The Habits of Highly Successful HR Leaders – Part 1

Forefront Editorial Team Human Resources, Issue 08 - Nov/Dec 2013 Leave a Comment

What’s the difference between an HR practitioner and an HR leader? Our expert has identified 12 traits; here are two.

Yesterday, human resources (HR) supported the business. Tomorrow, however, HR will drive it. In fact, a 2012 survey by HR consultancy KPMG found that 59 percent of senior executives believe HR will grow in strategic importance. Unfortunately, just 17 percent say HR does a good job demonstrating its value. That doesn’t surprise John Schierer. Current Vice President of HR at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, he has more than 25 years of experience as a senior HR executive. During that time, he’s learned a few things about human capital. Those who manage it best, he says, have a dozen behaviors in common. Here, he tells Forefront how to master two of the 12 in order to take their organization from yesterday to tomorrow.

— Forefront Editors

#3: Run to What Scares You.

Years ago I was in a snowball fight with the woman who would later become my wife. As I took dead aim on her with the snowball, she did something totally unexpected: She ran directly at me. By running at me, she was actually harder to hit, and she had me off balance. She ended up tackling me and disarming me as I fell backward into the snow. I braced myself for a hard fall, but fell softly backward into the snow behind me.

Anytime I sense fear in myself, I recall that situation and think: How do I run directly at my fear? How do I tackle it and disarm it? Do I realize that my fall will not be as hard as I imagine it will be? Many times, the object we fear most can be knocked over easily, but we need to take that first step directly toward it. As I face fear and take the initial step, I create momentum and confidence. What is the worst thing that can happen?

Many times, our pride magnifies the impact of failure, and rarely is a failure catastrophic. Once I had to confess a failure to my boss. I was miserable and felt awful. But he asked two questions: “Did anyone die?” and “Did you learn anything that will help you?” If the answers to those to questions are (in order) no and yes, then you have a successful outcome.

So, if you fear math, take on a project with math in it. If you don’t like to speak publicly, do something that forces you to use that skill. Your fears limit you and your effectiveness. Run toward those fears and topple them.

#8 Have Fierce Conversations With Great Respect.

Many times HR staff members find themselves in a position in which they must deliver messages that others cannot or will not. These messages need to be delivered unwaveringly and intensely.

If you have a underperforming teammate or see bad behaviors, call them out privately and describe the desired behavior. When people know someone is watching and cares, they often respond. Alternately, if poor behavior goes unchecked, at minimum it allows the excuse “No one told me not to do it.” The litmus test is pretty simple: Would I recommend my workplace to my friends and neighbors? If the answer is no, what are the behaviors that need to be confronted and changed?

In many ways, HR is better equipped and situated to address such issues. People in a particular department may be hesitant to have these conversations because they have to see their co-workers daily. They may fear reprisals from their supervisor. HR must be unflinching in their willingness to define desired behaviors and willing to describe situations inconsistent with the ideal state. By stressing the behaviors, you are not setting up a personal confrontation (i.e., “you were bad”) but rather a positive alternative (i.e., “there are better choices in that circumstance”).

With these tips in your toolbox, you’ve taken two steps toward human resources supremacy. Now, take 10 more—a giant leap—by learning all 12 of Schierer’s HR leadership best practices. The full list is available here.

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