The G-20 summit, widely considered the closest thing we have to a “world government”, was held in Germany this past weekend, and provides a masterclass in skills applicable to HR leaders.
For one, the G-20 process is “theatrical, undemocratic and non-binding,” according to Jill Petzinger at Quartz. Though in most cases HR leaders must respond to workplace issues according to procedures and legally-binding contracts, it is very often the manner in which these rules are applied, and communicated – to complex people in complex situations – that defines their effectiveness.
Here are some lessons in leadership taken from the event.
Managing expectations and negotiating difficult issues
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, and host of last week’s 2017 G-20 summit in Hamburg, was faced with many challenges familiar to HR.
One was keeping things on track by managing several strong, and potentially disruptive, personalities. In her case they were Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Recap Erdogan – all outspoken critics of Merkel. Invariably, meetings like this demand the impossible from its host; to navigate the competing goals of various strong-willed leaders to find points of agreement – and then sell these small steps forward as achievements.
At a press conference before the summit that she insisted she would be capable of achieving progress on climate protection. To actually achieve this goal, the German leader served as a “pivotal agent for compromise”, working hard to bridge the gap between the US and the 19 other countries at the meeting.
Another deft negotiation had to do with trade. Merkel was compelled to wrangle several nations to an agreement, as France objected to perceived concessions to the US, and the US attempted to step out on important issues. Like any skilled negotiator, Merkel was quick to declare the final language used in the statement “a win”, and garnered praise from those involved (no-one was left feeling hard done by at the end). Donald Trump, who is not exactly afraid to criticise others, is quoted as saying, “you have been amazing…and you have done a fantastic job.”
Responding to disappointing behaviour
Another challenge familiar to HR was dealing with someone who wasn’t living up to expectations. For the 19 member nations which are still committed to the Paris climate accord this was communicating with the US about its defection. This is not unlike talking with a star employee who has been headhunted, but may potentially be convinced to stay. Or, perhaps more accurately, an employee whose bad behaviour warrants a tactful wrist-slap, with the goal of helping them course-correct without any bad blood.
In her closing statement, Merkel’s remarks included a direct jab at Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. And the final joint G-20 communiqué reiterated her point. While noting the US’s stance, it made clear that the other countries were not in agreement with the US, staking a firm position without inflaming tensions further.
Finding points of agreement
Despite the many disagreements, across multiple issues, the world leaders at the G-20, made a point to “celebrate the wins”, so to speak. Of the topics put on the agenda by host nation Germany this year: climate change, free trade, and so on member states found some common ground on at least one topic, terrorism.
…And being honest about areas that require work.
But the core of any successful performance management program is consistent, honest feedback with clear pathways for future improvement. Commenting at the conclusion of the summit, Macron bluntly told reporters that on many important topics, little common ground could be reached.
Another lesson is the importance of taking initiative when it comes to areas of disagreement. And the problems that arise when you have a leadership vacuum that fails to address contentious issues. Take Trump’s failure to lead discussion on North Korea, which many in the media have reported as a missed opportunity for the US President. While several nations, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, went into the G-20 hoping to focus attention on the danger of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the declaration issued at the end of the summit didn’t even mention the issue. Given his “repeated warnings about his determination to bring Pyongyang to heel, Trump should have taken a strong lead,” writes The Australian’s editorial.
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