The cardinal sins of bad HR leaders

by Caitlin Nobes22 Apr 2014
Let’s face it – HR is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and no one’s perfect, but HR consultant and blogger, Tim Sackett, has given a blistering attack on bad HR leadership that could actually serve as a useful warning of what not to do if you’re looking to build your credibility in HR management.
Here are the five traits of bad HR leaders according to Sackett:
Using bad metrics
Failure to track results, or failure to measure the things that matter, mean most decisions are being made based on bad data, or simply relying on instinct. Some HR leaders are more focused on looking like they’re doing well than finding out whether they actually are doing well, Sackett suggests.
Not taking appropriate risks
“Lousy HR leaders love to cover their own ass more than any other single thing they do,” Sackett says. “Organisations 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 being a master of the tough conversation
Unfortunately for HR, many tough conversations fall within their responsibility. It’s vital that HR address misconceptions, be clear about expectations and assess problems beyond a surface level.
“Most leadership fails at this, but HR can’t. We have to be the coaches for all other leadership in our organisation,” Sackett says. “If anyone knows how to have a tough conversation, it has to be HR.”
Not being able to clearly articulate the corporate vision
An on-going area of improvement for most HR leaders, those that ignore the need for alignment are limiting their organisation.
“Another sign of lousy leadership is when your leader just uses the organization vision and can’t break it down to a functional level,” Sackett adds. “This is just flat out lazy.
Not being able to treat employees as equal but different 
Sackett says there’s a difference between treating everyone the same, and making everyone feel equal, and it’s a difference HR needs to recognise.
“I want all my employees to feel like no one is better than another, but we also have to have a fundamental organisational understanding that at certain points and times some employees must be treated differently, for the good of the organisation,” he says. “Lousy HR leaders are uncomfortable with this concept because it’s easy to just fall back on ‘we treat everyone the same'."
What do you think are the worst traits HR leaders can have?


  • by Marc Wachtfogel 22/04/2014 9:39:43 PM

    I would say that HR has become a catch all department for fixing all the ails within an organization. Interestingly, companies post HR jobs with a laundry list of skills that individuals with 3-5 years experience could not possibly have. It takes time for these skills to develop, a depth of experience on how to integrate different functions & avoid pitfalls and the art & savvy to use these skills effectively.

    I would add being an effective and knowledgable business partner...having the right skills to navigate the value chain & design solutions to align people, process & strategy for successful implementations.

  • by Ofisa 23/04/2014 6:04:10 AM

    I totally agree with my senior practitioners

  • by Mike Ellis 28/04/2014 8:52:51 AM

    Having been an HRM for 20 odd years I agree with Tim on most counts. One aspect missing is the essential need to resolve the 'core business vision" of the HR team you lead. Too often there is this mixture of HR team members who think corporate service provider ( to the extent of hand holding) whilst others see "business partner" and enabling the Manager to do their own HR. Get this right in your team or the ultimate customer ( the client manager) will cause havoc with your leadership.

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