Vision, communication, persistence and innovation are four essential elements of leadership, said Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) board chair Bette J. Francis, SPHR, during her opening remarks at the SHRM 2013 Leadership Conference, held Nov. 21-23 at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md.
“It’s important to remember that a vision is not just a collection of targets or objectives. A true vision not only lays out a path for change, it inspires people to go down that path,” Francis told attendees—600 volunteer leaders from SHRM chapters and state councils across the U.S.
But to be effective, added the vice president of HR for Wilmington Trust in Delaware, leaders must embrace listening as an important element of communication because it “demonstrates respect [and] shows that you value others’ ideas.”
Francis pointed to Gertrude Elion, a biochemist, as a shining example of what persistence can accomplish in the face of great odds. Elion won the 1988 Noble Peace Prize in medicine at a time when there were few women in her field. She quoted Elion, who advised others not to be afraid of hard work: “Nothing worthwhile comes easily.”
Innovation is one of Francis’ favorite themes; she has often spoken about its importance during her tenure as board chair. She said she is convinced it’s as critical to the success of the SHRM chapters and state councils as it is for employers.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” Francis said, quoting the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers.
Leadership’s Most Important Element
“What I’ve learned as a volunteer leader is that focusing on these four qualities … can help take you to that next level,” Francis said, but “in the end, the single most important element of leadership is you.”
She told the story of a colleague who is an active SHRM member and serves as head of HR at an organization. The woman was meeting with her company’s CEO about some challenges the company was facing. The company had conducted a recent salary survey, and, during the meeting, the woman found herself blaming the company’s problems on low wages, poor supervisors and other factors.
“The CEO turned to her and said ‘What good is all this SHRM stuff if you’re just going to complain?’ ” The woman was struck with the realization, Francis said, that she needed to use her HR expertise to find a solution.
“It was up to her to approach the challenges as a business leader … to step up. That’s what this SHRM stuff is about,” Francis said to applause.
She urged volunteers to think of leadership opportunities with SHRM as a chance to grow.
“It’s where you build confidence, test out new ideas and develop the broad perspective you need to make the best decisions about the future of your organization.”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.