The 5 Habits of Destructive HR Leaders—Say It Ain’t So!


In my time as a researcher I have come across countless articles and blogs about the habits of great leaders or the bad habits of those in positions of power.  They almost hit you in the face on a daily basis if you traverse LinkedIn often enough.  The funny thing is I have never seen them contextualized to leaders in specific roles or industries.  They are always generic.  This irks me to no end because it reminds of my initial research on the SHRM Competency Model.  In a review of more than 30 competency models for the HR profession, only one clearly stipulated leadership as required for HR.  That is just plain wrong if you think about how businesses build competitive advantage in the age of information and knowledge.  Knowledge is power after all (forgive the School House Rock reference).  But it is only powerful if you know how to USE it and develop great habits for doing so.  Too often we see HR leaders abusing their knowledge and developing five deadly habits assuring them their place in the pantheon of destructive leaders.  What are these five habits? 

  • Failure to listen—We’ve all had that moment discussing something where our eyes glaze over as we stop listening.  The worst part is when we do it as a reflex.  It kills our approachability and makes us the enemy rather than the conduit.  People come to you for a reason.  Be their sounding board and watch how you will learn so much about the drivers of people’s behavior. 
  • Overlooking the Little Guy—We all want to be leaders.  We all want accolades and the glory that comes with being an HR leader.  The problem is we often forget the people that help get us there.  Moreover, we ignore people who have ideas because of their place in the hierarchy especially those interested in helping improve the employee experience.  Don’t overlook anyone!  No one is beneath you!  You will be amazed where innovation and creativity comes from on a daily basis.
  • Browbeating rather than Persuading—Success breeds the idea that you know best.  After all, you wouldn’t be where you are if you didn’t know best at one point or another.  The problem is that HR like all other professions evolves especially as you think of how human interaction changes with the rise of technology and the decline of the traditional job model.  HR leaders are just as guilty as other leaders when it comes to forcing others to adopt ideas through blunt force trauma.  Experience is valuable but don’t discard the thoughts of others.  Ideas are like gardens; better when managed by a community.
  • Overreliance on “Objectivity”—we all strive for objectivity and impartiality when making decisions.  But the problem is we don’t need to.  Impartiality is an artifact of journalism not law or business.  Justice is blind but judges and lawyers and all other parties aren’t.  Just as our peers in almost all other professions we should be objective in collecting our data but use our subjective experiences and perceptions to make decisions.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m not advocating running wild with biases.  I am just saying let your opinions inform decision making more than you’ve been trained to.
  • Politicking through Indiscretion—I’ve worked with many HR leaders over the last 15 years.  I’ve had some who were steel traps and didn’t share anything about anything with anyone.  Perhaps a bit too extreme.  I’ve also worked with some who were notoriously indiscreet.  Heck!  I even had one tell me she used the organizational rumor monger to spread information across the enterprise with the goal of affecting change.  A bit too Alexis Carrington or Regina George for my taste.  I advocate being a vault.  There are too many pieces of wisdom about loose lips sinking ships or discretion being the better part of valor to argue against discretion.  I understand the allure of gossip and that tingling sensation of having information that needs to be shared.  The problem is gossip burns a lot of people including the gossiper. 

I’ve witnessed too many HR leaders lament their failed attempts to be transcendent because of these habits.  My advice is to avoid each one like the plague.  To learn more about how to become a better HR leader and how to recognize one based upon the competencies please visit and

Do you recall a time when someone sunk their promising role as an HR leader by engaging in bad habits?  How do you avoid these bad habits every day?





The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: