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Nine Uncomplicated Leadership Behaviors and the Human Resources Management Practices


It is often said that the success of HR depends on the observed behaviors and the commitment of the top management or the leaders. A leader, i.e. a member of the senior management flock or the Board, has twofold persona; 'emotional' and 'rational', and they influence the employees' collective perceptions about the HR philosophy & practices of the organization. Between the two, the 'emotional' persona has a bigger influence.

The leader's moods and (explicit & implicit) behaviors drive the moods & behaviors of everyone else in the organization. We don't require a proof, correct? As Daniel Goleman has said (refer the HBR article, "Primal

Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance"), "A cranky and ruthless leader creates a toxic organization filled with negative underachievers who ignore opportunities; an inspirational, inclusive leader spawns acolytes for whom any challenge is surmountable... ".

Needless to remark, everyone in the organization looks forward to how leaders conduct themselves in public and in private. Once more to draw from Daniel Goleman, "the leader's emotional persona drives the performance because everyone has had or looks forward to, at one time or another, the inspirational experience of working for an upbeat manager".

Lets us decipher these 'emotional' or 'other-than-rational' behaviors of leaders or senior management team that evidently influence how employees perceive the HR philosophy and practices of the organization.

Leadership Behavior 1 - "I am an employee first"

Check out the leader's behavior in reference to the Work Timing Policy or the Dress Code or the norms for eating in the canteen or the Travel Policy.

If the leader 'complies' with such rules & norms, the employees have all the reasons to comply and follow, happily & voluntarily. If the leader flaunts the company's 'No Smoking' rule, then the rule loses its 'moral' force. The more a leader identifies herself as an employee first, the easier is the enforcement of HR policies, rules, and norms.

Leadership Behavior 2 - "I know my people"

Knowing people is all about finding out their professional and personal particulars and having a 'live' connect with them. It is only when the CEO engages in knowing her employees, other senior managers are 'compelled' to copy her behavior. Such a behavior of the leader and other senior managers strengthens the 'dyadic' relations within the organization. The stronger the dyadic relation, the better is the coordination; which is a key ingredient for superior execution. Dyads make a team, teams put together make a function, functions make a department/division/unit and departments/divisions/units put together make the company.

Leadership Behavior 3 - "I manage by walking around"

During their career, very few employees get a chance to see or meet the CEO or the Chairman in person. Though there are annual functions, but in these functions, the CEO and the Chairman are generally 'gheraoed' by their coterie, and hence not accessible to 'common' employee. But imagine a CEO or a senior leader, being at the workstation of a junior most employee once in a while and having coffee or chatting about everything else but her work.

This employee will go over-the-moon and without a word, understand the 'openness' of the company's culture. Also, the senior managers learn what is expected from them by observing their leader in action. This is a classic sub-conscious learning.

Leadership Behavior 4 - "I don't spare anyone when it comes to execution"

Tough performance standards require reinforcement if the company wants to achieve the envisioned growth plans. Who is best placed to demonstrate tough performance criteria? The CEO. There are examples where CEOs have taken no rise in compensation or taken a token salary or relinquished some privileges, because the company did not achieve its stated targets. But such instances are few and far between. Not only we need more such examples from the Indian companies & CEOs, their stories will need to be shared with the employees to convey the accent on performance standards and corresponding rewards. Such behaviors of the leader can be a very powerful lesson for the employees on the linkage between performance, rewards, and professional growth.

Leadership Behavior 5 - "I am not perfect, own my faults and work on them"

To err is human, after all. A leader too is vulnerable and makes errors.

When the leader acknowledges his faults & deficiencies and ownership of the consequences, a message that, "mistakes do happen, but are acceptable as long as they are owned and worked upon", goes across. What gets reinforced?

The 'accountability' driven behaviors through the senior management.

Consequently, the 'ambitious' employees move from being 'mediocre' or 'high performer' to being 'excellent'. This behavior is all about helping the employees become 'accountable' and 'fine-tune' their performance.

Leadership Behavior 6 - "I lead from the front & set the standards"

Seeing is believing, right? Like an army commander during wartime, the leader has to be seen as 'in charge of the situation', especially during tough times. What the employees look forward to during tough times? An assurance and a direction. And if the leader is 'seen' in the front directing the efforts of the organization, the employees derive confidence and get charged up to take on the challenges, without the fear of failure.

This leadership behavior is about inspiring the deserving employees to move to the 'front', voluntarily.

Leadership Behavior 7 - "I believe in the merit and nepotism has no place in my lexicon"

This is perhaps a toughest leadership behavior. For various extraneous reasons, in some of the business transactions, nepotism might creep in.

Nevertheless, if the employees find their leader 'acting' on merit in his affairs irrespective of pressures in most of the situations, they get a lesson on managing by merit independent of the difficulties. At core, this behavior of leaders is about strengthening the culture of meritocracy in the organization.

Leadership Behavior 8 - "I enjoy my work as well as life"

Work-life balance has been a hugely debated topic in management research.

There are evidences that if the personal life goes for a toss in pursuit of career ambitions, the employees develop health issues and dysfunctional social behaviors. Just imagine a leader cracking jokes with his young brigade without his direct reports or asking his immediate reports to take a 'compulsory' vacation. What do you think will happen then? The work environment will become more lively and energetic and the senior guys will recognize the need for taking a break & giving breaks to their direct reports. Subtly, such behaviors of leaders encourage creativity and strengthen mutual trust.

Leadership Behavior 9 - "I value individual brilliance as well as teamwork"

An organization requires both; individual brilliance as well as strong teamwork and neither is a substitute for the other. Both have to be nurtured simultaneously. The only way to do this is to 'formally' identify teams, recognize excellent teamwork and reward the team members. While all progressive organizations have individual appraisal systems, very few have a team appraisal system. Even in the absence of a team appraisal system, the leader can always formally communicate the functional/departmental/unit ratings to senior and middle managers, to relay her emphasis on teamwork in addition to other causal factors.


Being a leader is like being a grandpa; the father has a son who has a son and so the leader has a senior manager as a direct report and senior manager has a junior manager as a direct report. The grandfather while guiding his son nurtures the grandson as the son is too tied up professionally and the daughter-in-law is also employed & hence cannot afford much time to her son.

Ditto for the leader.

One of the jobs the leader has, is to lay down 'behavioral' and 'emotional'

standards and enforce them by persistent demonstration. The leader will be able to demonstrate persistently, only if she has an unflinching conviction.

If the leader fails, fully or partially, in showing his people the HR path, he has left his job half-done. What is a key purpose of the robust leadership? To inspire and guide people towards achieving a particular goal through legitimate means including those for Human Resources Management.

People get inspired only when, they discover that their leader has sound credentials, and these credentials come more from the overpowering 'emotional' persona than the 'rational' persona. Going by the neuroscience and psychology, if it is about people management through the 'emotional'

persona, the right brain is invariably 'right'.

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