Episode 118: What Separates Great HR Leaders from the Rest

The 90th Percentile: An Unconventional Leadership Podcast

Published: September 13, 2023


HR seems to have become every manager and employee’s favorite corporate punching bag, vying with IT for the dubious title of most-irritating function. We have seen a parade of articles recently calling for HR to be blown upsplit in two, or at the very least, redesigned.

Perhaps this is a good moment to evaluate what it is we really want from our HR leaders—and what we don’t. In this episode we are sharing Zenger Folkman’s research on what separates great HR leaders from the rest.

Key Learnings

  • ZENGER FOLKMAN contrasted the results for the 5,174 HR leaders in our dataset with those of 71,024 leaders in other functions.

    • The competency showing the biggest difference was that they were truly concerned about developing others. This set them apart from leaders in other functions, who did not score highly on this skill.
    • They were also rated positively for providing coaching, acting as a mentor, and giving feedback in a helpful way.
    • The second competency where their skills were rated more positively was in valuing diversity. HR has been a champion for increasing diversity in organization but also helping the organization understand the value of diverse perspectives and people.
  • HR leaders were rated significantly more negatively on their ability to anticipate and respond quickly to problems. A number of items noted a general lack of speed and urgency to respond and react quickly.

  • HR leaders often complain that they “want a seat at the table” to engage more fully with other executives, but without clear strategy and focus they will never have that seat.

Connect with Joe Folkman


Zenger Folkman hosts an exclusive live webinar every month, where you can meet Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman and talk about their latest leadership development research. Find out more information and register here.


What Separates Great HR Leaders from the Rest? — Article by Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger