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How HR plays its role in leadership development

Thomas O. Davenport (Towers Watson, San Francisco, California, USA)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 8 June 2015




The purpose of the article is to demonstrate the value that human resource (HR) can provide in the effectiveness of leaders and managers.


Two complementary Towers Watson studies – the 2014 Global Workforce Study (GWS) of over 32,000 employees, and the 2014 Global Talent Management & Rewards Study (TM&R) of 1,637 organizations – formed the research basis for the article. The TM&R study was fielded from April to June 2014 in 31 markets around the world and includes responses from 1,637 participating organizations in a range of industries. The GWS covers some 32,000 employees from a population of full-time employees working in large- and mid-sized organizations across a range of industries in 26 markets around the world. It was fielded online during April and May 2014.


A key role of HR is ensuring that the organization has the right people performing well in leadership roles at all levels. This means HR must focus attention in five key areas: job architecture, incumbent assessment, performance definition, recognition for success and building leadership capacity. It is also up to HR to dispel the notion that “soft skills” should be subordinate to “hard skills”, which are often seen as more important. In fact, soft skills are usually more difficult to master and, in our opinion, are more important – they are what leaders need to maximize performance from others.

Research limitations/implications

Different observers assign a variety of roles to the HR function. These range from compliance enforcer and data administrator to strategic partner and culture creator. The author believes that HR’s most important role may well be ensuring that the organization has an ample supply of leadership and management capability at every level of the enterprise. It is leaders, who envision the future and help people generate the motivation to go there, and managers, who see to it that systems, assets and processes serve their purposes efficiently, who enable the enterprise to make the most of each employee’s contribution.

Practical implications

In a world where technology evolution, demographic shifts and social change are rewriting the rules of the workplace, the author can expect that the role of the HR function will also continue to change. What should not change, however, is the contribution that HR makes toward building and preserving the organization’s leadership and management capacity. In this article, the author makes the case that, despite the many shifts taking place in the business terrain, HR should remain focused on this fundamental goal, acting as ally, trusted advisor and coach.


The value of this article is to provide strategic and practical advice on how HR can influence manager and leader effectiveness.



Davenport, T.O. (2015), "How HR plays its role in leadership development", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 89-93.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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