I am Not a Thought Leader

I am Not a Thought Leader 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

A couple of weeks ago, the always outspoken John Sumser published a post at HRexaminer titled “Pummeling Equine Cadavers.”  You probably missed it if for no other reason than the title doesn’t even hint at the really interesting points John makes in the piece.  In it, he airs some frustrations around the idea of “thought leadership,” particularly within the HR space and challenges us to think about how change really happens when an industry desperately needs to evolve.

A few quotes in particular stood out to me:

Much of what passes for HR thought leadership involves little thought. It’s all smoke and no fire.

Self proclaimed HR thought leaders tend to be vacuous morons, incapable of sustained thought. There’s a code that I saw somewhere that says you can’t be one unless someone else says you are (without being asked to). Even that’s not good enough, really. The bluntest knife in the box has a mom who thinks he’s got HR Thought Leadership potential.

My question is simple. Is the power of a good example enough to change an industry? That is, are great recruiters or Hr pros who set an amazing example operating in a way that can change an industry.  Or is something else required?

I think that the underlying point here is that talk is cheap.  There is more talk about HR than ever in history thanks to social media and the blogosphere, and yet, it doesn’t appear that our rate of evolution as an industry has increased, at least not nearly as much as one would expect.  This begs the question, should we be doing less talking and more doing?  
One of the things I learned many years ago was a lesson I’ve summed up this way, “Ideas are cheap.  Everyone has ideas.  What is exceptional is the ability to take an idea and make it real.  Execution is the real differentiator.”  It would seem that John Sumser might even argue that not everyone has ideas and that perhaps I’m a bit optimistic in saying that.  
Regardless, we both agree that at the very least we need less talk at the expense of action and more game changing examples to learn from.  John asks an important question at the end of his post: is setting a great example enough to change an industry?  My answer: Yes . . . and No.  I do think that it is imperative that we have more teams and leaders out there setting great examples.  And by great examples, I mean people who are breaking the rules and redefining how HR gets done in a way that drives business forward.  This is so important because those setting the example prove it’s possible.  And once it’s proven possible, it’s easier to rally the troops to go make it happen.
But, is example enough?  No way.  If HR is to survive, we have to bond together as a community of leaders, of warriors, fighting for our way of life.  We have to not only strive to be the example, but to share that example with others and to seek out other’s examples to provide us with inspiration.  We have to protect each other from making the same mistakes over and over again.  We have to hold each other accountable to doing better business and being better examples.  
It’s probably hypocritical for me to say “less talk, more doing” here in my blog as I add more noise to the discussion.  But, then again, I’m no thought leader.  At least, I hope not (regardless of what my mom thinks).  
  • Frank Zupan

    I'll take one "delivery leader" over a bus full of "thought leaders" any day. Oh, but wait…"delivery" is so tactical, and we want to keep talking about "strategic HR"…hahaha

  • Robin Schooling

    I think there’s a lot to be said for setting an example/taking action as a catalyst to make some wide scale changes. It’s much the same as my belief that if you want to ‘change’ something, do so from within rather than abdicating all desire to be involved.

    So yeah, the overall talk about thought leaders sometimes gets a tad tiresome. I hear that phrase and envision some guy sitting in a cold-water tenement, having deep thoughts all day, and subsequently merely telling others what they should do. Then again, I LIKE to hear ideas –a little nugget or a new way of viewing something may be what sets me on fire to take some sort of action. It’s a conundrum.

    At the end of the day, however, the beauty of the social sphere on the interwebz is that these individual examples of HR folks doing great things or organizations stepping forward with game changing actions can be much more easily broadcast to a wide audience. If person A can share a story about something they DID and that gets picked up by persons B, C and D…. well, it CAN be the start of something bigger.

  • recruitinginferno.com

    Hey Jason, this reminds me of the Charles Barkley, "I am not a role model" commercial (http://youtu.be/R8vh2MwXZ6o)

    "Fighting for our way of life"? I think this is summarizes the problems with the existing model of HR. Sounds part Amish and part Jim Jones if you ask me! The inherent problem is that "classic" HR has focused on adapting business to fit HR whereas business needs HR to be adaptable to enable greater output from business.

    Being the function of "NO" doesn't produce incremental revenue.

    Being the function that can "sense" talent doesn't ensure that talent comes on board and flourishes.

    Being the function that doesn't promote telecommuting retains the command and control element and tells employees they cannot be trusted…

    I am not a thought leader either but I wrote "The Ethan Allen Syndrome" to encapsulate what is inherently wrong with HR (http://recruitinginferno.com/2011/06/21/the-ethan-allen-syndrome/): At its core, HR is too focused on being included that it misses out on the performance that counts the most – the health and wellness of the balance sheet.

    Yet "they" want a seat at the table?

  • Tom

    I'm not so quick to discount the value of thinkers, but there is more to the story. An Olympic pole-vaulter thinks through his motions, sees himself taking each step, then follows through: think -> see -> do. The athlete who only thinks about the process never wins the gold. Individually, thinkers never win. Organizationally, the brilliance of management is to find the best relationship of thinking, planning and action to reach a goal even if those attributes belong to different people. HR is no different in its need for big picture leaders to deliver results.

  • John

    Somehow I take umbrage with the phrase "Vacuous Morons". Seems a bit harsh.

    I'd like to give a +Z to Frank. At the end of the day, you still need to be able to execute (or manage the executors)accordingly.

    What the hell do I know, I'm standing amongst the "vacuous morons"

  • squishtalks

    Hello Jason,

    I enjoyed this post, especially the observation that not every self-proclaimed guru, maven, thought leader, etc. is authentic or credible. I do take exception, and agree with commenter Tom, that ideas are not as cheap as John Sumser suggests. The timing of your post aligns with mine here (http://squishtalks.com/2011/08/09/conversation-and-entrepreneurship-part-1-of-3/) at which I make this point more forcefully.

    Suffice to say setting or demonstrating the example is important, but so is the conceptualization of what the example should be.


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Jason Lauritsen