Leading with humanity

We’re all human, but is humanity in leadership a given?

Particularly when we’re stretched, recognising and prioritising the things that speak to our humanity – purpose, care and curiosity – can help keep us grounded, keep us going, and keep us being our best selves for others.

Here we offer questions you can use to help keep you connected to the people and things that matter.

I had to smile to myself when I sat down to write about leading with humanity. It feels a bit of a given, we’re all human after all so surely ‘humanity’ is part of anyone’s, indeed everyone’s, leadership practice. And yet. There’s a niggle in my mind that we don’t all, always, experience it. Or perhaps, not nearly enough as we should. 

When it’s absent, it creates a void between people: a shapeless place where it’s hard to connect or to hear one another. Anyone, indeed, anything, can do the job. We don’t need hearts, souls or expertise, we simply follow instructions and deliver on time. This isn’t us; we’re not automatons.

Leading with humanity…is enabled when we ask questions, without judgement or expectation.”

Leading with humanity requires purpose and care in our actions. It’s a result of the choices we make with our time, energy and attention. It’s amplified when we find space to listen to, and allay, people’s fears. It’s enabled when we ask questions, without judgement or expectation. And it’s built on consistency. Choosing, time and again, to rethink how we connect with the people we work with, lead and care for, and putting their needs alongside our own.

At the very heart of leading with humanity is curiosity. That unassuming quality that helps us to understand ourselves and each other better, and which we can use to adjust our responses and actions as leaders. 

Through your curiosity, you can show your humanity – your care and dedication to them in your role as a leader.”

Curiosity is the thing that helps us let go of having to defend an often-mistaken virtue of leadership: certainty. The idea that we have to act on a firm conviction, and that we alone must fix or solve a challenge. Instead, using questions wisely allows a sense of discovery and collaboration to take place. Inviting others in, opening the literal or virtual door, and channelling their contributions and ideas so that we can make the best, most informed decisions when we’re faced with tough choices.

In an environment like the one we’re in now, where we don’t always have power to do the things we wish, through your leadership you can give power back to your colleagues. Through your curiosity, you can show your humanity – your care and dedication to them in your role as a leader.

Here are some practical questions you can use in a variety of contexts to help keep humanity at the forefront of your leadership.

Questions to use in meetings:

  • How do you feel about this challenge?
  • Who might see this differently at the moment, and how would they explain their point of view?

Questions to help make decisions:

  • What does our instinct tell us?
  • How do we feel about this problem?
  • What is our emotional response to this?
  • What is the likely impact on others?

Questions to ask yourself about your own leadership:

  • How am I when I’m at my best?
  • What really matters to me about this situation and why?
  • Am I willing and able to use whatever power and influence I have to create a place of understanding and humanity?
  • How does what I know get in the way of what I don’t know, but maybe need to learn?

Questions to use with the people you lead:

  • What energises you?
  • Where are you struggling?
  • What do you think I need to know but don’t?
  • If there were one thing I could improve in how I [insert your own choice here], what would it be?
  • How are you, really?

This blog was first created for the University of London’s resources ‘Smart Insights’.

By Louise Clifton

Louise is the former Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations at Invisible Grail. Louise’s passion is to help people bring alive the stories that show the wider world who they are and why what they do matters.

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