5 Traits of Lousy HR Leaders

The things you can always count on in life are: death, taxes and a lousy HR leader in your organization.  I think I saw that on a t-shirt at SHRM National one year!  The reality is, HR leaders are selected a little different than most leaders in our organization.  Most leadership is selected this way (right or wrong):

1. Perform really, really well

2. Get promoted into a position of leadership, whether you can lead or not.

I call this ‘Best Performance Leadership Selection’.  This is the selection process for leadership by roughly 97% of organizations worldwide!  You’re great at your job, you will be great as a leader.  Pretty sound selection process, right!?

HR leaders are selected almost the same, but with a slightly small difference:

1. Have really long tenure in the HR department at your organization.

2. Get promoted into a HR leadership position.

Sound familiar?  I call this ‘I’ve Been Here The Longest Leadership Selection’.  This is the selection process for HR leadership in roughly 97% of organizations worldwide! You might be great at your job, but we don’t really care, you’ve been here longer than anyone else in HR so now you’re the leader!

Sometimes reading what we do, in black and white, is depressing…

The problem with this type of HR leadership selection (besides the painfully obvious things) is we usually end up with lousy HR leaders.  Here are the traits of really lousy HR Leaders, just so you know if you have one or not:

Rely on Faulty Metrics to make Major HR Decisions, and fail to track results. Well, we’ve been using time to fill and turnover for the past 20 years here, why would we stop!  Also, let’s keep using these subjective measures to determine if we are successful, because, well, hey, they’re subjective and at the end of the day I want to show our executives we are successful, whether we are or not.

Not Championing Weighted Risk.  Lousy HR leaders love to cover their own ass more than any other single thing they do.  In HR we advise of risk, and give opinion on how to move forward.  Lousy HR leaders will not champion risk at any level, for fear it might come back on them.  Organizations take risk every single day. It’s not HR’s job to eliminate risk, it’s our job to champion appropriate risk and be all in with our business partners.

Not Having the Tough Conversation.  Most leadership fails at this, but HR can’t.  We have to be the coaches for all other leadership in our organization.  If anyone knows how to have a tough conversation, it has to be HR.  Yet, most fail at this miserably.  Lousy HR Leaders are superficial and shallow in their opinions and directions, and don’t seek clarification on things in the organization that people are leaving to assumption.

Not Aligning their Vision with the Organization’s Vision.  This is a definite sign of lousy leadership.  If your group, department, function leader can’t create a vision at their level that aligns with the organization, they have no direction.  Another sign of lousy leadership is when your leader just uses the organization vision and can’t break it down to a functional level.  This is just flat out lazy.

Not being able to Lead Employees Equally Different.  Yes, all employees are created equal.  That doesn’t mean that all employees are treated equal. There is a fine line between treating everyone the same, and making people feel equal.  I want all my employees to feel like no one is better than another, but we also have to have a fundamental organizational understanding that at certain points and times some employees must be treated differently, for the good of the organization.  Lousy HR leaders are uncomfortable with this concept because it’s easy to just fall back on ‘we treat everyone the same.’

4 thoughts on “5 Traits of Lousy HR Leaders

  1. I agree with you, Linda. This goes far beyond the human resources department. Faulty leaders can be lurking almost anywhere. HR professionals need to help the management team with having the difficult conversations and in making the right leadership choices for the organization.

  2. This applies to all management positions, not just HR. We take really good individual contributors and decide that they should be “rewarded” by promoting them to management positions regardless of whether or not they have the talent/skill sets (or the desire) to do so. We typically don’t prepare them for the role and often times we are making them oversee their former peers. Don’t give them resources to succeed once in the new role, either. Then when they struggle or fail, we tell them that they suck and have essentially ruined a great working relationship. The people who made the decision to put them in the situation should take most of the responsibility for that but instead they just keep repeating history.

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