Reclaim Your Humanity as a Leader


Listen to our interview with China Gorman in the latest Workhuman Radio podcast, embedded at the top of this post.

It’s not easy being a leader these days. We have four generations – soon to be five – in the workforce. And while we can say humans are humans, each generation has its own peculiarities when it comes to attitudes about work and work’s place in a well-lived life.

And then there’s technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. These are all impacting relationships at work. And, they are impacting the work itself. In the 80s and 90s we dealt with offshoring of jobs. Today we are dealing with jobs leaving human hands and going to robots’ digits. This is happening slowly today, but we all expect this migration to accelerate in the near future.

So yes, leadership has never been tougher. On top of these social and technological changes, leaders are still responsible for business performance. They are responsible for the people, the humans expected to exceed customer expectations, collaborate with each other, achieve performance metrics, innovate new product approaches, and live the company values wherever they go.

The foundation for leadership today is about being human – relating to employees as humans rather than “direct reports.” It’s not about getting the best from your employees. It’s about creating positive relationships that enable the best with your employees. This isn’t a generational issue – it’s about business performance.

In order to be a human leader of other humans, your leadership must be rooted in these three behaviors – all the time.

Be fair and trustworthy.

Your employees – and all other stakeholders – need to know that you are completely fair and politics-free when making decisions. They need to be able to rely on your word. Mean what you say and you say what you mean. Follow through on commitments. Be reliable and honest. Period.

Be approachable and personal.

Your employees – and all other stakeholders – need to be able to connect with you. Don’t be invisible. Be accessible. And, be personal. Know peoples’ names. Look your colleagues in the eye with a pleasant expression on your face. Make yourself available by walking the halls. Keep your office door open. Being approachable means making yourself available for random and unscheduled interactions. And when those interactions happen, be present, be open, and listen.

Provide and acknowledge meaning.

When stakeholders know the big picture – “what we’re fighting for”; when they know how what they do contributes to the whole; when they see how customers respond to their products and/or services; and when they are emotionally connected to their work and their colleagues – good things happen for them, for the business, and for your customers.

These aren’t new or revolutionary ideas. But they produce the kind of outcomes that all businesses are looking for: higher quality outputs, lower turnover, higher engagement, higher sales, greater competitiveness, higher profitability, and more innovation. Everything you measure that you want to go up will go up; everything you measure that you want to down will go down.

Creating personal, human relationships based on trust, openness, and shared meaning are the key. Ultimately, unfailing commitment to these behaviors will transform your own leadership effectiveness as well as your organization’s performance.

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China Gorman China Gorman (1 Posts)

I started my career at the publisher of The Christian Science Monitor and then spent 20+ years in the HR consulting world specializing in the career transition, executive coaching, and leadership development arena as a business leader at the local, regional, national, and global levels. Many know me for my tenure as the CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, the global consultancy dedicated to improving society by helping companies create better workplaces. Prior to Great Place to Work, I was the Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO for SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management), the world’s largest professional association for human resource professionals with over 275,000 members in more than 140 countries.