8 Characteristics of an HR Master

Sensei by C. Rutherford, used with permission.

Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist, is frequently quoted by business leaders. One of his most popular and broadly applicable quotes is, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Many people draw parallels between the strategies Sun Tzu used on the battlefield and strategies for competing in business today. His writings, (e.g. The Art of War), are studied and his strategies are applied in pursuit of business success.

Sometimes, the leaders implementing such strategies focus so exclusively on the big picture that they forget how their decisions affect those on the front line, in the thick of the battle (i.e. employees).

Undoubtedly, there are many great lessons to be learned about business strategy from Sun Tzu. For those managing front line troops, however, there is even more to be learned from the Karate Master or Sensei.

What HR Masters Can Learn from Karate

Sensei is a Japanese word that is literally translated as “person born before another.” In general usage it means “teacher.” The word is also used to show respect to someone who has achieved a certain level of mastery in an art form or some other skill. [1]

In a Karate dojo, “the character of the Sensei determines the outcome of the student.”[2] Whether a particular dojo becomes known for excessive aggression and competitiveness, or the more holistic development of body, spirit and self-discipline, is a clear reflection of the attitude and character of the Sensei.

Similarly, in the workplace, the person who defines HR strategy and policy also sets the tone of an organization. Much like a great Karate Sensei, the most effective HR Master is a leader who:

1.      Is confident and assertive.

2.      Sets an example of integrity, forthrightness and honor.

3.      Demonstrates respect for others and requires others to do the same.

4.      Understands the strategic value of recruitment and retention to organizational success.

5.      Is committed to developing the potential of all.

6.      Demonstrates awareness, sensitivity and discretion.

7.      Grasps the importance of (and effectively applies) recognition, reward and other performance motivators to cultivate continual growth and advancement.

8.      Provides, communicates and enforces a framework of accountability to cultivate self-discipline.

In Praise of Self-Discipline

This last characteristic is critical. Successful people are self-disciplined. As every professional athlete knows, high performance can only be achieved in the presence of self-discipline. According to Brian Tracy, who writes and speaks extensively on the topic of self-discipline,

“This quality is so important that, if you don’t develop it to a high degree, it is impossible for you to ever achieve what you are truly capable of achieving.”[3]

A true HR Master embodies self-discipline and strives to foster it in all employees, so they can achieve their personal and professional goals and excel at what they do. By doing so, while also consistently demonstrating the eight characteristics listed above, the HR Master ensures the emergence of a high performance culture and a workplace of champions.


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