Being human…as a leader

Being Human

It’s amazing how rarely we talk about what it means to be a human, as a leader.

One reason for this, is that very few people have actually thought about it.

So, what does it mean to be human?

Although it’s uncomfortable to hear, being a human means we’re confronted by a set of inescapable dilemmas that influence how we live and lead.

Throughout my career, as a leader and also as a human being, I saw these dilemmas play out on a daily basis for myself and others. In observing this I realised that although our response to these dilemmas is largely unconscious, if we’re able to engage them more authentically and in a more healthy way, then we can achieve far higher levels of success and fulfilment at work and across our lives.

What are these dilemmas?

  • Mortality / Finitude: At the core, whether we like it or not. In our current physical form we are finite beings – we are mortal. The impact this dilemma is the we are concerned about of our need for survival. Whether this relates to our overall physical survival, or our survival in a particular scenario like keeping our job, we are conscious of the finite nature of our experiences, and of our life.
  • Identity: As humans we are aware of ourselves and thus are conscious of our identity and how we project this into the world. In fact we are so aware of our identity, especially in terms of our image, that we spend our waking lives fixated on it – how we look, what we wear, our hair style etc.
  • Meaning: Relative to most other species, we are meaning making creatures who are not content with the idea that life just is. We not only want, but we need meaning to make sense of the world we live in, and where meaning doesn’t appear apparent, we make it up – e.g. murphy’s law, it’s fate.
  • Freedom: We are responsible for our own lives and actions, and hence are free to make choices, even if that choice is limited to how we respond to our context. Our responsibility to make choices and exercise our freedom is inescapable as even making no choice is still a choice.

  • Isolation: We are social creatures who only exist with and in relation to others. But in spite of how close we might get to another human being, we are still a single, isolated human surrounded by other single, isolated humans. To overcome this we join tribes or become part of the herd, hoping to never be that single individual left out alone.

Individually, none of these dilemmas are unique to the human species. Their combination however, and our response to them is what makes us both magnificent and vulnerable creatures no matter which role we’re playing in our life in any moment.

Leading the true human experience both for ourselves and for others requires us to engage with these dilemmas in an authentic way. This means that rather than try to avoid them, pretending that they’re not important, we should use them to help us live and lead with greater authenticity, purpose and intention.

Something to consider

What’s your lived experience of being a human as a leader?

Something to try

In conversations with the people you lead, try connecting with them as a human being. Take the time to talk to them about what else is going on for them outside of work – i.e. what’s really important for them?

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