Five Traits of Highly Respected HR Leaders

Editor’s Note: Gabrielle Toledano is the Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Electronic Arts and a member of Visier’s Board of Directors. In this guest post, she gives insights into how HR can make a significant contribution to the business.

It’s time for HR to re-think what it means to be an “HR business partner.”

It’s not about being the CEO’s best friend. It’s about solving problems, knowing the business, and delivering an informed point of view.

As an HR leader, one of the most rewarding aspects of my career is mentoring talented HR professionals. I’ve been privileged to play a part in developing individuals who have gone on to play influential HR leadership roles at companies like LinkedIn, Apple, Minted, GoPro and others. These people emulate what “the new HR” professional needs to be: respected, strategic, and courageous.

What can you do to become a sought after member of the executive team? Here are some practical things you can start working on today to become a respected HR leader:

#1. Know the Business
Expand your knowledge beyond HR operations. Know the company’s products and services, financials, and business goals. Start by asking questions like: Who is the company’s core customer? What do your products do for them? Who is the competition? What talent do we need more of to build the most innovative products and services? If you know the answers to these questions, you will be in a better position to understand how talent impacts the business.

#2. Act With Integrity and Courage
Be honest. If you make a mistake, own the mistake and fix it. If you don’t know something, don’t make it up. Be courageous and admit you don’t know it and follow up. I try to operate within a value system that includes fairness, integrity, and honesty. I use humor a lot, and that helps, particularly in difficult situations. If I see somebody doing something intentionally unfair to someone, I’ll say something. I’m not interested in politics. Attributes like authenticity and collaborative matter a lot. People want to work with people who look after the team and are consistently thoughtful and honest.

#3. Solve Problems
Break things down to root causes. For example, if employee engagement is a concern, take a step back and ask: What is the real problem? Hypothesize about which factors might be creating a disengaged workforce, and then look at the analytics to see if your theories are accurate, or to discover new insights.

#4. Deliver Objective Opinions
Listen to your intuition, but support your hypothesis with facts, and talk in the language of the business. Explain why a certain program will deliver ROI and support business goals. If you have data to back up your arguments, you can more confidently step up and deliver a point of view that could make a real difference in your business.

#5. Be Human First
The theme that transcends all these points is to be human first — this is a competency that will help you enormously in your career, whether you are in HR, Finance, Sales, Marketing, or another role. We added this value to our company’s values a few years back and it’s had an enormous impact on our business, which is 100% about our talent. To become a leader, IQ matters only up to a certain point. Peter Drucker, who coined the term “knowledge worker,” made the observation that with knowledge work, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself.” This means that the skills that help people harmonize (emotional intelligence) are becoming increasingly important.

To be a respected HR leader, you need to be able to empathize with other people, to understand the pressures they are under and what they need to succeed — make it personal, as it is personal. This will give you the ability to quickly organize a network of trusted individuals and align them together towards a common goal.

Being a leader comes more naturally to some than others, but if you stay focused on these five areas, you may just find that influential people will start coming to you to do more than simply execute on a task; they will ask you to collaborate and advise them to solve a significant company challenge.

Author Photo
Gabrielle Toledano |
Gabrielle Toledano is the Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Electronic Arts and a member of Visier’s Board of Directors.