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How to Humanize Leadership

How to Humanize Leadership

Plant this seed within your core
Provide it space to sprout, and tend to its rise
Ensure it penetrates through each organizational layer
Cultivation, participation, and appreciation will be your essential tools
Allow this seed to transform into a solid footing
A personal and organizational launch pad
This mighty seed has significant yield
A vigorous and holistic whole


Humanizing Leadership Mentors

During the book writing process, I reflected on the multitude of individuals who graciously shared their time, words, wisdom, and encouragement with me along my personal leadership journey. Often, these individuals had confidence in me before I had confidence in my own ability. They provided me with the essential space and pivotal opportunities to learn, experiment, fail, and grow. They created a workplace environment in which my contributions mattered and in every human interaction with me demonstrated this.

How they showed up as leaders and how they engaged was critical to my leadership development. What was common in these leaders was first and foremost they were human beings and meaning makers. They understood that organizational systems are made up of many dynamic and emergent human systems. Through their actions they provided a higher purpose, empathy, and shared meaning all critical foundations for people and organizational development.

Humanizing Leadership Overcomes Outdated Organizational Views

Humanizing leadership is about overcoming an outdated organizational view that taught us to define oneself and value to our organization by the closed and often fragmented black boxes on the organizational chart. Humanizing leadership is about embracing the white space between the boxes, imbuing it with deeper meaning and purpose.

The “organizational chart map” is essentially an aggregate of isolated power blocks with a steep hierarchy command center. The blank white space is the real organization; it’s a place where personal relationships and loyalties exist. It is also an organizational space where top-down driven interactions often produce misattribution including misunderstood and misinterpreted information.

Humanizing Leadership Is Awakened Through Three Truths

Humanizing Leadership is about awakening to and harnessing three powerful leadership truths: reflection fuels, people matter, and relationships make the difference. These three consequential realities have a profound impact on our ability to lead effectively and help regulate the well-being and strength of the organizations we serve. By understanding the human paradox of simultaneous continuity and change, ambiguity, and complexity, humanizing leadership develops the personality and conceptual skills for successful juxtaposition of opposites to find the sweet spot.

Through forty-two leadership vignettes, the book Humanizing Leadership will change the way you look at leadership and at yourself. It strives to hold a mirror up to your beliefs about who you are, and leadership in general by putting a human face on leadership. These three threads are used to weave a tapestry of self-discovery and personal humanizing leadership growth.

1. Reflection Fuels. As leaders, we operate within a web of people relationship systems, and the health and power of these relationships are dependent upon the level of trust we carry within ourselves. We cannot expect to harness the full potential of our organizations, and relationships within them, if we fail to fully understand our behavior and the impact our behavior has on those who bring visions and goals to fruition. We are not above the organizations we lead; we are a part of them.

The practice of self-awareness and self-reflection for those in leadership roles extends back thousands of years to the ancient philosophers and teachers. Yet nowadays, it seems self-reflection is often a leader’s least favorite pastime or a component of leadership that is sacrificed for some other facet of leadership. In order to improve our leadership expertise, we must become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, our values and behaviors, and the ways in which they attempt to influence others. Our relationships with others mirror the relationship we have with self; a de-humanizing leadership behavior gives others permission to act in a similar vein.

2. People Matter. We need to continuously ask ourselves whether we are treating and interacting with people like they matter. Too often, a “people matter” concept within an organizations value statement is limited to the words printed on a piece of paper. It is not enough to merely recognize the role and significance people have within our organizations, we must commit and establish a direction to alter organizational “people matter” mindsets. To make the people an asset metaphor a reality, leaders must be inclusive.

When we actually carry out a “people matter” approach our organizations benefit, and we as leaders benefit. A fully engaged workforce will outperform a disengaged workforce any day of the week. There are numerous research studies that back this assertion. Moreover, employees who are engaged in the workplace are more open to innovative ideas and new tools. They are open to new ways to enhance the work they do, rather than just performing the bare minimum required. This attitude is a prerequisite for innovation and growth.

3. Relationships Make the Difference. Humanizing leadership creates the glue that holds the fabric of a human system together, and the elasticity, bond, and effectiveness of the glue is determined by the overall relationship welfare of the organization. Organizations do not exist of fragmented parts, but rather a series of human systems within a larger and connected human system.

We are aware that structure follows strategy and function follows form, but relationships run the show. Without relationships, there is no strategy implementation, and there is no function, to begin with. What goes on between people; employees, customers, suppliers, financiers, management, the board, etc. defines what an organization is and what it can become. It also defines the quality of humanizing leadership.

Humanizing Leadership Is About Choice

The book requires reader participation. The weight of the message is within the reader, not on the pages. The words and ideas shared are personal experiences and understandings that are open to adaptation. The reader is asked to use the personal insights and the provocative questions posed as a springboard for self-discovery.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tao said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”  Letting go creates the space for relationships and a collective identity to develop, for information to be shared, and for the talents of everyone within human organizational systems to be valued. On the strength of these behavioral and mindset shifts, we can achieve the collective accountability required for making organizational improvements.

Ask this key question; what behavior have I tolerated in myself or in others that conflict with people matter and relationships make the difference?

It’s about choice.

“It is not the truth that we do not know that does us in,
but the truths we know and don’t practice.” —Mark Twain

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Leading Forum
Hugh MacLeod is the author of Humanizing Leadership. The time he spent time as front-line worker, combined with the diversity of middle manager and senior executive roles, and his senior government leadership and chief operating officer experiences provided an appreciation of the dynamics that take place between people and relationships within and between organizational spaces. Hugh is a consummate learner and knowledge-exchange advocate and lecturer. Currently Hugh is an adjunct professor for the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. As a sought-after speaker on leadership and transformational strategy, he pushes tenaciously to establish new narratives pertaining to change, transformation, and leadership. His enthusiasm for leadership studies is derived from his desire to facilitate change and be of service to future leaders, and to give back, extending to them the same generosities that were bestowed upon him. For more information about the book “Humanizing Leadership” and a Kirkus review go to CultivateYourLeadership.com

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