Everything I Know about HR, I Learned from The Terminator

What can we learn from a science fiction show premised on the idea that machines take over the world? You would be surprised! I’ve learned a lot from watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The TV show picks up where the movie Terminator 2 ends. It follows Sarah Connor and her son John Connor as they try to escape machines sent back from the future to kill John. He is a target because he will become the leader of the resistance in a post nuclear apocalypse world that is run by machines.

Although short lived (only two seasons) this show was action packed.  It combined compelling characters and plot with awesome special effects. The best character by far was Sarah Connor (played by Lena Headey) who does an excellent job playing a single mother and a determined warrior.

From the outside, Sarah Connor looks to be a typical single mother with a teenage son. She worries if he is spending too much time on the computer (no hacking!) and questions his dating choices; pretty typical “mom” stuff.  Look a little deeper and we see that Sarah Connor is not your typical single mother.  As the mother of John Connor her job is to keep John safe as well as raise her son to be as normal as possible.

There are more than a couple lessons I’ve learned about Human Resources (especially leadership) from Sarah Connor. I would argue that some of her best qualities go a long way towards success in HR:

  • Laser like focus – Sarah never forgets her mission to keep her son safe and alive.  She encounters quite a few distractions that could have jeopardized her sons safety but she quickly (sometimes brutally) pushes them out of the way to continue on to her objective.

Can you say you are that that focused? How often do we let the day-to-day stuff stop us from getting to the work that really matters? If we want to be seen as organizational leaders, we can’t let the distractions stop us.

  • Be a little flexible – Sarah Connor is one tough lady.  She is relentless in her mission to keep John safe.  But she is also flexible enough to realize when she needs to shift strategies. This is evident in the pilot episode (you can watch it here) when the machines discover their latest hideout.  After escaping, Sarah and John find out they had not stopped judgment day, only delayed the date.  Sarah gives no thought to deviating from her plans to keep John safe.  John has some different ideas though and wants to go after the system that created the machines in an attempt to stop it from ever being created.  After much arguing, Sarah agrees and the mission is changed.

The lesson here? Don’t assume you are the only person who should have input into strategy. Sometimes our perspective clouds our ability to see things clearly, in these circumstances it helps to be open to other ideas.

  • Don’t cross the line –Sarah Connor never forgets the line between being a human and a machine.  In one scene, her terminator sidekick Cameron (she is a good machine) advocates they kill a teenage boy who is a potential threat. In the situation they are in it’s a cold but not unreasonable thought.  Sarah refuses to kill the boy and Cameron pronounces it an “emotional mistake.” Sarah snaps back that she will not allow herself or her son to become as ruthless as a machine in their quest to stop the machines.

The “line” could be any number of lines we face as HR professionals: ethics, compliance, favoritism, etc.; I’ve seen what happens to the HR pro who crosses a line they see everyone else crossing.  In my experience they often find out the rules aren’t always the same for HR.  We need to keep in mind we are always (rightly so) held to a higher standard. Just because you see everyone else walking into the murky gray area doesn’t mean you should too.

Whether you liked the show or hated it or never watched it, I hope I’ve highlighted some food for thought. Regardless of the situation, we are well served by staying focused but remaining flexible and holding ourselves to the highest standards.


Today’s post is from guest blogger Melissa Fairman, PHR. She is an HR professional and blogger with over 5 years experience as a generalist, recruiter and project manager. She is a contributor with me at Performance I Create and is taking the blogosphere by storm at her blog, HR ReMix. Click HERE to learn and read more of Melissa’s work.


Check out the other posts in this series:






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