At Work: Human resources - Leading people - Taking staff with you is the hard bit

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

Finance, systems and reporting are 'easy'; it's getting people to support you that is difficult.

Over a coffee, Anna, the chief executive of a medium-sized advocacy charity, confided to me that she'd been in the post for a couple of years and was still struggling to get her staff to accept her leadership. "It's not fair," she wailed. "Why don't they understand me? I'm only trying to help the charity be better."

Why was she struggling? Well, having heard some of the details, I suspect it was because she'd concentrated on the relatively 'easy' bits - finance, systems, reporting. She hadn't given sufficient thought and energy to the hard bit - the people.

It was hardly surprising. If you look at the 'professional' programmes and qualifications that are currently being offered on leadership and management, you will see that most of them concentrate on the technical side of the job. Strategy, planning, reporting, and finance all feature strongly and are all very useful. In my view, however, very few of these programmes spend enough time dealing with the psychological side of the job - that is, understanding and working with human beings.


Yet, as a leader or a manager, you can achieve nothing without getting the commitment and energy of the people around you. No matter how good your systems are, if your people aren't using them properly or are finding ways to resist you, you're in trouble. It's rare that the system messes you up; it's nearly always the people.

I gave Anna this advice, based on my own experience and countless one-to-ones with charity chief executives: as a manager you need to face some hard facts.


'They' will never 'understand' you, and it's a waste of time trying to get them to do so. As soon as you have a job title that implies seniority, you will find people start hearing you differently. They will be suspicious of your motives, not because you are a suspicious-looking person, but because they see you as having power over their lives and livelihoods.

That makes people feel vulnerable - and if they feel vulnerable, they will look at ways of protecting themselves. One of those ways is to be suspicious of you. So what can you do about it? I think that really good management and leadership is about being flexible and aware, both of yourself and others.

This monthly column is going to concentrate on the people side of leadership.

I'm going to look at the various ways in which you can engage with and gain the commitment of people. Whether or not you have people management problems, read this column and experiment with the ideas that appeal - and even some that don't. You may be surprised at the results.

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