HR and Limiting Toxicity

John Gardner once wrote “pity the leader who is caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” HR leaders can unfortunately easily be both extremes to the other leaders in the organization, and they polarize organizational views of HR when they do so. HR leaders can unlovingly criticize managers who fail to lead effectively. They can also uncritically support managers who abuse employees through their leadership roles.

Jean Lipman‐Blumen, in her book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, describes the complexities of working for a toxic leader and the psychological damage these leaders can impart on their followers. One common element of toxic leaders is that they quash the feedback from those around them; ironically, when these leaders fall, it is many times because they ignored that feedback. I believe that HR Departments play an extremely important role in measuring the toxicity within their organizations. Effective HR leaders are both loving and critical, and are able to provide useful and pragmatic information to back up their feedback to managers.

HR leaders must have the relational credibility to walk into a manager’s office, close the door, and explain his or her effect on the organization. This must be done with a servant’s heart, but also a shrewd heart. At times, the HR leader must also recommend letting toxic leaders go from the organization, no matter what job title the leader has. This delicate tightrope act is difficult, but is a required role for HR leaders to walk. When they fail to do fulfill their toxicity detector roles, ethical disasters creep closer and closer. Every time I read about another ethically failed company, I ask myself, what was the HR Department doing as the organization snowballed to disaster?

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians–and how we survive them. New YorK: Oxford University Press.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.


About Tim Vanderpyl
I am a student of leadership and human resources, and I'm blogging to share some of my thoughts and ideas with readers. I'm a CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional) at a large healthcare organization, a graduate of Regent University's Doctor of Strategic Leadership program, and lover of the life that God has gifted me with.

One Response to HR and Limiting Toxicity

  1. Pingback: HR and Limiting Toxicity « Tim Vanderpyl's Blog « Human Resources 123

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