Gut Check: Are You Outsourcing Your Leadership Obligations?

Vince Molinaro, Ph.D. Blog

I have been traveling the world talking to people about leadership accountability. After hundreds of conversations with leaders in a host of different countries, you would think that I’ve heard it all.

Not so.

At a recent client event, I talked to some supervisors and managers who told me they actually leave all the hard work of people leadership to their HR department. Let’s think about that for a moment.

These leaders are actually ‘outsourcing’ their obligations to someone else. At first, I was a little shocked, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense.

In a series of recent global surveys of Lee Hecht Harrison clients, we found that most organizations believe only a third of their leaders are fully committed to their leadership roles. That means we have people in leadership roles that don’t own their whole role. They may be focused on the technical aspects of their jobs, but when it comes to the people leadership aspects, they aren’t as committed.

The end result of this phenomenon is that we have so-called “leaders” who are outsourcing their leadership obligations to their HR business partners.  These leaders want others to manage all the tough people issues—providing difficult feedback to employees, having the challenging performance conversations, and addressing poor performers.

It’s crazy.  But you know what’s even crazier? There are many HR professionals who gladly jump in to do this work.

It must be some misguided idea that they are providing value in their roles. Sure, they end up helping employees who need feedback, or a poor performer who is struggling. But at the end of the day, they are just surrogates for the people that really should be providing leadership.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Are you a leader who has outsourced your leadership to HR? If so, why? It’s time you own your whole role—both the technical and people leadership aspects.

If you don’t have the motivation or even the stomach for leadership, then maybe you need to have a career discussion with your manager. Find a technical role that allows you to do those things that enable you to be successful without having to take on the burden of being an accountable leader.

The need for self-reflection is essential on the other side of the equation as well. Are you an HR professional who is more than willing to jump in to help an unaccountable leader? Are you simply willing to step in and do the hard work for leaders? If you are, then stop it. You’re only hurting your organization.

Without even knowing it, you are enabling mediocrity among your leaders. You are sending them a message that it’s okay to promote people to leadership roles, pay them for being a leader, and then let them off the hook when they do only part of the job.  Your job in HR is to equip leaders with the skills and capabilities they need to lead and manage their people. Focus on that, not on doing the work for them.

This week’s gut check is a bit of a rant, but it asks an important question: are you outsourcing your leadership to HR?

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