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Published on: HR Coaching & Mentoring

3 practical tips for the loneliest role on the leadership team

How often do you get asked to after work drinks when you are the HR Director? I am willing to bet that the answer is… not very often!

How often do your colleagues (including the CEO) come and offload concerns and issues with you?  In my experience, frequently.

And yet who do you have to turn to as the HR Director shouldering these woes? ​

When you have responsibility for sensitive matters like employment investigations and performance management, and access to confidential strategic information like redundancies and corporate plans, it’s not exactly easy to be everyone’s best friend. Whether it’s an awareness that people are being guarded with you when you join them for lunch, or that you feel you need to keep your own issues and concerns at bay when talking to the CEO, it’s true to say that while every leadership role has some degree of loneliness involved, none is more lonely than the position of HR Director.

Maintaining the balance
You find yourself in the tricky spot of trying to maintain a very essential balance. That is, keeping the trust of both management and staff in order for you to do your job effectively. A healthy workplace culture is one that has strong collaborative links between leadership roles and employees across all levels. HR plays a crucial role in facilitating that harmony.

The culture of your workplace will play an important role in how you can achieve this balance. Some of your staff will completely understand your professional boundaries, while others might find it off-putting.

With this in mind, while it might be possible to find an understanding co-worker who you can socialise easily and comfortably with, what happens if that individual becomes the subject of an employment matter further down the line? You’re back to square one!

What about your trusted HR team?
In an ideal world, you would have other HR colleagues who can share this burden of the job with you. While this does keep your circle very limited, it at least gives you a small team to connect with. If you trust each other and work well together, you can bounce issues off each other and discuss possible outcomes and responses.

In smaller organisations, you might be completely on your own. Even in a larger organisation, if you are an HR Director who advises a CEO directly, there will be important things you discuss that cannot be repeated regardless of how many people might be in your HR team.

So, if this is your reality, what can you do about it?

1. Power Networking
It can be very beneficial to have like-minded connections outside of your own organisation. Other HR professionals who work for a different company can add valuable perspective and shared experiences.

Protect some time in your calendar to attend a couple of events a month. And then go with a strategy in mind to turn this into Power Networking for you.

I have a personal rule when attending networking events – I want to achieve three things from every event I attend.  It might be something relevant I’ve learned from the content of the presentations that I can use elsewhere (I always try to choose events with interesting and relevant topics), it could be a useful new contact, or it could be a lightbulb moment triggered for me.  Whatever it is, I don’t allow myself to leave until I have achieved at least three things.

Scroll through all those unread email invitations, pick two events in the next month that you want to attend, block the time in your calendar and confirm your attendance.  What’s the worst that can happen?!

2. Use your network
If the thought of networking events makes your stomach turn, there are other ways to connect to people within the industry.

Protect some time in your calendar and figure out who might be able to help you with the challenges you are facing.

If you need informal moral support, you might want to get a social activity going. I meet up with a couple of great coaches in my network for ‘posh hotel drinks’ every few months. We take it in turns to pick the swanky hotel, and find a date that works, and then spend a couple of hours together after work sampling cocktails and fancy bar snacks.  We have shared some extremely useful tips and knowledge, and had fun while we were at it.

If you need more specific help, don’t be afraid to ask someone in your network for help. We all love to help others, and the chances are they will have something you can help them with too, if not immediately, then sometime in the future.

Work through your existing Linked In connections or business card box, and identify the person or people you want to make contact with.

3. Invest in yourself
Are you your own worst enemy when it comes to investing in yourself?

I know I was.  Always prioritising the training budget to support people in the business, over and above investing in your own development needs.

Perhaps finding someone who has faced similar challenges will be the help you need right now. A mentor or coach from an HR background will have a lot of invaluable knowledge and experience, and will provide you with a safe space to download the complexities of your job and seek impartial advice.

Identify a fair and reasonable amount in your L&D budget to invest in yourself.  Use your peers as a comparison – if the CEO wanted to invest in the Finance Director’s development, how much would you propose?  Use that as your guide, and invest in your own development needs.

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