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Five Traits of Effective HR Leaders

Originally published in BOSS Magazine.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve tracked many Global HR Heads from the time they were HR Managers, and in that time I’ve also seen a number of HR graduates rise to run entire regions.

I’ve always found it interesting when I stop to consider what was it about these HR leaders that helped them succeed in some of the largest and toughest, evolving roles anywhere.

Here are five traits I think have contributed to their success:

Have humility

It may sound obvious, but fast-rising HR leaders are great humans. They look to make a connection, and because of that, they are respected by the business, their HR colleagues, their direct teams as well as their leaders. They keep their egos checked. They are excellent listeners and offer solid advice, but only after understanding the problem. In a nutshell, these talented individuals are almost always universally respected.

Possess an intellectual curiosity

Rising HR leaders are widely read and welcome many views and opinions. They are not complacent with the “old ways” of managing HR issues and actively seek innovative solutions. A key strength is their desire to understand the business unit, their competitors, and the industry as a whole. They embrace change with a keen focus on transformative capabilities.

Create the change

I’ve watched many HR leaders grow impatient for the next “big” opportunity, which leads to disengagement and an overall dissatisfaction with their role and company. However, the type of HR talent who gets promoted–dare I say, headhunted–don’t allow themselves to become restless; they understand that there is always a lot to do. They create their own career development opportunities by proactively orienting themselves towards new projects, specialist areas or business exposure. They develop resilience through change and maintain a strong focus on constant learning and finding new ways to add value.

It’s not about the money

The brightest HR stars rarely chase the dollar; it’s about the opportunity. In fact, sometimes, I’ve seen top HR talent fall behind the market median based on their skillsets or talents. However, over time, be it within their company or on the open market, their hard work pays off and their pay reflects their capabilities. Rarely have I seen the exception.

Seek good mentors

I’ve noticed that the best HR talent intuitively seek out strong mentors, either within the profession or within the business, and sometimes outside of their companies. If they’re lucky, they may find a mentor in their direct bosses. But, what I find most intriguingly is that these HR leaders don’t look for just one mentor. Instead, they have multiple mentors, each providing different qualities that inspire and teach.

For all the analytics, data, and available HR-related technology, it’s actually the human side that remains the most important trait when it comes to HR leadership–or, perhaps, any form of professional leadership. HR is about building lasting relationships that are based on enabling others to do their jobs better.

Exceptional HR leaders know this and are capable of delivering high-impact, high-value results that affect change. And equally important, HR leaders who exhibit these traits illustrate an intrinsic understanding of what the business needs and the employees want. They are able to reconcile the inherent professional and commercial tension to stay modern while at the same time accentuate the human side of their role to the benefit of their organisations.

The future of HR is different, but it is also bright.



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