Developing effective leadership skills in HR

We all know effective leadership is key to organisational success. Yet organisations often report that they do not have the leadership capability required. How can HR have a stronger and more embodied leadership presence so as to serve the business with more impact?

Improving productivity is a constant theme across organisations in Singapore, seen as key to retaining its competitiveness in a global marketplace.

Our research – The Singapore Management Agenda - finds that organisations are taking this challenge seriously with the majority of HR managers reporting they are taking steps to boost productivity. And there are signs that the workforce is feeling the pinch, with the most commonly reported source of stress in the workplace being workload, and 68% of managers working longer hours as a result of the volume of work.

The irony here is that in these circumstances we often end up feeling like we need to be busier and more productive, which can just invoke panic, more haste and less quality of thought and action, which in turn creates more problems.

And having mentioned the word panic, let’s admit there’s a lot of fear in many organisations today. A fear of being seen as incompetent, not good enough, not fitting in, or maybe even of standing out. In our experience, feelings like fear and panic lead us to achieve less with less.

We all know effective leadership is key to organisational success. Yet organisations often report that they do not have the leadership capability required. Recently we have started to see results with a methodology that brings leaders fully into the power of their own being in the moment – often known as leadership embodiment. Organisations are starting to wake up to the power of this, but many haven’t, yet.

So here’s a suggestion. If you can convince your senior leaders to try some leadership embodiment work for themselves first, great. If not, try it yourself and expect a request soon thereafter: “Can I have some of what you’ve had, please?”

What does this mean in practice?

There are a number of definitions of presence and embodiment but we define it as the power of our whole being as present and engaged with those around us, achieved by having our mental, emotional and embodied faculties working together.  When you have this, compelling visions and better decisions seem to come more easily and your followers start to find the same energy and conviction.

Surprisingly perhaps, asking some different questions and adopting some simple techniques is all it can take to access these qualities which might just mean you get more for less.

  1. Can you stop and notice habits of behaviour and even body posture that may be hindrances to you being more effective? And if you do notice them, are you able to do something different consistently?
  2. Putting aside doing more for a moment, are you doing the right things? Are they the things that matter most to you? Can you stand still, breath and make the courageous choice, while all those around you move ever faster?
  3. Are you able to stay calm and clear in ambiguity? As drivers of change, we see the most successful HR leaders acting more like catalysts, choreographers or orchestrators than managers, with a long term strategic view and excellent connections all across the business.

If your answers to these questions are, at best, a slightly doubtful “well” or “maybe”, some work on leadership embodiment will almost certainly help. We see the most impactful HR professionals facilitating effective leadership development by creating a higher quality of awareness and action, rather than, for example, creating more processes and procedures for others to do. And presence of the sort we have described above is the best route to this sort of action that we’ve found so far.

Your best chance of getting leaders to develop in the ways you know will help is to show them the way from your experience of already having gone there. If HR wants to serve the business with more impact, a stronger more embodied leadership presence might just be the place to start.

Written by Sue Binks and Tom Kenward, Roffey Park Institute


A free whitepaper called Leading with Presence is available from

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