WORKING WITH HUMANS: THE SECRETS EVERY LEADER SHOULD KNOW

when we see our business enterprise as a human enterprise, and our human resources as human beings, a new range of possible futures is revealed…

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In September 2018, I was invited to speak at the CIO Forum in San Diego. Here’s a summary of what I shared on the secrets of Working with Humans.

Reading time: 4 minutes


The Richmond Events CIO Forum is a gathering of CIO’s from some of the largest corporations in the USA and this year’s event addressed topics ranging from cyber threat intelligence and data analytics to the needs of the digital customer.

Futurist Rohit Talwar set the context for the conference by illustrating the ways in which artificial intelligence (and the emergence of ‘super-intelligence’) is radically re-shaping the way we work. Of course we all know that computers can replace the person at the check-out, but did you know that they are now being used to draft legal contracts and prompt us when our clothes need replacing? Leading the charge is an insurance company in the Netherlands, who are offering a full service with zero employees. We used to hope for a caring person to be handling our insurance claims, now we just hope for a person, period.

The vision that Rohit painted was disturbing. And it was a vision that seemed to be missing one fundamental element to accompany the emerging super-intelligence - super-wisdom. So I was pleased when our futurist’s lecture concluded with some words that rang very true to me and my work. What’s key, he asserted, is that throughout these changes, we must learn to remain human.

My keynote, Working with Humans, called the audience into a hero’s journey. I asked them to manage the introduction of new technology and AI into their organizations in a wise and mindful manner. If we are to ensure a thriving future, we need to tread carefully as we introduce new technologies with unknown consequences. For evidence, look no further than the climate changes that our “old” technologies have caused, or the rapid changes in communication and thinking ushered in by social media.

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So how do we engage the full humanity of each of our employees? Here are some simple but practical ideas.

The way we stay human, the way we are human, is to see in ourselves three of the enduring aspects of all human beings. To make it memorable, let’s call them the 3 F’s.

We are simultaneously Fabulous, Fallible and Frankly Strange

To be aware of these aspects, and to act in accordance with them, is to honor our basic humanity. To see these features in each other, respectfully, allows us to recognize and protect the dignity of everyone in the workplace, whatever their role.

Sounds like a good thing, huh? But you might be asking yourself, what does this really mean?

To start with, let’s ask;

what are the ways in which each of us are Fabulous?
where are you and I Fallible?
how am I Frankly Strange to you, and vice versa?

When I coach leaders to create this culture in their workplace, most report that they start to notice a significant impact in 4 areas;

1.    Ease. Yes that’s right, a more ‘easy’ atmosphere. If we can see each of these characteristics within each other, and acknowledge that they exist, we can drop the pretence that takes up so much of our energy. It becomes OK to drop the posturing and be our authentic selves. Without judgement we can show up just the way we are and conversation becomes easier, collaboration becomes easier. Dignity is protected for all, which enables the next area of impact.

2.    Engagement. Dignity is the entry ticket for the highest levels of engagement. So after ease is accomplished, clients start to see their people become more emotionally connected to their work, and to the overall success of their organization. They see their people going the extra mile to make sure a customer is satisfied, or to see a task completed.

3.    Imagination. Once employees are engaged, we can tap into their imagination, giving us access to multiple perspectives and new possibilities. I remember the group of fully-engaged financial services managers I worked with, who stunned themselves generating implementable new initiatives worth $250m to their annual profits in just a day.

4.    Impact. Experience has taught me that people everywhere have one thing in common, we care deeply about the future. And I don’t mean an abstract future. I mean the future for our children and our grandchildren. A future for the Earth on which those grandchildren will live. We are coded to care. At work, when we create conditions where our deeper human values are respected, then that care can surface. With an activated sense of social responsibility, the employees in any organization become the custodians of its impact on people, planet and profit.

These elements combined transform the workplace

In busy times we need ease. In distracting times, we need employee engagement. In competitive times, we need employee imagination. And in times where our future is in doubt, we need to evaluate and mediate our impact. We need humans at work.

If you’d like to know more about how specifically to implement these ideas or my consulting work in general, please get in touch.

What the World Needs Most

- how your thriving creates a future worth choosing

These are difficult times. Wildfires breaking out around the world seem just the latest indication of what's not working.

The rules for of life seem to be breaking down. Business as usual seems to be failing us.

Knowing how to adapt and re-orient ourselves in this uncertainty is vital; for our own well-being and to build a world that works for everyone.

Reading time: 7 minutes

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The Answer

Let's start at the end. These times call for us to be fully human, fully alive. I believe, no scratch that, I know, that the capacities we carry by virtue of being human are sufficient to allow us to meet every challenge that comes our way. Without exception; providing our response is rooted in our humanity.

Consider who we are when we are at our best: vital, loving, generous, curious, imaginative, kind and more. It's a long and inspiring list.

Yes, claiming our full humanity is the key.

The new Context

The world is changing before our eyes. Most obvious as I write is the impact we are having on our planet home. The heat waves and wildfires affecting most every part of the world right now are forcing us to accept this impact and the dizzying rate of change it unlocks.

Add in other global environmental crises, social unrest in many places, and a pervasive sense of fear for the future: its a frightening brew. So it comes as little surprise that we are finding life more challenging.

When I was leaving university I was promised a job for life in what was then the UK's largest manufacturer, the splendidly named Imperial Chemical Industries.  What a quaint concept it seems now, that the recruiter would be sufficiently confident in the future to sell me a vision of a 40+ year career in one company. You won't be surprised to know that today ICI is no more, long since split up and sold off.

Companies may come and go, but our desire to see some path of predictability through our lives hasn't disappeared. Unfortunately, the gig is up on predictability too. The new context is constant flux, with a good measure of challenge and good helping of threat thrown in.

It's almost impossible not to feel the disturbing effects of this. My bet is that you already see people feeling confused, discontent or even betrayed as the predictable structures of their lives shift. Maybe these responses have come closer to home for you. They did for me, threatening for a while to destabilize me and my livelihood.

This new context demands the very best of us, individually and collectively, as we rise to meet it. The stage is set for us to bring our full humanity to the fore. 

Before we look at that, let's look at some good news.

you are not alone and the pain is not yours

Two insights transformed my relationship with how I was experiencing this new concept. I can still recall the moment, sat outside a local coffee shop on a sunny California day, when I was able to see and connect these insights. It caused me to sit bolt upright; I nearly spilt my coffee.

First was the realization that collectively and globally we are in an existential crisis, our most fundamental beliefs about life are being undermined by events apparent to us each and every day. The very foundation and meaning of life seems to be shifting beneath our feet. And we are all feeling angst from this in one way or another, even when we cope with it in so many different ways.

The second was to recognize that our tendency, as humans, is to pathologize our reaction to this crisis, making it somehow about our own deficiencies or weakness. Instead we should be seeing it for what it is, a reaction to a crisis that is gripping the entire planet.

So do not be mistaken for a moment. The fact that you might be feeling some of this angst is definitely not evidence that there is something wrong with you. It's the opposite! It’s actually proof that you are alive, that you are coded to care. Your love for life is being assaulted. And yes, this is bound to be deeply unsettling, almost certain to cause pain.

From all of this we see the good news;

It’s a global existential crisis.
+
Don’t pathologize it
=
You are not alone + the pain is not yours
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So how can we best respond?

The question of the moment becomes - how to respond? And given the scale, complexity and speed of the changes we are confronting we almost certainly need to find the response of highest leverage. The answer, back at the top of this post, with arrived with a startling clarity; 

It's time to become fully alive, fully human 

When we are fully alive, it becomes OK to care about ourselves, those we love and our planet. Fully alive, we can't not care. Fully human, we find huge reservoirs of resourcefulness; the strength to endure, the resilience to adapt, the courage to speak truth, the heart to connect and the ingenuity to thrive. 

The quest to reach into our full human selves is not new. Sages and prophets have pointed the way for millennia, but the pursuit of our own humanity has taken a back seat in more recent times. Maybe it's time for some new interpretation and fresh amplification of this perennial quest.

The prize? From our deepest humanity we will find the capacity to survive whatever comes our way and to thrive, even in challenging circumstances. Fully alive and connected in community we become a voice for the cares and concerns that unite us; a healthy, just, livable future for all. Fully alive inside the organizations where we work we become the stewards of their impact, unleashing a powerful force for good.

Realizing our humanity

To be fully human we want to embrace how fabulous we can be. The human spirit at its best will solve complex problems and create beautiful, effective solutions. Being a vessel for our own unique version of fabulous to reach the world is one of the most rewarding, and difficult, ventures we can take on. Yet beware, for alongside how fabulous we can be, we also need to hold our capacity to be fallible. There is a delicious tension between these two faculties.

It's ironic that the most frequently used reference to our humanity is to say, “I’m only human", a clear nod to the ways we fall below the standards we set ourselves. We want to learn to navigate though our fallibility. To accept it and see how it manifests, then limit its impact on ourselves and on others. This is the work of every human, a key component of being fully human.

Our culture restricts our humanity

Mainstream culture tends to play to our fallibilities way more than our fabulousness. The messages bombarding us routinely urge us to prioritize our personal happiness, frequently at the expense of the common good. We are urged to consume the unnecessary, ignore the uncomfortable and fear the unknown.

When we step out of the cultural dream, even for just a moment, we start of access other choices, to serve what works for all, to live within nature's bounds and to explore what we otherwise would reject. So step out, as far and often as you can. Reflect on what is really true for you and erect a discerning filter for the ideas and interpretations you will let in. Look for the parts of our culture that celebrate our humanity and reinforce our sense of possibility. 

Become fully alive, fully human 

The deficit of leadership - fill it

We might hope, pray, vote for leaders able to call forth our collective humanisty, harness it to address our urgent problems. We may be fortunate to see these leaders in some domain of our lives. Or not. All too often we are disappointed.

What I’ve learned remains true is that we each have the capacity to be those leaders in whatever sphere of influence we have. A family unit, the place we work, a club, committee or community. Fill the leadership deficit with you, and your whole humanity!

a future worth choosing

A future worth choosing stands as separate from the future that's being chosen for us. A future worth choosing might include some or all of these elements;

  • raising the common good over self-interest
  • ensuring dignity and justice for all
  • finding peace within and without
  • honoring and elevating the feminine
  • healing the Earth.

But these are just a few of my ideas. What do you reckon? Drop a line in the comments below with your take on what's worth choosing.

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We choose a new dream
in which we play big, sing loud, heal and love courageously; in which we see the world as a stage on which to explore the furthest reaches of what it is to be human.

This blog in a nutshell

  • our humanity hold the key to our personal fulfilment, and
  • is vital to our species meeting its current challenges
  • this is ever more important in the new context of turbulence
  • predictable life circumstances are no longer available
  • this is tough to handle
  • any pain this causes you is not your pain, and
  • you are not alone
  • embrace the myriad ways in which you are fabulous in your full humanness
  • know your falibilities, beware them, mitigate them
  • mainstream culture wants to keep you from knowing your full humanity
  • you are a leader in a world that needs clear-eyed leaders

Support for your next steps

The overarching theme of my own work, and my life journey, is accessing and expressing our full humanity. Here are three domains in which I offer support to others;

  1. The Personal. The Journey of Becoming is a series of carefully curated steps designed for you to re-choose the way in which you see and shape your world and to claim your full humanity. Liberated by this you can then very deliberately create a new future, a future worth choosing.
  2. In Community. Harnessing every voice, honoring every perspective and celebrating all our differences gives rise to authentic, holistic blueprints for our future. If you are interested in shaping community futures, please get in touch here.
  3. For Organizations. With tremendous human and financial capital at their disposal, organizations have huge potential for positive impact on our culture, our lives and our planet. Working with Humans focusses on engaging and equipping people as custodians of this impact and supporting the emergence of ever more organizations prioritizing people and planet as well as profit.