Why Leadership Needs To Be More Human

bigstock-hands-14257658I was always uncomfortable on a pedestal.   Call me modest, or humble, or whatever, but it just doesn’t suit me.

There’s something so detached about it.   There’s a real physical separation between you, the leader, and they, the people you lead.

Communication from the pedestal is made by words and sounds, both written and spoken.   But words and sounds aren’t enough.

They’re not human enough.

In fact, they’re barely human.

What’s more human is a real personal connection with those you lead.   I felt like I really needed to look into the eyes of every single employee I had in my department, even when there were 1,100 of them.

I wanted them to look into MY eyes, and see what was inside – someone who understood them, and respected them, and the work that they did.

Someone who understood that the work had meaning, and that it made a difference in our success or failure.

Someone who knew they mattered.

Can this really be communicated by mere words?  Through an e-mail, or a conference call, or a poster?

Sure it can.  It can be communicated.   But can it be truly absorbed and understood?

Can it be felt?

Only if we’re more human.

It starts with building trust one person at a time – getting out of the office and going where the transactions take place, or the products get made.

It’s listening to their dreams and their fears.

It’s discerning what they value, and how they feel about work.

It’s knowing that like most humans, they want the same thing you want – a really good reason to get out of bed in the morning.

When you figure that out, and they SEE you wanting to figure that out, standing or sitting in front of them, or hanging out with them on the job, or chatting by the coffee pot, big breakthroughs can happen.

Mainly, you can ask for something that seems very counterintuitive to being more human, but isn’t at all.

You can ask for a culture of accountability – a culture that can deliver outstanding results for a company and its ownership.

Because being more human doesn’t mean being more lenient.  It means that you are absolutely and positively fair in how you lead.

Because you’ve connected at such a personal level, when you then stand up and ask for accountability, and then explain that it’s necessary to not only make the company profitable, but to make them happy and fulfilled as employees, they’ll trust you, and follow along.

But then, you must deliver on that trust.  First, everyone must know their role and their responsibilities, and why they matter.   They must understand how they make a difference.

Then, high performance is publicly celebrated, and substandard performance is privately corrected.   There are no playing favorites.  And you hold yourself to the same standards.

With a great culture of accountability, more human leadership can thrive.    Everyone has each other’s back.  There’s a strong feeling of “team”, and friendships flourish.   There are more smiles in the workrooms and hallways.

Better still, the bars can keep being raised.   High performers inspire higher performers.   The need to be good is replaced with a relentless passion to be great.

Why? Because everybody loves going to work, and when that’s combined with the intoxication of success, there’s no limit to what a team can accomplish.

And the leaders can clang cowbells, and sing karaoke, or dress up like Elvis, just to let everyone know that along with hard work there can also be a little fun thrown in the mix.

That’s what can happen when a leader gets off that pedestal, and makes those critical connections.   That’s what happens when a leader makes it about “the team”, and not about “the company”. 

Being more human is the only way you can achieve something truly extraordinary – a “success trifecta”:  A great company, a happy team, and a fulfilled you.

Lead well!

(Photo by Bigstock)


  1. says

    Right on Terry! You see larger companies stumble when they begin to neglect the human element of leadership. That was one of the downfalls of Circuit City. The leadership failed in being human.

  2. Mike Cooper says

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I suspect a lot of leaders believe (deep down), their teams would perform better if they truly engaged, but somewhere early in their. After all, if you don’t get too close, it is seemingly easier to terminate people as needed. My experience has been more like yours…the relationship gives you the credibility to expect more, do more, and have even HIGHER levels of accountability, because people know you aren’t playing politics.

    At the end of the day, again, I think most leaders would rather take this high engagement approach, but don’t have the courage to try it… and run the risk of being seen as “soft” by un engaged top management. I started to understand the power of high engagement leadership about 10 years ago. In that time, my teams have WAY outperformed teams I led early in my career, and more importantly, by my coworkers AND I have actually enjoyed our work more. Additionally, you then have the possibility of creating something “unique”, which in turn draws the best talent to you. It becomes a “cause” instead of a job. People eat it up.

    For that reason, I am a “lifer” when if comes to this type of approach. It just plain works.

  3. says

    Hi Mike, thanks for your comment – I think you are right, it is a matter of courage. I was called “touchy feely” by some at my company, but I wore it as a badge of honor.
    Glad you are a “lifer” and are getting the results!
    Alll the best,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *