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The Making of an HR Leader – Attributes and Characteristics

To work in any profession, one should not only have “Subject Matter Expert” but must also suitable possess personality, behavior, acceptability, etiquette, mannerism, attitude, and professional approach, to work efficiently and to prosper. If you do not have the right attitude, aptitude, soft-skills, etiquettes and self-discipline then you might be able to survive but will not be able to grow in your profession in spite of acquired knowledge level, education or good background. It also holds true for people working in the HR Profession. There are basic minimum professional expectations, from all HR practitioners. These expectations or code of conduct guides the manner in which they must conduct themselves, behave and react to ensure acceptability by the company, management, and employees and to perform their roles and responsibilities in a professional manner.  In this write-up, we are trying to highlight and discuss some of those attributes and qualities. Although we have attempted to cover all traits required in the personality of an HR Professional, we are afraid we might have missed some.

TWELVE Qualities all HR Leaders Should Have

1. Ability to make decisions Decision making ability is a very critical attribute for the success and growth of all individuals in any profession. A decision made can be right or wrong, but the fear of making bad decisions should not stop someone from making any decision. Not taking any decision is not a good decision. This attribute is very critical for HR professionals. Their one decision can “actually” change the life of an individual or can cost the company dearly.

Their one decision can get a right or wrong person into the organization.

Their one decision can retain or terminate the services of a high-performer for the sake of a non-performer.

Their one decision can reward or promote or retain a non-deserving non-performer.

HR professionals are human beings too with emotions and feelings, and they deal with people exhibiting different needs and emotions and hence it is important for them to make fact-based decisions. Do not go by what you or others think about an individual but support your decision with the facts and data. One should not only be able to make a decision but making a decision at a right time is equally critical and necessary.

2. Clarity of thoughts You cannot turn HR department as a cost center or profit center or investment center or personal development center, all at the same time. Head of the department must be very clear about what he or she wants the HR Department and HR team to do. Departmental vision, objectives, and goals must be clearly defined and communicated.

3. Efficiency in time management A lot has been said and written about time management and how does the inefficiency of an individual in managing his or her time can hamper the professional growth. However, the ability to efficiently manage the time plays a major role in the HR profession. The time you take to fill an open position or number of days a position remains open or delays caused in getting a right person are some of the HR matrices that emphasize the need for time management. Also, the time that you might take in providing a timely solution to employees or management can attribute in retaining a high-performer or preparing for separation. HR professionals have been accused and blamed for delaying the processes and thereby causing loss to the company by failing to retain the right people.

4. Knowledge about the Business and Industry– This is one of the paramount skills required to excel as an HR Professional. However, it has been proved through several surveys conducted by various agencies that HR professionals do not care to understand the business of the organization and to know the nitty-gritty of an industry that they are working for. Working dynamics of each industry is different and so are their expectations from HR professionals and hence differences in roles, responsibilities, and challenges.

5. Ability to communicate efficiently, precisely and timely– Not only does capacity to communicate fluently and correctly but also the capacity to communicate effectively, clearly and promptly is some of the prerequisites of HR profession. Delayed communication or messages not delivered on time are of no use. Similarly, in spite of being fluent in your communication, if the content of your communication is not correct and definite, it may not be able to drive appropriate response. Avoid using unnecessary jargons.

6. Global Mindset Whether you are working in a small company or a huge multinational organization but having global mindset is critical to the success of HR professionals. A global mindset is your ability to see the bigger picture and creating a link between strategic and operational goals. We will discuss more global mindset in another article.

7. Understanding cross-cultural dynamics Doesn’t matter if you are working in a national or a global environment but understanding the influence of culture on the behavior, needs and expectations of an individual and team help the HR Professional to perform efficiently and professionally.

8. Love for Number, Data, Logic, Analysis, and Projections It has been said that people who join HR profession are less inclined towards, numbers, data, logic, and analysis. However, that is not true. To be successful in this profession, one must develop passion and love for numbers, data, analysis and projection. You deal with people and their emotions and one cannot run a profitable business by being emotional and hence care must be taken to make decisions by facts, logic, and data. Also, the management is interested in numbers, analysis and projections. You cannot implement a policy or a strategy without analyzing and projecting its future implications regarding money saved, earned or invested. While presenting any plan or strategy to the board or the management, an HR professional must be able to provide projected figures, regarding the following:

1. % increase in retention or % decrease in attrition
2. % time saved in talent acquisition,
3. The increase in employee engagement and employee satisfaction
4. The equilibrium between internal and external equity
5. The difference in productivity and performance after attending training programs
6. The impact of training programs
7. Increase in production per employee per hour
8. Cost saved

9. Trustworthiness – By profession, HR professionals get access to certain critical, personal as well as confidential information about candidates and employees of the organization such as details of their salaries, performance scores, residential addresses, banking details, etc. Also, as HR professionals are expected to resolve all problems of an employee that hinders his or her performance at the workplace and hence get access to certain personal and private details of an employee. Therefore, at no point, they should disclose this information to external parties or share it with other parties or use it for personal pleasure and gain. In order to build professional relations at the workplace, it is important to maintain trustworthiness in professional relationships. HR professionals must be able to distinguish between the employee information that they can share with management or the reporting manager and the information that they should keep to themselves.

10. Self-Discipline This is one of the qualities that are common among all professions and professionals. Self-discipline results in the maturity level of an individual. It also means, “Practice what you preach.” HR professionals are role-models and therefore need to set standards for others to follow.

11. Compare performances but not individuals HR profession is based on the belief that no two persons are the same and hence their needs, expectations and factors that motivate them are different, and that’s a challenge for HR professionals.  HR professionals are expected to personalize their approach, behavior and communication to address the individual needs of their employees without compromising with corporate objectives and goals. You should make every employee feel special and appreciated. They should feel that you are dedicated to them, care for them and that you are unbiased.

12. Take OwnershipInstead of passing on the blame on management and covering your bottom, come up with a solution. It is easy to put the blame on senior management or the CEO of the organization, however, as an HR professional, you cannot surge off your responsibility. What you did to influence the decision of management, is equally important. If you have done nothing, then you too are part of a wrong decision. HR function has a lot of scope for improvement and as an HR practitioner one must be ready for continuous improvement processes and evolution of practices.

FIVE traits that any HR Professional should not have – Behavior that hampers the growth of HR Professionals

1. Ego:Although it is a very common negative trait to have, irrespective of your profession it hinders the growth of an individual and has also doomed many successful people. HR professionals cannot afford to have even a pinch of ego. HR professionals cannot exist in isolation or vacuum. They exist in an organization because there are people in the organization. They must be visible and approachable.

2. Should not be emotional “Touch everyone’s heart and don’t let them touch yours”. One common trait among all individuals across countries, cultures and religions are that they are emotional. However, in HR profession, being emotional is considered as a weakness. Within your organization, you can be empathetic but not sympathetic. You are getting paid to manage, motivate people and improve their performances and not for developing personal relations or making friends at a workplace. Employees of an organization, including HR professionals are paid for their time and hence, they should not waste that time. If your friend in the office has been ignored for the promotion in favor of someone better or if they have been penalized for their misbehavior or indiscipline or if they are getting laid-off or if their employment gets terminated because of poor performance you can show all your sympathy outside the office premises but within the walls of office that you must follow the protocol and your code of conduct. HR professionals must be reliable.

3. I know everything Just like practicing lawyers and doctors, Human Capital Management and Development is an ever practicing profession. For a lawyer, every case is different and unique and for a surgeon, every operation is new and different. In a similar manner in this profession, you deal with human beings who are unique and different in their behavior and culture and hence no amount of experience can lead you to perfection. Therefore, “I know everything” is a devastating attitude that leads to self-destruction. It is suicidal. Be willing to learn. We like to quote an axiom from unknown sources:

If he doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, he is arrogant, AVOID him.

If he doesn’t know and knows that he doesn’t know, he is a student, TEACH him.

If he knows but does not know that he knows, he is sleeping, WAKE him up.

If he knows and knows that he knows, he is a LEADER, Follow him.

4. I am the GOD, and I am the Kingmaker:Although, just like doctors in a hospital, HR professionals also play a significant role in the life of an individual by giving them an opportunity to present their candidature for a suitable job that should not make them feel godly. By providing a job opportunity or by rewarding a right person for a true performance or by providing a solution to the problem, HR professionals just carry out their work and get paid for it. If they are instrumental in facilitating the selection of a wrong person or getting a reward for a non-performer, then they encourage corruption and your existence in the company derail its growth. However, many HR professionals in Asian countries send across a non-verbal communication to employees that implies, “Don’t mess with me or I will spoil your career” or “I have done a favor to you hence respect me, oblige me and appreciate me”.

5. Should not be biased (No Favoritism; No Grapevine; No Office Politics)– Many times and in many organizations, HR department is considered as a center of office politics. This is due to the lack of professionalism. They make attempts to get information from other departments and teams and as a result initiate grapevine and unrest among employees. For HR professionals, only the performance of an employee should be a criterion to judge a person. Neither should they have favorites nor should they encourage favoritism in an organization.


Human Resources are very important and critical resources of an organization and hence Human Resource Management is a very crucial function. Therefore, HR professionals can play an important role in the success of an organization. They are expected to do their job efficiently and diligently. In this article, we have tried to list down some of the qualities that can help HR professionals to be successful in their profession.

Your comments and feedback will help us to learn from our mistakes.

Composed by: Sanjeev Himachali

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