5 Essential Skills of an HR Leader

See also: What is a Leader?

You can be the most talented and efficient worker imaginable… and still not be a leader.

Being a leader can be taught, but it’s important to note that experience and talent don’t make you a leader.

Being a leader is as much about being able to do your job as it is working with people. You need to be able to inspire others, strengthen their resolve, and – perhaps hardest of all – provide constructive criticism when they fail.

This last part in particular is extremely important. Being a leader isn’t always about being your co-workers’ friend, which often-times feels like the best way to inspire others. You need to be able to criticize, correct, and reprimand with clarity and a directness. It’s a fine balance you need to achieve since too much criticism makes you entirely unlikeable and can foster insubordination or rebellion. Similarly, you need to watch your specific words to avoid coming across as condescending or mean. It is not easy and the especially challenging part is the fact that there isn’t just one way to be a successful leader.

Leader with lots of ideas

The true challenge with being a leader is the fact that you need to change your leadership based on each individual person. Everyone learns and handles criticism differently, and you can’t possibly know what an employee may be offended by.

Some employees will be offended by harsh criticism, but others will feel like you’re condescending to them if you preface criticism with compliments or flattery about their other achievements.

Some people boil it down to 5:1; in other words, for each harsh remark or criticism, they make sure to deliver five compliments. Of course, these can’t be done all at once.

In any case, to become a successful leader of human resource (HR) services, you must understand the company’s goals and what assets drive commerce and sales that lead towards growth. Moreover, human resources cannot simply look at the company’s future as though everything is moving forward smoothly, a successful HR leader will look at the existing employees, clients, and problems and see how they can proactively improve. It’s a grander strategy than many realize, but it’s also the best way to foster growth.

For human resources, here are the five essential skills of a leader:

1. Communicate Effectively

For a leader, nothing is more important than effective communication. Nothing.

There’s an old saying, “Blame the teacher, not the student,” and that’s why leaders, directors, supervisors, and managers take the brunt of the blame. It’s not to make them into scapegoats, it’s because if their team fails, it is their fault; their own inability to communicate effectively.

If you need someone to complete something, then make sure they know how to do it. If they know how to do it, make sure they’re able to clearly explain to you their process and give you a realistic deadline. If they don’t know how to do something, don’t dump all the information on them, nor should you do it for them, or tell them to “Google it”. Schedule a time with them to figure the assignment out – even if it’s a pressing matter. You want to get the job done right the first time, so make an effort to learn their style of learning and work on it together.

Clear communication is what enables you to forge that balance between boss and friend. You become an ally, someone they’re able to ask for help rather than struggle through it on their own. Remember, the number one reason talented employees quit their jobs is not because of the company, but because of their supervisors. As a leader, that’s on you.

For lots more on effective communication start on our page, Communication Skills.

2. Learn Something New Every Day

Even if you’re very familiar with the company’s objectives, order of operations, and daily routines, be willing to step outside the box. See what other companies are doing; see how your field is evolving. Even if it’s something you would never do in a million years, stay current and up-to-date.

Not only will this make you a better person and leader, but you’ll naturally become more receptive to new ideas. When someone ventures a question as to why you’re not doing something (or why the company isn’t doing something), you won’t shoot down the idea, you’ll explore it – rewarding your employee’s ideas and potentially furthering the company.

Learning something new every day also helps you to become disciplined, it helps you to become an authority on the subject, and it helps you stay motivated (i.e. not complacent) on your job – that’s infectious.

You may find our page Lifelong Learning helpful.

3. Always Be Thinking Long-Term

The difference between human resources and an HR leader is strategy.

By definition, a human resources representative is looking at the current employees and seeing how to motivate or further engage them, but a leader of HR services is developing the long term plan.

Long term strategy is planning; it’s taking a snapshot of where you’re at now and visualizing the future. The landscape is constantly changing, so it’s your job to watch the ebb and flow and figure out not only what you need now, but also three months and three years from now.

Our page on Strategic Thinking covers the importance of strategy in more detail.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

4. Lead by Example

In today’s world, there’s far less erratic and inappropriate behavior, but it’s ignorant to assume we’ve evolved beyond it. For instance, many women consider their places of work as passively painful. It’s not overt harassment, but “death by a 1,000 paper cuts”.

But people want the work place to be fun. They want people to look forward to spending time in the office, surrounded by interesting people, and unfortunately that often means numerous crass jokes or subtle remarks that all build up to something less than stellar.

Of course, an HR leader is someone who knows what’s acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace. For a leader in HR services, it’s not simply about leaving a manual for people to gloss over (and forget), it’s about leading by example. It’s about following the HR code to a tee, not playing fast and loose with the rules. In the worst case scenario, people don’t consider you fun… but they respect your values and ethics.

5. Practice Yoga, A.K.A. Always Be Flexible

Some business owners see a vision of their company’s future and some have an inability to stray away from it. This can only be to the detriment of the company and pushes that vision further out of reach.

For instance, you may have budgeted to hire another employee, but a current employee wants a raise that would effectively terminate that goal. If the worker is valuable, then you need to keep them happy. In fact, you should start factoring in what kind of benefits or raises they’ll need in the future long term strategy if you plan on holding onto them.

Be flexible and open to change. In the long run, it’ll help your HR services and your company grow!

About the Author

Julie Caputo is to The Caputo Group what a sail, rudder and hull are to a ship.

She started as a payroll processor and has become one of the most crucial people in running the business. She has not only worked in every aspect of the company but she improved their efficiency substantial. Her knowledge and passion for helping our clients with improving their business in unparalleled.