What makes a great HR leader?


It’s the kind of question that can lead you down two paths.

The first definition of a great HR leader? It’s a basic whitepaper from your average HR thought leader. Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada, the HR consultants write that shit so I don’t even bother. You know the drill. The best HR leaders are bold, innovative, data-driven, impactful, and stewards of employee experiences and company culture. Telling someone that great HR professionals need to be creative and embrace automation is like calling someone “Becky with the good hair” or wearing one of those Millennial summer straw hats. Stop yourself. Just don’t.

The other common definition? It’s a vague answer, like obscenity, where we know it when we see it. You’ve read the articles on the future of human resources. You know how the ideal image of HR is held up there like a trophy you’ll never win. There’s an example of someone smart, wearing a tailored suit and eyeglasses, at a tech company on one of the coasts. Or maybe we read about someone in healthcare in the Midwest is doing great work. We’re given a few names and brands — but nobody has nailed down a meaningful list of competencies or definitions that define a great HR leader.

So, something new.

  1. What if there’s no great HR leader? If the purpose of HR is to indemnify companies against employee-related risk, can it ever be led by someone great? Isn’t HR just one big compromise?
  2. Or, what if we stop talking about what makes HR great — and what defines a great leader — because it’s already pretty fantastic?

I like both ideas a little bit.

First, if there’s no great HR, it takes the pressure off. We do the best we can and go home. Have a work ethic, sure, but don’t take it so personally. We’re doing our jobs if nobody dies or sues us.

The second theory where we stop talking about the definition of great HR? I love it. No more profiles of famous HR leaders (if there are any), no more articles on the future of HR, no more blog posts on what makes an exceptional HR leader.

Sign me up.

Let’s come at this from a position of strength and confidence. Fabulous HR is happening everywhere. When you draw attention to it, it’s like running an ad on Groupon for the Louvre. Totally unnecessary. The Louvre kills it 9-6 every day except on Tuesday when it’s closed and Friday when it’s open until 9:45 PM.

So, there are more than two paths for great HR leaders.

I think the best path is the one where we stop talking about great HR leaders. The problem is we’re required to talk about something else.

Can you do it? Hm. The jury is still out.