack of critical substance
and people can feel betrayed and lose that early confidence.
For the honest self-doubters, the reverse can happen. People
will appreciate the immediate honesty, but expect the new
leader to pick up their game through hard work and will be
disappointed if self-doubts are still being articulated in six
As part of the research for my book on mentoring, I
interviewed former Australian Governor-General, Major
General Michael Jeffery, who was also commander of the
SAS regiment for a time. Michael said to me: “If you were
a pimply-faced second lieutenant, starting you first tour of
duty in Afghanistan in charge of a squad which had, as your
second in command, a hard-bitten experienced sergeant on
his third tour of duty – who is really in charge? The sergeant
is, and everyone would know that. But while both recognise
that, initially, there is also respect of mutual leadership
responsibilities, and the need for a progressive
So, for authenticity in leadership to prevail
in a world of unfamiliar challenges, both the
chameleon and self-doubter are required. We need
leaders to be honest about what they know and
what they don’t. Aspiring, authentic leaders are
expected to show confidence about their new roles
and where the group can be taken, but they also
need to display honesty and to acquire
skills and knowledge they don’t have.
That will mean openness to feedback,
taken on as learning experience, and
not a career-threatening blunder.
So leadership training that goes
deep into top talent is critical.
Winning the confidence to enable
leaders to come out from behind the
mask is even more so.
To read past Perspective columns by
Peter Wilson, visit hrmonline.com.au
BEHIND THE MASK
Self-doubt isn’t a handicap for modern leaders, as long as it’s accompanied by
an ability to learn and change.
BY PETER WILSON AM, AHRI CHAIRMAN
Ph: 1300 138 235
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