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Art of HR: 'Leaders need better balance'

Future leaders need to be better balanced, focus on long-term sustainability and enable rather than direct employees, a panel discussion on leadership at the Art of HR conference has warned.

In recent years, trust in leadership has plummeted to all-time lows despite more books, courses and programmes devoted to leadership. In fact, there are two leadership books available on Amazon for every resident of Dubrovnik (population of 45,000), the south Croatian city where the panel was held.

Dave Ulrich, author and professor of business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, agreed leaders had failed in recent times and there were many areas in which responsibility had been absolved, such as business institutions not creating jobs and religious institutions not creating goodwill.

Ulrich, an HR Most Influential hall of famer, suggested the main challenge for leaders today is managing paradoxes, balancing the need to be: changeable and stable, hard and soft, transactional and relational, intellectual and intuitive, visionary and proactive, and balancing personal interests with other interests.

Partha Ghosh, a Harvard professor, told the panel a problem with current leadership culture is short-termism. Leaders often have good intentions but get subsumed by Wall Street asking for results by tomorrow, and are reinforced by impatience generated by the fast-paced digital world.  

Ghosh said the best leaders he has worked with have a degree of humility and speak fewer words that are "full of wisdom". They also often focus on enabling rather than directing, are adaptable, and understand that different players need to lead at different times, rather than acting in a rigid, hierarchical manner.  

Outside-in focus

Zdravka Demeter Bubalo, HR VP at Hungarian oil and gas company MOL Group, thought the problem was a lack of external focus, supporting Ulrich’s advice on people management needing to be driven from the outside-in.  

She said leaders had become internally focused and forgot to look outside of the sector and company. There was also a lack of understanding of the social impact of their decisions.  

Bubalo added good leaders are curious and have the ability to change while maintaining relationships with key stakeholders.

She also noted that managers in central Europe are highly entrepreneurial and flexible; for example in one of MOL’s leadership games its Serbian team scored the highest marks against the company's world standard.  

Lynne Montgomery, vice president of Cotrugli Business School, which organised the conference, said leaders have a responsibility to get back to ethics and build an ethical society. Full coverage of the leadership panel, hosted by HR magazine editor Arvind Hickman, will be in the January issue.

How to develop future leaders

HR magazine is also hosting a Lunchtime Debate that explores how to develop leaders for future change. The discussion features HR Most Influential thinker Veronica Hope-Hailey, O2 former head of L&D Abi Bracken and Hay Group leadership expert Melody Moore.

The live webcast is free to watch and takes place at 1pm GMT (2pm CET) on Thursday, 27 November.

For details on how to watch, visit: Lunchtime Debate: Developing leaders for future change.