Few HR executives are ever offered the top spot. SHRM's president and CEO Helen Drinan was. She recalls her experience
In early 1991, the stock of my organisation, Bank of Boston, was trading at $3 per share, perilously close to the price at which shares are delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. What a devastating prospect that was for a proud organisation in business for over 200 years! At the time, I was director of compensation and benefits for the organisation, a very challenging role under the financial circumstances. But the hidden benefit of that assignment was the proximity it gave me to the key leaders of the organisation's ultimate turn-around - executive management and key members of the board of directors.
Because financial decisions regarding employees were critical to the continuation of Bank of Boston, I had the opportunity to work directly with these leaders, all of whom either were or would become CEOs. And I learned great lessons: leadership involves the exercise of wisdom and grace more than control and power; people at the top of the organisation only succeed long term if people beneath them see their values as true to the culture; and leading people through good times and bad depends more on integrity than charisma.
By 1993, Bank of Boston had returned to health and I was fortunate enough to be named executive vice president of HR for the corporation. This position gave me an even closer opportunity to observe the work of the CEO, as my job evolved into that of confidante and business partner. I have come to believe that few other executive positions - if any at all - offer such a privileged tutorial on the role of the CEO. Day in, day out, there is continuous exposure to the challenges and joys of this highest level of leadership. And how intoxicating it can be! I know more than one HR executive who has caught the leadership fever in this role, exclaiming to all "I could do that!", even as the challenges grow more diverse and complex.
But how many senior HR practitioners will get that chance? Historically, few have risen from the HR specialty to the CEO role; most have been so near that top spot and yet so very far away. But I believe that will change dramatically in the coming decade. For HR practitioners who have expertise in workforce management issues; who have got to