Shadow of the Leader: Unveiling the Power of Unseen Influence

On Wednesday 22nd May, I (Izzy Lister) and Amy Morris (UK Managing Director UK / Europe) led a deeply insightful and thought-provoking panel event hosted by Oakleaf Partnership Limited and in collaboration with our Women of Impact and Proud HR groups and network. The event, titled “Shadow of the Leader,” brought together some of the most inspiring industry leaders, including Meena Anand, Patricia Lorde, Elizabeth Reilly, and Eve Ronson, who bravely shared their personal experiences and perspectives on leadership, self-expression, and well-being in the workplace, particularly from the standpoint of female leaders from an intersectional lens. Megan Pain, HR Business Partner at Joe Media group, also shared her perspective whilst successfully moderating a great conversation.

The Power of Authenticity and Well-being

The conversation delved into the delicate balance between revealing one’s authentic self and protecting personal well-being in professional settings. It was a dialogue that challenged my own views on leadership and self-expression, especially when considering the intersectionality of identities in the workplace. Topics such as neurodiversity from Elizabeth, and the lingering effects of societal events like the murder of George Floyd were discussed from Pat, highlighting the complexity of navigating personal and professional spaces.

Key Takeaways:

  • Authenticity vs. Safety: One of the central themes was the importance of finding environments where individuals can be their true selves without fear of judgment. Elizabeth Reilly, Executive Coach, Board Advisor, Coach Supervisor, emphasized the shift from focusing solely on equality, diversity, and equity to fostering a sense of belonging. “It’s about being seen, being heard, and being valued,”. This sense of belonging is crucial for resilience and purpose in one’s work.
  • The Importance of Choice: Eve Ronson, People Graduate at Liberty Global, gave us a unique perspective from that of someone at the start of their HR career. Eve highlighted the significance of choosing environments that allow for safety and authenticity. Instead of constantly measuring how much to reveal, finding a supportive environment should be a priority. This idea resonated with many, suggesting that a conducive workplace can mitigate feelings of imposter syndrome.
  • Creating Safe Spaces: The panel collectively underscored the responsibility of leaders and HR professionals to cultivate safe environments. Eve Ronson and Elizabeth Rielly mentioned, “If you feel like you belong, the environment will enable you to be more resilient and have more purpose in your work.” which I personally resonate with like many of us.
  • Intersectionality and Inclusion: Discussions on intersectionality, particularly in relation to neurodiversity and personal identities, were moving and promoted a lot of reassuring head nodding from the audience. The emotional labour of sharing personal experiences and the shame around conditions like dyslexia were brought to light. Patricia Lorde (Global Head of ER, Operations and HR Delivery) advised, “Find your tribe in the office,” suggesting that supportive groups can provide empowerment and a sense of safety.
  • Boundaries and Vulnerability: Setting boundaries and being selective about vulnerability were recurring themes. The panellists cautioned against being vulnerable with the wrong people and encouraged finding trustworthy colleagues to share lived experiences with. “When people reveal themselves to you, believe them,” Pat advised. Meena gave us food for thought when she said, “borrow power from other leaders and have clear boundaries”.

A Call to Action

The event also touched on practical strategies for HR professionals and leaders. Flexible working policies, inclusive event calendars, and employee engagement surveys were cited as tools to foster a more inclusive workplace. The importance of moving from “I” to “we” in organizational language was emphasized, as this shift can change the perspective and impact of workplace initiatives.

In a particularly powerful moment, the panel was asked how to balance well-being when one feels out of place. The unanimous response was to leave such environments, highlighting the detrimental effects of staying in spaces where we don’t feel safe is so important. This advice struck a chord, reflecting on the cultural tendency to stay in unhappy environment’s, rather than seeking healthier alternatives. However of course, this can often be the only option when the job market is challenging.

Closing Thoughts

As leaders and HR professionals, we have a unique opportunity to shape environments where people feel they truly belong. Overall, the discussions at the “Shadow of the Leader” event were inspiring. They highlighted the unseen influence leaders have and the profound impact of creating workplaces where authenticity and well-being are prioritized.

Thank you to Amy Morris, Megan Pain for hosting so beautifully, Thomas Godden for all the work with Proud HR, the panellists and everyone who came along to learn and network. The insights gained will undoubtedly contribute to creating more inclusive and supportive workplaces.

As always, it was a pleasure to connect with fellow HR professionals over a morning coffee. Here’s to continuing these important conversations and making tangible changes in our workplaces.

“It’s not just Batman that wears a mask to work, in many respects we all do. We all have things that we are afraid to share and make a decision whether we will be accepted for our true self. We as leaders and HR professionals have an unique opportunity to create an environment where people feel they belong.” – Hazel Webb – HR Professional and event attendee”

Amy Morris

Amy Morris

Managing Director - UK / Europe

Isabella Lister

Isabella Lister

Consultant - Commerce & Industry

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