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Is HR the Evil Henchman of Leadership?

I have a sticker on my desk that reads:

You can’t spell superhero without HR.

I love this sentiment, and believe it.

(Also: I also understand that, since it was given to me by a vendor, this is flattery by a savvy marketing department.)

If most people I know were to pick a movie character to represent HR, it would probably not be Batman, Black Widow, or Superman...more like an evil henchman hired by management to carry out dirty deeds, like Corvus Glaive or LaFou.

Glaive is a villain in the Avenger serious who helps Thanos (the main bad dude) in his misguided quest to rid the galaxy of hunger and poverty (through killing half the population). Glaive is the one that Ironman sarcastically tells to "...get lost, Squidward!" in Infinity War.

Or LaFou of Beauty in the Beast, who is so enamored by Gaston he is willing to help him win the love of the local town belle (but they need to kill “Beast” to do so).

Solid HR Leadership Depends on Company Leadership

HR is full of “people-people.” Our job is ultimately to execute policy and decisions that have a direct impact on people's lives.

But here's the thing: We are only as strong as the CEOs we support.

I wrestled with this for many years. I thought I could change the hearts and minds of leadership if I just got a seat at that gosh darn table. And like Corvus, I was a bit misguided.

"The table" was an illusion.

I realized most villains don’t have partners–-they are incapable of the connection it takes to maintain the relationships.

The heroes are the ones who people want to follow, and who welcome the input and support. That's why every great hero has a lovable sidekick who offers the occasional pep-talk alongside comic relief.

Like Star-Lord and his crew. Or Belle and her team of animated furniture.

How can HR personnel and leaders ensure they don't end up being seen as the "villains" of an organization?

Pick a Leader (Not a Company)

Company culture is rooted in leadership. But even the best leaders are not always as self-aware as they could (or should) be.

That's why it makes me nervous when people plaster decals of values to their wall, and seem overly excited about “corporate culture."

No good villain actually thinks what they are doing is selfish and unjust. They are almost always doing it because they believe it is right, noble, or for the greater good.

Sometimes in HR we need to do really crappy things, like letting employees go. This is never easy, and it's why we get pegged henchmen sometimes.

HR professionals should know they are supporting a leadership team that doesn’t take these decisions lightly and has done absolutely everything to avoid it.

I recommend talking with other members on the team without the leader in the room. Find out if this is the kind of person that you really want to support every day.

Read Between The Lines

HR leaders need to recognize that, even though they are supporting actors in the story, they need to know the whole script inside out.

A wise leader once told me that to make a good business decisions, in you should have “HR on the left and Finance on the right.”

We are advisers for our managers, leaders and employees. But they control their own destiny.

To be strong advisors, we need to have a thorough knowledge of company policies, union agreements, benefits and handbooks better than anyone else in the organization.

We need to understand how policies have been applied in the past.

Get familiar with all the numbers: budgets, costs, ROI -- not just in HR, but the whole organization.

We also need to be on the cutting edge of the employment law. Go to seminars. Read industry publications. Check the news daily. Pull up the law and read it.

Then we need to know employee beyond just their names--their personalities, priorities and career goals.

Our strength comes from knowing and understanding the people within the organization.

When we are armed with that knowledge, we can inspire others to make strong ethical decisions.

Love the Story

HR managers really need to love what they do.

It’s a thankless job.

When there is a job offer to make, we let the manager be the good guy, establish the rapport, and make the offer.

Then we go back to our desks and let the 350 other people know they didn’t get it.

The whole point of the job is not to get to the table (I’ve been’s boring).

The exciting bits are finding, creating, growing, and learning about the people we serve.

We love bringing the organization out of the silos and leveraging employee energy for the good of the mission.

So if power is your "end-game," find another story.

Looking for an HR sidekick to better your organization? Send me a message at

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