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Be the Change: How HR Can Model the Leadership They Wish Their C-Suite Had

HR professionals are expected to embody the behaviors and expectations of leadership within the company we serve. People are watching to see “how we do things here.” This might feel like a burden, but it’s actually a tremendous super-power for the forward-thinking HR pro!

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Jan 17, 2024
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Last updated on Jan 23, 2023

Human Resources can be a lonely post.  We are expected to keep employees at a healthy distance because we are charged with helping our companies handle complicated and confidential matters that, sometimes, have legal ramifications.  Adding to that, our every move is in the spotlight as we direct the development of our company’s leaders.  Talk about pressure! Fair or not, the expectations for HR professionals to embody the behaviors and expectations of leadership within the company we serve  is an unwritten rule.  Modeling “leadership” is a ticket-to-entry in HR.  All eyes are on us.  People are watching to see “how we do things here.”  This might feel like a burden, but it’s actually a tremendous super-power for the forward-thinking HR pro!

Since we know that the most effective teams are those that are highly cohesive, and we’re fully aware that all eyes are on HR to demonstrate the company’s expectation for how to behave, communicate and lead, why not take the opportunity in the spotlight to spark a transformation around how teams operate?  What if, by virtue of being in an “HR” title and therefore the unofficial model of ideal leadership, you could ignite a groundswell around how team members hold each other accountable?  

It's possible, and it’s not complicated.  

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni outlines 5 specific behaviors that all highly productive teams embody.  When the HR leader begins to overtly demonstrate these very deliberate behaviors, others will follow suit and the soil will be ripe for transformational change.  

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1: Build Vulnerability-Based Trust

Trust lies at the heart of all high performing teams. Without trust, true teamwork is never sustainable. A lack of trust leads to an unwillingness to communicate honestly and openly, while real thoughts, feelings and ideas are suppressed. (Quite quitting, anyone?) Without trust, personal agendas are hidden and invisible ‘elephants’ roam the room. When there is trust among a team, people feel like they belong, that they’re seen, and they’re heard.  Fear of retaliation (overt or otherwise) is gone.  

As the HR leader, you can begin showing up in a more vulnerable way and encouraging team members to do the same.  Begin to connect on a human level with team members, share your own thoughts and fears while setting ground-rules around the trust and confidence that exists among the group.  When people feel that the environment is safe they will notice the collegial relationships around them deepen. As a result of this shift in culture, they will start to lean in as well.  

2: Allow (and Encourage!) Conflict Around Ideas.

This one may, on the surface, seem counterintuitive.  After all, how can conflict create a stronger team?  As we know from our personal lives, great relationships that stand the test of time can engage in productive conflict that ultimately fosters deeper growth and connection.  When a team fears conflict, they are reluctant to confront each other and they’re unable to engage in constructive conflict and debate.  We’ve all been part of a dysfunctional team where any perceived conflict or debate yielded a sure erosion of trust.  Without trust, ideas aren’t properly aired and evaluated, issues are don’t get resolved quickly, and difficult discussions are avoided.  

As the HR leader, you have an opportunity to model productive conflict.  Instead of sitting silently around the table in an effort to avoid debate, be the leader willing to have a spirited discussion without fear of being judged or shutdown.  Be open about the intent behind the debate and productive conflict and get clear on the expectation for leaders to participate in the spirit of mature leadership.  

3. Cultivate True Commitment.

Deep trust among team members coupled with feeling comfortable engaging in spirited discussions around conflicting ideas are foundational to establishing shared commitment around operational goals.  Teams work effectively when every member clearly understands, endorses, and commits to the team’s decisions and goals. Without shared commitment, we all know that individual agendas and unspoken motives will derail progress.  Great teams can make timely and sometimes difficult decisions to which team members readily commit. They know when and how to seize opportunities and maintain momentum.  They recognize that the whole is greater than the individual parts. 


As the HR leader, you can facilitate the airing of any concerns or alternative ideas before coming to the commitment phase.  You can facilitate discussions ensuring that every team member is clear and supportive of decisions made.  You can get everyone’s verbal commitment that the team is on the same page.  This overt agreement is priceless.    

4. Hold Each Other Accountable.

When team members are uncomfortable holding each other to commitments, the team’s efforts will begin to lack focus, energy will dissipate, and best intentions will fall apart. The most effective teams rely on peer-to-peer accountability, and they begin to naturally self-regulate the expectations they have of one another.  Mutual accountability is about team members holding each other accountable for what they say they will do.  You, HR leader, can be the team mate to ensure this happens.

Remember in the commitment stage when you got that verbal commitment that every team member was on board?  Well, now it’s time to help the team hold each other accountable for those agreements and reminding them of the commitments made.  

5. Focus on Team-Based Results.

The most effective teams focus their efforts on the collective goals of the group that were previously agreed upon in the “commitment” phase.  They don’t allow any member to prioritize personal or department-level agendas.  When the team loses that laser-focus on the company’s overall goal, no one wins. 

Here, again, HR has an opportunity to continuously raise the topic with the team as a gut-check to ensure everyone’s efforts are still aligned to the original commitment.   And, don’t forget to celebrate those wins! 

There you have it.  Five behaviors that an HR leader can actively embody that is guaranteed to move the needle.  Once teams start to experience the change, these behaviors begin to get woven into the fabric of the company’s leadership culture.  But for now, since all eyes are on you anyway, imagine the impact you can have on the multiple teams you interact with when you show up demonstrating these behaviors – and insisting others do, as well.  

Your CEO and Board will thank you for it.  

Troop Members, contact Courtney to learn more about how your leadership team can build new levels of effective collaboration.  

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