Ninjas in our midst: in praise of undercover leaders (dispatch from #SHRM15)

Note: This week I am at the Annual National SHRM Convention in Las Vegas, NV. And in case you’re wondering if it it’s hot in Las Vegas in July, the answer is HELL YES. The heat…my god, man, THE HEAT.

Not everyone likes to go to conferences.

There are a lot of people. Vendors look desperate. There are too many sessions that seem to look the same, and if you have to get on one more shuttle bus, you may burst into tears.

Now multiply that by about 15,000.  Because that’s how many HR professionals have descended upon Las Vegas for the annual SHRM National Convention.

They come for a variety of reasons – some come to get their recertification credits, some to see specific speakers, some to raid the Expo Hall, and yes…some come just because they want a company-sponsored trip to Vegas. (Don’t judge – you’re just mad you didn’t think of it.)

I would argue, however, that the vast majority come to reconnect with others who share their experience,
skills, and interests. They come because they want to meet the people they’ve connected with over the years. They come because they want to learn from others.

And they come because so many of these HR professionals are LEADERS.

No, they don’t have the fancy title. In fact, many of them don’t even think of themselves as leaders. They are HR folks doing the best they can to help their organizations be successful. And in the process, they prove their leadership.

These folks ask good questions in sessions. They stay behind to challenge the speaker on points made during a session. They engage with their peers on the Expo Floor or while waiting for the shuttle. They ask how the conference is going when riding the elevator down to the lobby each morning. They challenge the thinking of those around them, aren’t afraid to call something bullshit when it is exactly that, yet they don’t tear down – they help build.

This wouldn’t surprise the people who know them, because back in the office, these same HR professionals nudge and influence, support and coerce the employees and leaders working in their organizations. They keep the trains running AND challenge the status quo – all without calling attention to themselves. It’s about the outcomes, silly.

They are leadership ninjas. You don’t even realize they were there – but you feel their effects long after they’re gone. (And some of them are partial to black. No idea why.)

Are you noticing the “ninjas” in your organization? Are you willing to recognize leadership based on actions, not words? Are you able to empower based on behaviors, not title?

Don’t underestimate the power of these covert leaders…because I guarantee there are others in the organization who notice their influence and rely on their leadership capabilities.

When these HR professionals return to their organizations, eager to share what they experienced and itching to try some new things, give them some grace. Leaders DO. Leaders ACT. Leaders TRY. The worst thing you can do is look at them like they’ve grown a second head because these people want to implement something new.

So be quiet. Stand back.

You may be surprised what a ninja can do.

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