Growing Your HR Leadership Capacity


By Roberta A. Neault and Deirdre A. Pickerell

As Human Resource professionals, you are leaders within your organization and you also develop leaders for your organization. The following leadership lessons are relevant for both of those roles – strengthening your own leadership competencies and equipping you with strategies to effectively grow the leaders you are tasked to support.

One important role for leaders throughout any organization is to facilitate employee engagement; engagement has been linked to reduced voluntary exits, with highly engaged employees being 87 per cent less likely to leave (Corporate Leadership Council, 2004[1]). Engagement begets engagement: if your leaders are not engaged, they won’t be positioned to ignite engagement in those they oversee.

Change is constant, but transformation is a process that takes time. William Bridges (1991[2]) identified three stages to any transition – the ending zone (a time for closure), the neutral zone (a time of uncertainty where new policies and procedures are not yet routine), and the new beginning (when things begin to feel like “business as usual”). As HR professionals, you’ve likely been privy to news about impending changes long before they were openly communicated throughout the organization. This means you’ve had more lead time to deal with your concerns about the changes. As such, you and other leaders may be viewing them more positively than your employees will when they are first introduced to the concept. Allow sufficient time for changes to be fully understood and accepted.

With constant change comes stress, which will have a cumulative effect when added to other existing work-life stressors. As leaders, therefore, it’s important to monitor your own stress levels, as well as those of your employees. Effective interventions will be customized to suit the diverse members of your team. Understanding the link between employee wellbeing, productivity, and engagement will help you make a business case, demonstrating ROI for work-life balance initiatives.

In developing leadership competencies, your own or your employees’, a strengths-based approach is most effective. Warren Bennis, a noted professor, OD consultant, author and widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of Leadership studies, has been quoted as saying, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” From recruitment, through selection and employee development, focus on building diverse teams with complementary strengths, rather than “cloning” a successful incumbent. Although there are advantages in hiring people with similar skill sets, unfortunately their weaknesses and blind spots tend to be similar, too.

Great leaders know when to let go and when to tackle problems head on. This requires wisdom and discernment. It’s important to delegate and trust your team, but remain accountable and focussed on strategic goals. At times you may need to take back the reins or intervene directly to deal with a toxic work environment or dysfunctional system that is impacting your employees’ abilities to contribute their best.

Ensure your actions are consistent with your words – “walk your talk.” Inspiring leaders can be trusted. They are respected for their integrity, honesty, and compassion. They embrace diversity and recognize that building a diverse workforce requires a long term commitment, not short-term diversity programs.

Finally, to inspire those whom you lead, show appreciation at every opportunity. Implement flexible reward and recognition programs, but also informally make a habit of catching people “doing good.” Offer specific feedback about strengths and talents you observe and provide growth and development opportunities to continue to challenge your employees and build capacity.

For a brief tip sheet summarizing these leadership lessons is available online. The tip sheet is based on a workbook, Leadership Lessons for Transformational Times, and is also available at  

Roberta Neault, CCC, RRP, Ph.D., president, Life Strategies Ltd. and editor of the Journal of Employment Counseling. As a counselor-educator, corporate trainer, consultant, author, and international speaker, Roberta inspires individuals and organizations to imagine…achieve…and excel! Her pragmatic approach to wellness, balance, and sustainable people solutions has been embraced on four continents; her work was recognized with the Stu Conger Award for Leadership in Career Counselling and Career Development in Canada and NECA’s 2010 Professional Development award.

Deirdre Pickerell, CHRP, MEd, CHRP, GCDF senior consultant, Life Strategies Ltd. and Chair, BC Career Information Partnership. Deirdre has 17+ yrs experience in the field of career development and HR management. She has made significant human resource management contributions – locally, nationally, and internationally – through innovative program design, leading-edge education for HR professionals and career practitioners. In recognition of her work, Deirdre was honoured with the 2006 BC HRMA Award of Excellence. She is completing her PhD in Human and Organizational Development where her research interest is the impact of career management on employee engagement.

[1]Driving Employment and Retention Through Employee Engagement.
Available at:
[2]Managing-Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Available at:

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