HR Suffering from Inferiority Complex?

July 17, 2015

For those of you who’ve worked for 5, 10, perhaps even 15+ years in the field of HR, how do you describe your work to, say, your 80 year old grandmother?  Do you say it’s the function that worries about the people, manages the ‘human capital’, finds and keeps the right talent, takes care of its employees……?


Or, do you describe yourself as a business leader who works with talent at all levels to drive company objectives and create a thriving environment?  In other words, does your description focus more on the tactics, or the bigger picture?


If you can’t answer with a strong ‘yes!’ to the question directly above, and struggle with the very definition itself - it’s possible that may be falling victim to an inferiority complex. 


I’ve been to many HR conferences, meetings, sessions, summits and other gatherings among the field.  Too many times the HR folks I encounter don’t have a pep in their steps nor are their shoulders squared, prepared to sell both their personal and professional brands. Beyond this first impression, the conversations in these settings often devolve into opining on the tactical challenges of the field.  And, if leaders from other fields are present, I notice a lack of confidence among HR leaders in articulating their viewpoints, challenging points or simply engaging as a respected member of the leadership table.  In fact, they tend to be the quietest members of the group.


Do we really believe our own press?


At the 2015 Human Capital Summit in Orlando this year, I had the privilege of sharing my thoughts around strategic HR business partnership with my colleagues around the nation and globe.  At one point in my presentation, I made these declarations:

  • You want to know – without a shadow of a doubt – that your work, your years in the HR field, your leadership - are truly making a difference….

  • You want to move beyond catch phrases and en vogue HR labels - to tangible tools and approaches….

  • (Some of) you are here because you want to be inspired again….you’ve come to the right session!

After that presentation, I knew that a chord had been struck.  Beyond some of the more obvious reasons surrounding the subject matter, I wondered if that resonant chord went beyond the desire for more in one’s career.  I wondered how many HR professionals, at times, suffer from an inferiority complex.


I will acknowledge that it’s something I’ve had to fight off in certain settings.  Whether at Board meetings, business meetings, or conferences, I’ve found myself hesitating, worried that the question I was about to ask was stupid.  Or, I wondered whether the other leaders around the table had a better handle on the topic under discussion – particularly since they might have been COOs, CFOs, Marketing strategists or Programmatic leaders of one sort or another. I felt inferior.  I questioned my own intelligence only to have the person next to me beat me to the brilliant question!  Why?


Is it the Imposter Syndrome that is so often written about? (see here for a great article on this and what to do about it).  Or, is it the plaguing lack of confidence, particularly among women (women who happen to comprise upwards of 70% of the total HR field)?  Too many research studies have shown that women continue to shy away from seeking mentors and are overly cautious about articulating their positions in meetings….behavioral traits long since honed from childhood years.


These explanations only get us part of the way in my view.  The real story is around the field of HR – for both men and women. 


We need to know who we are and where we’re headed.  We need to be prepared to share the ‘elevator story’ about HR and the value it brings even before we’re asked to.  We need to embrace the field but not become enveloped by it.  After all, WGNinHR’s unique value proposition is our belief that the world is your oyster, HR leader! You can aspire to roles within and outside of HR, in all positions found across the C-Suite, if desired.


We need to develop our skills and competencies to this end…continually.  We need to trust our amazing instincts and we need to stretch ourselves to places of discomfort.  That’s where growth lies. 


Not only are we not inferior.  We’re equipped with the precious tools needed to taking our businesses to new levels – for communities, for shareholders, for all sectors around the globe.  




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