The Single Most Essential Trait in HR Executive Leadership

What Trait Makes for a Great Leader and Leadership? 


A presidential candidate discovered that being well read is fundamental to success in the race, or at least in order to keep from being embarrassed. No, I am not talking about the presidential race in the U.S.; rather I am talking about the presidential race in Mexico. The candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, was asked by the press what three books have most influenced him as a leader and his leadership. This is a reasonable request, after all most people want to know that their presidential candidates are educated. Unfortunately Pena Nieto did not demonstrate his education. He answered “I have read a number of books, starting with novels that I particularly liked. “  But he could not name any titles and then fumbled around tossing out confused titles. He did say he had been influenced by the Bible, which he had read “parts of.”  This led to a great deal of criticism, and for many people it was a confirmation that he is telegenic but hollow.

I point this out, not because I care whether or not this man becomes President of Mexico, but because I wanted to point out that I believe a leader should be well read. And I think many voters want to know that their leader, or potential leader, is well read. I can only imagine what would have happened to one of the Republican presidential candidates if they had answered in a similar manner.

Lifelong Learning, Reading, & Leadership Roles in HR

My favorite leader in history is Theodore Roosevelt, who was perhaps one of the most well-read Presidents we have had. He always had a book with him even when he was in the Badlands, or Africa or the Amazon. He read voraciously, as have other Presidents. Jefferson was so well-read that his personal library became the foundation for the Library of Congress.

You make be saying to yourself “Gee, thanks for the history lesson Mike but what the heck does this have to do with HR?” Here is the tie-in. In today’s business world HR professionals are stepping up to take executive and senior leadership roles. You cannot possibly think of everything yourself. You have to be exposed to the ideas of others, in business, in HR, in politics and world affairs and to life in general. The greater exposure you have to the ideas of others the better your ideas will be. And this exposure can most easily occur through reading. It does not require your attendance at a meeting. It can occur on a plane or in your living room or at the local Starbucks.

The exposure to the ideas of others will give you a perspective on the world that will make you better positioned to take on leadership responsibility. You will be respected for you knowledge and education. But if someone asks you what books influenced you I would suggest you be prepared to answer.

With that statement I want to ask you “What books have influenced you in your career and in life?” Let’s start compiling a list.

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, writer, speaker and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc.  He has been in the field of HR for 30 years as both practitioner and consultant. He specializes in compliance issues for his small business clients. He is the author of the blog, HR Observations which can be found at and he has been writing blog posts on a full spectrum of HR topics for almost seven years. He is an active user of Twitter and can be found at @mikehaberman or @HRComplianceGuy. He has been an instructor in HR for 14 years and has helped many people achieve their PHR or SPHR during that time.













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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.

Reader Interactions


  1. Michael Charney says

    Excellent points, and thanks for posting. A related point is the way leaders hire–if leaders are truly interested in a wide range of opinions, it is important to be aware that we have a tendency to hire in our own image (in your analogy, that might mean only hiring people who’ve read the same books we have!). Insuring intelligent differences in a leadership team is important for leadership growth and continued innovation.

  2. Marylene Delbourg-Delphis says

    Thank you for this great piece. Yes “The exposure to the ideas of others will give you a perspective on the world that will make you better positioned to take on leadership responsibility.” This statement helps people to understand that leadership is not simply a question of authority and ability to make decisions — and that all the attributes of effective leadership are predicated upon the ability to listen to and people have a hard time listening or simply hearing if they are not well-read or do not attempt to expand their cultural framework.

  3. Michael D. Haberman, SPHR says

    Mr. Charney, thanks for your comment. You are correct, who a leader attracts is very important as a reflection on his or her leadership.
    Marylene, you are so correct on how important listening is to leadership.


  4. Stéphane OLIVIER says

    Thanks for this post.

    One of the books that have influenced me the most was “Total Leadership”, by Stew Friedman.

    What about yourself, Mike? You didn’t tell us what books have had the greatest value to your career in HR…?

    • Michael D. Haberman, SPHR says

      Thanks for asking. There are many. I have been heavily influenced by Alan Weiss, most recently by his book Thrive! I have also read several Drucker books. Tom Peters, particulary In the Pursuit of WOW! has been a favorite. Denis Waitley’s Empires of the Mind is a good one. A book published in 1993 was a favorite, called Flight of the Buffalo, by James Belasco and Ralph Stayer. It was about leadership and empowerment before many others talked about this stuff. Gladwell’s Tipping Point, Outliers and Blink have been thought provoking. More recently Daniel Pink’s Drive and Seth Godin’s Linchpin generated some ideation. For networking information I rely on a favorite Harvey MacKay and Keith Ferrazzi. I cannot even begin to name HR books, other than Dave Ulrich’s Human Resource Champions.

      I hope there are some titles in here you are not familiar with and it will prompt you to check them out. Thanks for the comment.



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