Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the CEO of SHRM, wants to strengthen the relationship between education and employers. He accepted a volunteer advisory appointment from President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos to the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

You might say, “That’s not much of a story, Laurie. Slow down if you’re about to go off on the CEO of SHRM for being an advocate for education. We have to rise above partisanship. Also, SHRM’s in DC and can’t just ignore the current administration. The world works on relationships. Be where the conversation is happening if you want to change the world. Don’t pick on SHRM.”

Before I talk what’s happening at SHRM, here’s my theory about HR leadership. There are three dominant archetypal characters in HR:

1. The guardian-ally embraces her role as protector of the organization. She wants all workers to feel engaged and have a great experience at work. The guardian-ally is the staunch defender of a company’s culture. She believes you can achieve your personal and professional goals. However, if you violate her trust by slacking off or violating company policy, she will fire you. The guardian-ally has a warrior’s heart and a best friend’s warm touch.

2. The hero-mentor is the seasoned HR leader with no agenda. My friend Kris Dunn has described this person as the Oprah of HR. I also think the character is like Ellen DeGeneres. She’s an influential figure and here to help the organization grow. She’ll manage executive egos to shield her team from the political drama. Before you even think about crossing the hero-mentor, you’re gone. She can see what you’re doing about six months before you do it, and she’ll make all problems go away.

3. The trickster-shapeshifter is right on paper and has excellent bona fides, and you feel inspired when you hear her speak. But every operational experience with her is blurry. Is she here to help? Is real work getting done? Why are factions popping up around the office? The trickster-shapeshifter has a tremendous personal brand she’d like to leverage for your organization to make it great, again. Cross her, and you’re gone. Thankfully, the tenure is short, and the board will oust her in 24 months.

SHRM members and the rank-and-file SHRM staff are guardian-allies. They’re passionate and committed to the cause. While they’re not naïve, they bleed the brand. They believe human resources can change the world.

I think executive HR leaders are hero-mentors, and they are too busy doing good HR work to join SHRM. The association doesn’t offer a product or service to meet their personal or professional needs.

You know where this is going, right?

Throughout the years, the leaders of SHRM have been trickster-shifters. Like most political associations that deny they’re political, they’ll seize an opportunity to show power and influence — and words come out of their mouths — but their actions don’t benefit the members and staff.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. could be the hero-mentor the membership deserves. I believed in him. He could move the industry towards sensible and pragmatic positions on gun violence in the workplace, immigration, and healthcare. It’s possible to leverage his brand and talk to employers and educational institutions about the workforce of the future.

But his appointment to the Trump advisory board so early in his tenure at SHRM makes me feel like it’s déjà vu all over again. I’m not here to disparage this gentleman’s good character, but I think there’s a valid critique of his decision to partner with the Trump administration. Sitting on that advisory board doesn’t benefit anyone within the field of human resources. Furthermore, it normalizes a turbulent administration that hasn’t yet proven itself worthy of HR’s seal of approval.

Also, the hero-mentor doesn’t need an appointment from any political figure to make an impact. The choice between being on an advisory board and having no seat at the table is a false choice. In fact, politicians need hero-mentors because they are inherently trickster-shapeshifters. And hero-mentors don’t play that game.

SHRM’s leadership doesn’t listen to me, but you listen to me. If there’s ever a time in your life when someone offers you a promotion or an appointment to assist a high-profile committee, you should question why you’re being asked to help. Don’t do the political calculus; do the human calculation. Channel your inner Oprah and try to understand what purpose your appointment serves.

You should know that the hero-mentor can see beyond her immediate self-interests and think about how her actions impact future generations. When she leverages her brand, it’s for the good of the entire community. And she does it without fanfare. Other people sing her praises because it deserves to be sung.

SHRM and its members deserve a hero-mentor. Someone who is naturally charismatic and does good work without feeling the need to play ball with hackneyed politicians who don’t have the best interest of anybody at heart. Yesterday, I was pretty excited about the new leadership at SHRM; however, with the appointment of Johnny Taylor to the White House Initiative on HBCUs, we got a glimpse of something else.

Time will tell what we saw, but I’m no longer personally or professionally optimistic about the next 24 months.

One Response to SHRM Leaders and the HR Archetypes
  1. John Kuta

    I don’t know if we should necessarily be surprised. SHRM has always leaned to the right. On labor issues, they’re almost always on management’s side—fighting Obama’s overtime changes, trying to stop EEO-1 equal pay reporting, lobbying against local paid leave laws. Those aren’t just hunches, they’re public policy positions that the org is proud of.