The Habits of Highly Successful HR Leaders – Part 3

Jaclyn Crawford Human Resources, Issue 10 - March/April 2014 2 Comments

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

By John Schierer

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 comes as no surprise to John Schierer. Vice President of HR at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, he has more than 25 years of experience as a senior HR executive, during which time, he has learned a great deal about human capital. Those who manage it best, he says, have a dozen behaviors in common. Here, he outlines for Forefront how to master two of the 12, empowering HR leaders to take their organization from yesterday to tomorrow. — Forefront Editors

 Restate the other person’s position

This is an extension of listening skills. If you are deeply interested in what the other person has to say and are practicing active listening, you should be able to clearly state the other person’s position with the preface “What you are saying is…”.

Too many times we mistake listening for the act of preparing our rebuttal. It is surprising how many good HR practitioners cannot accurately restate positions, especially ones with which they disagree. The ability to restate another person’s position with great clarity shows respect to the other party in the conversation.

In addition, this capability is important because as you are able to repeat the concept or opinion, you may be able to look for small areas of philosophical overlap. As you establish the tiniest beachhead of commonality, you can extend outward to look for ways to agree and reach a mutually satisfactory solution.

Finally, if there is a misunderstanding, this process allows the other person to actively clarify his or her point, so that misunderstandings do not get the opportunity to become deeply rooted.

Be able to defend your opponent’s argument as well as your own

This shows great mental agility and confidence, and it will ensure you synthesize the best parts of the argument into a greater solution. One of my bosses long ago took two combatants and made them switch sides of the argument. By doing so, he did not necessarily determine who was right, but he clearly understood which person had done the most diligent thinking.

The inability to defend your opponent’s position shows a closed mind and an inability to analyze the issue. Think about a group of art students sitting in a still life art class painting a bowl of fruit. Some see apples, others oranges, and some see grapes. All see shadows on different sides of the drawing. Is anyone lying about what they see? Certainly not. And who is the most talented artist? The one who can paint what is immediately before them, or one who can imagine what is seen on the other side of the room and capture it with great fidelity? Which artist do you want on your team?

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

Comments 2

  1. Terrence Gargiulo

    Listening is so important – I love this litmus test of “being able to defend your opponent’s position.” Here are two facilitator guides for simple exercises that develop active listening. The first breaks communication down into three channels:

    In a time where feelings and opinions are running hot in so many directions – it has become paramount for us to slow down and become attentive at hearing each other. Listening is not enough. Entering other’s stories moves us into new frames of references that orchestrates a space that can hold tensions, contradictions and ultimately lead us into emergent possibilities.

    Here’s a structured activity to help people work in this storied space…


    • Use stories to communicate multiple perspectives.
    • Practice entering other people’s frame of reference to understand multiple perspectives.
    • Generate out of the box thinking that takes into account multiple perspectives.

  2. Anderson Portella

    As the Brazilian poet Ariano Suassuna said: why there’s only course of speaking and there is no course listening?

    I agree with him.

Comments, thoughts, feedback?