Last year, Overland Park, KS-based hr-haven, Inc., was named a winner in Thinking Bigger Business magazine's annual 25 Under 25 companies competition (companies that excel with 25 or fewer employees). Belinda Waggoner, president and founder of hr-haven, recently shared with me her insights about leadership, networking in the Kansas City metro, and human resources challenges that many leaders face.
- Question: What is your favorite leadership book and why is it your favorite?
Waggoner: Traditional business gurus disagree with my approach. I don’t read that much, and don’t read everything out there. I’m really selective about what I read and choose books that are highly recommended to me by people that know me or that I’m insanely curious about.
How are you a thought leader if you’re perpetually adapting thoughts and ideas through the works of others? If I must give an answer then I’d say authors Gladwell or Lencioni. If you’re in our business and want to understand the nuances of human behavior, then maybe Hardy. However, it’s hard to read something that moves you without having it influence your authentic thoughts. Authenticity comes from within, not the ideas of others.
- Question: What is the best way to network with other leaders in business within the Kansas City metro?
Waggoner: You can’t know too many people. Traditional networking has a bad rap, and it should. Showing up to an event to be bombarded by one person after another trying to sell you things you don’t need isn’t my idea of building a network. Connecting with like-minded people, because you enjoy learning more about them as opposed to selling them anything is more my speed. There are so many people in the greater Kansas City area doing such cool things; it’s absolutely energizing to get to know them better.
- Question: What leadership skill did you learn as a teenager that you still use today?
Waggoner: Perseverance. I was that kid that didn’t fit neatly into the educational box offered in school. I told my mother when I was four that I didn’t need to go back to school - rationale was that I couldn’t imagine how I was going to use what I learned there in life. It took perseverance to get through school; everything scholastic was a slog because I didn’t feel I was being prepped for life. I found my calling in work – taking my first job on the weekends at 12. It was then I determined that schools attempt to churn out well-rounded people, but they don’t focus on the skills people will need to be effective in life. Persevering despite odds stacked against you has served me well. If you persevere through any adversity you’ll know when you’ve done well, you don’t need others to tell you.
- Question: What Human Resources issues/situations cause challenges for many leaders?
Waggoner: All of them. I have yet to meet a business owner or leader that hasn’t or isn’t experiencing HR issues. Leaders get legal and tax advice, but seldom HR advice. The worst part of relegating HR to the bottom of your business “to-do” list is that people issues are the ones that will trip you up fastest. I challenge leaders to tell me how they innovate and they’ll tell me all about their cutting edge technology, their brand new equipment and their brilliant business ideas. I then challenge them to go look at the biggest line item on their general ledger and ask them to reconsider where they should be placing their innovative efforts.
- Question: I want to be a leader who is remembered for...
Waggoner: ...changing the face of human resources.
Changing the world is a lofty goal, but you won’t do it if you don’t try. I’m going to do it. HR has a terrible, but well-deserved reputation. It’s viewed as corporate, compliance based and stuffy – and HR professionals have a great deal to do with that perception. Elements of HR have to focus on compliance, legalities and difficult situations, but HR practiced well, with culture and purpose in mind, is truly an art.
- Question: If a leader can have only three leadership skills, which three should they be and why?
Waggoner: Authenticity, tenacity and humility.
Keep it real, don’t be another mindless sheep following the herd.
Hold onto beliefs and convictions regardless of what others tell you.
Having the strength to admit you’re not the brightest person in the room and giving others room to grow.
- Question: What leaders in the Kansas City area do you admire and why?
Waggoner: There are so many worthy of admiration.
Our clients; every one inspires me. Their commitment to their businesses is amazing.
Our thought leaders; the ones who aren’t afraid to stand up and say what needs to be said despite defying conventional wisdom and vox populi.
The many talented and giving leaders here; their willingness to freely share knowledge, help others grow, and put individual missions aside to benefit this community.
- Question: What do business leaders need to do to help retain their employees in the coming years as the economy improves?
Wagponer: The most recent economic downturn changed the ideals of employees. It used to be about pay and benefits, now it’s about being part of inordinate organizations who aspire to more than fiscal goals.
If you don’t pay attention to culture, environment, quality of work, developing skills, and giving them an opportunity to use their voice, you will lose them. They have choices, and they’re making them based on where they’ll be valued, where they’ll be able to share like-minded opinions and have total belief in their work. Lack of intent to give your employees what they need out of their careers is the biggest mistake you can make as the economy rebounds. What are you intentionally doing to foster that?