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Learning to Lead: Tomorrow’s HR Leaders, today – Part 2

It starts with you

Nick Holley

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Leader

Unleash Your Superpower What do all good role models have it common? Read our six rules for success

  • Don’t be a dinosaur – modern HR leaders need to be in-tune with the latest trends
  • Data first – use analytics to move beyond reporting the past to predicting the future. 
  • Understand the decision-makers – know the power ebbs and flows

Unleash Your Superpower What do all good role models have it common? Read our six rules for success

  • Don’t be a dinosaur – modern HR leaders need to be in-tune with the latest trends
  • Data first – use analytics to move beyond reporting the past to predicting the future. 
  • Understand the decision-makers – know the power ebbs and flows

This is a guest post by Professor Nick Holley, Director of Learning, Corporate Research Forum 

In Part One I looked at what makes a good HR function and in the second I look at  what makes a good HR leader: 

  1. This requires a high level of intellectual capability that is systemic rather than linear.  It’s not simply raw horse-power but the ability to connect a complex set of inputs instantaneously, diagnosing the issues and then identifying and delivering pragmatic relevant solutions that combine all elements of the HR mix. 

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  1. Self Confidence. HR people need to have enough ego to take ego out of the equation.  They need to have the courage to challenge as an equal not as a partner.  It’s never about them.  Indeed if anyone has gone into HR for personal recognition they are in the wrong profession. 

It might be unfashionable but they do need to care about people, though not so much they can’t make the hard calls. 

  1. They need to be trustworthy as they are dealing with complex, difficult and often personal issues.  I believe an HRD should never aspire to be CEO as they then become part of the game rather than standing above the game.  In many cases HR people will take on the highly sensitive role of personal confidante and the leader must have total confidence that these conversations will be confidential.  It might be unfashionable but they do need to care about people, though not so much they can’t make the hard calls. 

  1. Politically savvy. They need to combine this integrity with an understanding of how their organisations works, of how decisions are really made, of how power ebbs and flows.  They need to be influential at all levels but especially at the highest tables. 

  1. They need to be passionate about not just business in general but about how value is created in their organisation.  They need to be able to move beyond the numbers to understand what drives the numbers and how to influence them.  They need to use this understanding to define the HR agenda and where they spend their time not where they’re comfortable or what they enjoy.  They need to be able to balance the short-term need for profit and the long-term need to build a business.  Commercial means being comfortable with numbers and data, not a data scientist but using data to move beyond reporting the past to predicting the future.  In this day and age any HR professional who isn’t is a dinosaur. 
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  1. They need to be able to focus on what’s needed and deliver it.  They need to take the strategic and translate this into the operational, build a team that can deliver it and hold them accountable. 

So what does this mean for development? 

Many of these issues are inherent (I wrote a piece recently for the CIPD called ‘You can’t put in what god left out’ that made the point that it’s very difficult to develop things like intellect) but by focusing people’s attention on them you can help people develop their latent abilities.  What you can develop in their commercial acumen, strategic thinking, political savvy and delivery skills.  This rather than pure HR is where we need to focus in developing our future HR leaders. 

About the Author 

Nick has a unique background that combines experience as an army officer, ten years as a successful futures and foreign exchange broker with Merrill Lynch and sixteen years in senior organisational, leadership and people development roles in large global organisations.   In the last ten years Nick has run his own consulting and coaching business, is Associate Director for Learning at CRF, a Visiting Professor at Henley Business School, and an associate faculty member of Duke Corporate Education the number one ranked provider of executive education in the US (FT rankings 2016).  He has extensive experience researching and writing about key trends in HR (he was voted the fifth most influential thinker in HR), but his work with major global businesses and his background in senior HR roles gives him a highly focused commercial and practical outlook on HR. 

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