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By David Harder on January, 25, 2017

Why Some Chief Human Resource Officers Will Make Great CEOs

Virtually every business publication and relevant academic research paper indicate that attracting, developing and motivating talent is the single most important element in successful business today. One of the most common failures with CEOs not reaching the objectives of their business plan is in their refusal to take charge of the culture and other people initiatives such as employee engagement. While it might feel counterintuitive to many, only the CEO can motivate everyone to commit to the most difficult aspects of culture change.


Most employee engagement initiatives fail over this typical pattern: The CEO walks into human resources and ask the director to “fix the engagement problem.” By the time he or she hits the door, they are already disengaged. The human resource executive starts promoting engagement but employees look over that individual’s shoulder to the CEO for cues. They see “business as usual.” The company takes an employee survey, which only makes managers feel more inadequate. They are sent to a retreat center returning enthused. The employees respond, “so what?”


Why shouldn’t we take hard looks at the top human resource executives as potential CEOs? I asked this question last year and, of course, got quite positive feedback from people professionals and cynicism from other professions.


Here are a few reasons why:


Many HR professionals are still oriented to measuring value by activity. They bury themselves in things to do rather than confronting some of the more frightening aspects of leadership like taking a stand around policy, speaking up to other C-level executives and developing a strong support system both within the organization as well as the world. Often, building sales and presentation skills help. Finding mentors that have made the transition can be game changing. Other executive categories often have developed bias with human resources of demands and entitlement rather than earning a seat at the table.


Once a chief human resource officer masters these critical business skills it really doesn’t hurt to start seeing the world through the eyes of everyone sitting at the table, especially the CEO. It doesn’t hurt to find CEOs for mentorship. Stepping into that leadership role can benefit organizations in profound ways. Finding, securing and developing world-class teams is one of the sure-fire ways to become a category leader. Understanding and motivating the human side of the business eludes so many organizations. For many, this outlook will elude other C-level executives throughout their professional lives. So why not consider talent executives who’ve earned the role? If there is a world war for talent, why not routinely look at Chief Human Resource Officer for the role?


Here are a few suggestions for human resource executives who want to develop their potential:


  • Reach beyond other human resource professionals for mentorship. Pursue mentors that demonstrate strong across-the-board leadership skills.
  • Develop a strong understanding of technical, marketing and financial skill sets.
  • If you are in an especially large company, apply for rotating leadership roles to strengthen your skills and the way you are perceived.
  • Develop and practice a personal brand that builds the perception, “I can lead this organization.”

There is another benefit from developing Chief Human Resource Officers into the #1 role:


If more companies envision Chief Human Resources executives as potential CEOs, the number of female CEOs will skyrocket.


Eventually, I believe we will find more CEOs coming from the ranks of talent professionals. It will take collaboration and work on both sides of the fence. But, it is a worthy pusuit with a worthy outcome.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc. (310) 277-4850


(C) Copyright, Inspired Work, Inc. – 2017 – (All rights reserved)