The Leader as a Human Being

The other day I met a friend I have not seen for a number of years. When I asked how things were going, my friend began down this long path of uncertainty, confusion, insecurity, and frustration. And that was just at work. As I listened and interacted with my friend, it seemed these feelings were stimulated by a number of situations starting with the poor economy and leading to a lack of direction from the organizational and community leadership. After my friend left, and while driving some distance, I had some time to reflect upon this conversation.

Since I am not certain I can personally address the economy, I settled in on something that has been a concern for many years in my professional life, leadership development and its impact on groups and organizations. In this time of uncertainty, which by the way seems to have been my entire career, leadership plays a critical role in how members of the group or the organization view the current reality and the potential for the future. When I think about the leaders I have known over the years, both at work and in the community, I realize the leaders that I have admired and wanted to follow have had a certain quality to their leadership style. I also believe that these leaders were the ones who were the most effective in providing direction and security that the followers needed at the time. I will also freely admit that others may have not appreciated these leaders as much as I did and do.

The one factor that I believe to be the single most influential factor about these leaders is that they were first and foremost human beings trying to do the best job they knew how without creating any more damage or pain to others than was necessary. And when they did create that damage or pain, because it was needed or unintentionally, it was done with compassion and humility. It seemed to me that they were always focused on the other person and their needs instead of what was expected of them as a leader. As I write this I’m reminded of the old saying by John C. Maxwell; “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is also consistent with Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence. In his work Goleman talks about how the most effective leaders are usually not the most intelligent or the most knowledgeable or skilled in their field. Instead effective leader are emotionally intelligent. These leaders are self-aware and understand the importance of feelings when dealing with others.  These leaders, while not ruled by their feelings, know how to utilize their feelings to connect with others and to better understand how others are feeling. These leaders demonstrate the value of the relationship in the group and the organization. They are human first and demonstrate that they care.

On the other hand, ineffective leaders are unaware of their feelings and view feelings as being soft. As a result, sometimes these leaders let their emotions control them and react with a variety of destructive behaviors; such as anger or shaming or blaming or passive aggression or micro-managing or completely ignoring others. Hopefully, these ineffective leaders are not the norm. However, they do exist and when they provide leadership it results in resentment and the creation of a toxic environment within the group or the organization. When asked about these leaders, their followers describe them with a variety of descriptions, but few, if any, that would describe a positive human being.

Again, as I think about my conversation with my friend, I wonder what role today’s leaders of organizations and groups play in this perception of confusion and uncertainty. I wonder if leaders today are performing their role based on what they think others expect of them or if they are aware of the feelings of others. I wonder if leaders today are aware of their own feelings and how to tune into those feelings to build connections with their followers.  I wonder if leaders today know that the most important action they can demonstrate is that as a human being they care.

Until next time, think about the leaders in your life and what you can do to influence the development of future effective leaders.