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To lead humans you need to BE a ‘leading human’

In this increasingly unpredictable world, process and strategy take second place to exceptional people leadership, and people leadership begins with self-leadership.

To lead humans you need to be a leading human

It was Socrates who is credited with saying: “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.”

Wisdom is one of those rare, yet unconsciously desirable leadership attributes – one that we have in the past attributed to age, experience and a reflective mindset.

Today’s leadership context is increasingly being described as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – and the deliberate development of leaders with the wisdom and substance to pause, listen, understand and facilitate great thinking within this context is now a given.

The role of a leader is to lead other humans, but the wise and successful leaders are themselves ‘leading humans’.

Leading humans have the self-leadership capacity to:

  • Pause and listen without judgement – they deal with only the truth;
  • Generously elevate others above and before themselves;
  • Know that they don’t know everything (or is that anything?);
  • Recognise bias and protect decision-making from its muddiness;
  • Confidently and tolerantly deal with ambiguity and change; and
  • Manage their emotion and brain state effectively for optimum performance.

Leaders are playing under new rules, and new rules need new tools! Leaders must develop a set of core leadership skills that are much more about who they are as leaders, than the structures and processes they seek to put in place.

They must also develop a deep understanding of human behaviour and how humans are wired, and seek to work with that rather than against it.

We have learned more about the human brain in the past 25 years than in all the time before, and this new science is proving that some of our traditional leadership behaviours and approaches have been effective (and we intuitively knew that – now there is hard science), but it is also showing us that many of our beliefs about how to get the best from our people are flawed.

The new leadership model focuses on 6 core skills rather than rigid leadership structures:

  1. Focus skills

    The ability to distil the relevant and useful stuff from the deluge of data.

  2. Learning skills

    Understanding and employing the process of learning, developing a growth mindset where the focus is on progress and process not outcome, and developing a healthy organisational relationship with risk-free failure.

  3. Personal skills

    A mastery of regulating the biases, assumptions and emotional reactions that can interfere with exceptional self-leadership.

  4. Social skills

    The skill of true listening, the ability to accurately and intuitively read the reactions and brain states of other people, and the capacity to positively influence and support them to perform at their best.

  5. Conversation skills

    Having the courage, confidence and skill to have the conversations that need to be had. Masters of conversation exert influence through the facilitation of insight and creative collaboration in their teams.

  6. Collaboration skills

    Knowing how collaboration really works; that it is much more than a set of processes and meetings. Collaboration is a mindset and a set of personal skills and motivations that break down barriers and leverage capability.

These ‘leading human’ skills are peppered with the mindsets of curiosity, generosity and equality, and in time, the new generation of leading humans will lead other humans to create workplaces we love to be a part of, and that direct attention to things that are useful. And it’s never too late to learn!

1 Comment

  1. Louis A Spain Jr

    This is exactly how one of the original American aerospace companies, Rohr Industries (founded by Fred Rohr) went from from a mortally wounded fire sale valuation of $45,000,000 in 1981 to annual sales of $1,500,000,000 in 1989. From having Boeing pay more than half their payroll until Boeing could build a facility in Wichita, Kansas to take it’s place; to having the 2nd highest profitability in the entire industry and being completely debt-free.
    The leading human, Harry Todd (President, CEO and Chairman of the Board), consciously role-modelled the leadership transformation of this company from the “dictatorial venture capitalist who couldn’t shoot straight” to a “leader-as-servant” enterprise in the context of Quality Circles using Kepner-Tregoe enhanced Process Improvement techniques learned at the American Quality & Productivity Center in Houston, Texas.
    The leadership change had to come first before the process improvement culture and tools could be successfully integrated.
    The sad prologue is that a greedy board of directors replaced Mr. Todd with another egomaniacal old-style “Captain-of-Industry” (Robert Goldsmith) whose contempt for employee expertise and autonomy was unfortunately revealed in a San Diego Union-Tribune interview less than a year after his ascension to President of the company.
    Within another year and a half of his gleeful dismantling of the wildly successful employee participation cultural of the nearly-new Rohr Aerospace Company was saved, once again, from bankruptcy and continued massive layoffs by a sale to B.F. Goodrich Aerostrucures.
    As always, leadership matters, for good or ill, always

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