The Short Path to Humanity in Leadership

The Short Path to Humanity in Leadership

It was once thought that reaching ‘enlightenment’ required a lifetime of commitment to daily practices of mindful meditation and study and giving up all manner of the worldly good stuff. And even that wouldn’t assure you’d get to the objective. This, for obvious reasons, is sometimes called “The Long Path.”

As is the case with enlightenment, leaders being challenged to show up with greater humanity often don’t even know what that is or should look or feel like. Let alone where to start and how long it will take. Given the speed of change in most organizations, relying on a long path of ‘discovering’ a higher level of EQ and greater emotional access, might result in a failed organization before the enlightened incarnation of a humane leader is able to save the day (and in the process perhaps their job).

I was never much interested in meditation, and, for decades in leadership, believed that empathy and compassion in the process were inefficient and unnecessarily complicated.

These states for me personally were helped along, also for decades, by the prescription of antiepileptic drugs for a misdiagnosed brain injury. The effect of them was to reduce pre-synapse neurotransmitter excitation; in layman’s terms, a wet blanket-like numbing intended to defuse potential seizure activity. Along with it came a narrowing of emotional bandwidth and connectedness. It worked, unfortunately, not just in my business life.

As a result of recently getting off the medications, I discovered a much broader range of emotional response was there. But I had skipped over decades of learning how to manage my situational responses to emotions that were outside my comfort zone. This was frightening for someone whose emotional control had been chemically assisted for all his adult life.

Fortunately, I knew about neuroplasticity: the ability of our brains to adapt or change over time by creating new neurons and building new networks. I knew it is possible to change dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving and to develop new mindsets, new memories, new skills, and new abilities. I am doing this work now as it relates to appropriately responding to a greater range and intensity of feelings.

When Steve Chandler and I wrote The Leader and The Coach: The Art of Humanity in Leadership, our sense of things was that ‘humanity’ was closely aligned with emotional accessibility and compassion. The real challenge is application in real life. “How is this supposed to be applied situation-by-situation, yielding a leader showing up with greater ‘humanity’ as reflected in the retention and growth (and rising happiness quotient) of high-performing team members and teams?” This measure, we believe, is where the rubber meets the road in the outcome of greater humanity in leadership.

We believe the secret is in thoughtful, mindful, responsive choices on a situational basis. It is embracing the process of “changing dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving” in favor of “new mindsets, new memories, new skills and new abilities.” It is through applying the science of neuroplasticity and the principles of brain training for leaders to model the behaviors of more authentic, approachable, caring, human beings.

Notice the difference in the perceived degree of difficulty between a leader being asked to, “Be more emotionally available, empathetic, kind and loving,” and, “Choose responses in words and actions that make clear your (imperfect) commitment to behaving in ways that such a leader does.”

No one can truly see inside your humanity or emotion.

Everyone can hear your words and see your behaviors.

Once acted out, that behavior—in neuroplasticity terms—is reinforced—for you and your team—and more readily accessible in similar situations in the future. As with most journeys, the most important step is in gathering for the next one.

The ultimate short path to humanity in leadership is within your grasp, in the present moment, where you are, and with what you already have. You are the path.

~Will Keiper, co-author with Steve Chandler of The Leader and The Coach: The Art of Humanity in Leadership

If you feel intimidated by The Long Path, please send us your questions. or dm on LinkedIn

The Leader & The Coach by Steve Chandler & Will Keiper
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