3 Unexpected Principles That Help LinkedIn’s Head of HR Be a Better Leader

April 13, 2017

A lot of HR and recruiting leaders admit that they stumbled into the profession by accident and only then realized that it was their calling. For Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s CHRO, this realization came when she was 19 -- all thanks to a college career counseling test and the insight she heard from her uncle who was VP of HR at the time:

“Talent is on average 80% of a company’s operational expense...the quality of the people you recruit and how you treat them can make or break a company.”

Thinking that’s hell lot of an impact a person can make, Pat set off on the path to becoming a HR leader. She blazed her own trail in the process and encourages aspiring HR leaders to do the same. “There are multiple ways to get to my seat,” she tells Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting, in this week’s episode of Talent on Tap.

While there’s not a single path for everyone, if you want to be a successful leader in HR, learning what worked for Pat is a great place to start. Over the course of her career, she’s picked up these three skills that are key to her success as CHRO:

  • Treating people beautifully
  • Knowing what you don’t know
  • Giving hard truths (and not accepting easy answers)

In this special Talent on Tap video, Pat sits down with Brendan for a wide-ranging conversation about her journey, the role of CHRO, and the qualities that help her be a great leader.

Let’s take a closer look at those three traits and how they’ve shaped Pat into the CHRO she is today.

1. Treating people beautifully: It's the fastest way to generating great business results

To ensure she never forgets the human aspect of human resources, Pat champions her own personal mantra to treat people beautifully—which means delighting employees and candidates, evoking an emotional response, and showing that you care. This isn’t just a feel-good exercise, either: Pat believes it makes great business sense.  

“You get ruled by process too much, especially in some HR disciplines,” she cautions. “You might do the right process, but you’re actually doing the wrong things… When you’re giving someone feedback, you can treat them beautifully—they deserve to be treated beautifully, so they can hear you.” In an article for the Huffington Post, Pat writes that “by treating your employees beautifully, you give them the sense that you care about the ‘whole person,’ not just their work product.”

Treating people beautifully also leads to concrete business gains, as Pat writes:

“They become our best referral network, talent brand champions and perhaps our next hired employee. Make business sense? Absolutely! [...] They will be motivated to contribute more, to be more creative and go the extra yard.”

Even when rejecting a candidate or giving an employee constructive criticism, “I can’t find a single exchange with an employee, with a candidate, where you can’t extend yourselves in a beautiful way to get to a resolution,” Pat says.

2. Stay humble and know when to turn to others for help

When asked about what it takes to be an effective CHRO, Pat gives a surprising answer. “Humility and vulnerability,” she says.

Rather than a sign of weakness, knowing your limits and soliciting outside input is a show of strength and wisdom. “I don’t know what I don’t know, and I make mistakes all the time. Having the trust, the resources, the tools, the experience to know when to pull from others and when to pull them, [that’s what] makes a great CHRO.”

It’s that insight—you don’t know what you don’t know—that leads Pat to value feedback from others so much. She highlights listening as perhaps the most essential part of her day-to-day job as CHRO. “I keep gathering feedback and then I create a point of view. That takes time, to gather insight. I seek feedback all the time... To really listen takes time.” Rather than pride and hubris, a humble attitude gives you the clarity to hear out others and find the most accurate point of view.

3. Don’t be afraid to give tough feedback and demand accountability from others -- HR cannot solve all business problems in isolation

One of the most important things a CHRO can do is serve as a reality check to other business leaders in the organization. It’s a duty Pat calls “holding up the mirror,” and while the reflection may not be flattering, it is necessary.

For example, if a small company is only 20% female and hiring practices don’t change dramatically, that gender gap will persist. A good HR leader should “hold the mirror up and say ‘here’s what we look like... if we continue to grow like this and extrapolate that trend out, we’re going to look like this, and that’s not pretty.’”

Identifying a problem is only half the battle, though. Once other business leaders see the problem, they’re often too quick to throw it back to HR, as if saying, “HR, what are you going to do to solve that?”

Pat’s recommended response is unexpectedly honest: “You gotta say, ‘Not a damn thing.’ And then you sit.”

Instead of rushing to solve a problem unilaterally, Pat recommends pausing. “The beauty of the pause is that if it’s a business problem, a business leader needs to solve it.” She’ll make her part known, of course, but beyond that, it's up to the other business leaders to step up and own the problem. When that happens, there’s a huge momentum shift and HR gets the executive buy-in necessary to truly address the issue.

Though Pat is happy to share her own journey, she cautions against trying to replicate it too closely. “There’s no template that makes you great,” she advises. “It’s how you show up every day.” To Pat, it’s not just a matter of doing her job—she sees the moral duty and personal responsibility she has to the employees around her. “You impact people’s career, their joy at work, and they take that happiness or distrust to home,” she shares.

“If you do your job right, you can make people have a better, healthier life.” And that’s the true sign of a great HR leader, no matter what path you take.

Talent on Tap is a weekly series where Pat Wadors and Brendan Browne break down some of the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned each week for the latest.

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