We know that one of the components within the world famous Emotional Intelligence theory developed by Daniel Goleman is “Self-Awareness” i.e. the ability of knowing one’s strength and weaknesses and able to have a self-deprecating sense of humour about your weaknesses. Yet I still see business leaders who operate based on the so called the traditional view – that to be a successful business leader, the leader needs to be infallible, always in control and fearless. A sort of William Wallace in Braveheart and General Maximus in the Gladiator all rolled into one person.
Many business leaders manage to be smart and become successful at leading with their heads. Yet there is something many of them are lacking. How to lead with their hearts. In essence they don’t know how to be what I call human leaders.
If anything, the pandemic has highlighted what was already becoming clear before the emergence of the virus: that leaders, in the traditional way, are no longer what companies and businesses need. The most effective leadership today — at all levels — isn’t about technical expertise and having all the answers. Besides articulating a compelling vision, it’s about being human, showing vulnerability, connecting with people and being able to unleash their potential.
In a world and a business environment that changes so fast and is increasingly unpredictable, the traditional leadership method based on the notion that the leader or a single person has a foolproof recipe to solve all the problems and challenges, is outdated and does not work. So for any business organisation to perform well in such a challenging environment has to rely on a group of people – a TEAM……and for people working in a team, to give the best of themselves, they need to feel respected, listened to and inspired — not like cogs in a soulless machine. They want to be seen, understood and valued for who they are as individuals. This means that they want leaders who are human, not distant demigods they can’t connect with.
So maybe I have so far convinced you that today’s business leaders need to be great human leaders. However this begs the next question. Why is it that such human leaders remain the exception rather than the norm? What is blocking business leaders to become such Human Leaders? One such reason is likely to be fear.
Fear is part of the human condition — everyone is afraid of something. Leaders, no matter how much they would have us believe otherwise, are no exception. When thinking about human leadership, many executives who spent their careers striving to be traditional leaders feel like the ground under their feet is no longer solid. I hear it many times from business leaders, when they repeat their mantra that they should show their feelings and vulnerability at work.
Traditional leaders believe that if everyone starts relating to each other on a more personal level, it might unleash a tsunami of group hugs and softness and closeness which will make everyone lose focus on the actual work to be done. They also fear that they will lose control. How can they control and manage a business if they are not the one that will fix all the problems and issues the business is facing? What will happen when they let go of control?
Many of such traditional leaders feel they don’t know how to handle humanity at work. They have no idea how to handle a team member who lost a close relative due to illness or a team member who is suffering from mental health issues. They feel lost and have no idea what to say and do. Hence they prefer remaining in their comfort zone of traditional leadership.
Human leaders make a profound and lasting difference in the lives of people around them and the organisations they lead. This journey from tradtional leader to a human leader is a challenging but rewarding one and I dare say a necessary one as this is what separates yesterday’s leaders from those who can successfully navigate today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.