The Complexity of Being a Human-Centered Leader

Leaders who listen, keep up-to-date on the world and live through times of major confusion about change and new directions may wonder how they can be human-centered in their leadership while delivering the financial results that shareholders, boards and fellow employees expect. In sum, they may wonder how they can acquire the right competencies to thrive in today’s more complex world.

Our brain/body system evolves as we learn and grow.

The brain has limited capacity when it comes to memory, and the prefrontal cortex (the decision-making function) can only manage so many rapid changes at once. To survive as a species, human bodies evolved to process myriad inputs with increasing efficiency. The brain has a mechanism called pruning which deletes and combines inputs. The body, through its senses and practices, ingrains habits, values and behaviors. This allows our biological systems to function efficiently rather than being constantly overwhelmed.

Overwhelm does not help with survival. Growth, adaptability and focus do.

We refer to most of the changes the body has made in order to become more efficient simply as habits.

In today’s world, practicing new habits can help us cope.

Great athletes will tell you that moving toward more success requires building better habits, which can only be done through practice. The more effective the practices, the better the results.  

One thing we can practice is to choose what our brains focus on rather than letting it function on its own. The brain uses strong emotion to determine memory and focus. We can guide it in a more helpful direction.

In business, establishing a meaningful purpose, mission and values that all employees can embrace is one way to stay on track. There is a rule in the natural world that energy follows attention. Companies with a strong emotion-backed purpose will find it easier to focus their attention and succeed in a turbulent world.

It takes more focus, different questions and better practices to grow into the complexity needed to be more effective leaders.

It behooves leaders to do an inventory of habits that are not working for them in today’s world and begin to practice other, more effective behaviors to change their life patterns.

The desired results need to be part of the practice. For instance, a long-distance runner, opera singer or scuba diver will want to practice breathing more efficiently since that is key to achievement in their fields.

A social contract

Every leader wants to take care of their followers, employees, and family. In the United States, the movement to become more human-centered in our organizations and daily life has been building for many years. Employees want a new social contract, more autonomy, fairness and recognition of their talent and achievement. DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), ESG (environmental, social and governance) and stakeholder capitalism are the first formal efforts by business to become more inclusive and human-centered.

As first efforts, they may be unfocused, clumsy or imperfectly effective and need to be improved. We are human and social beings. We cannot survive without the interaction of different people who share, support, challenge, ask questions and nudge behavior change. A focus only on profits will not help humanity survive. As the world evolves, so too must humans.

Back to those leaders wondering how they can be human-centered in their leadership and get the financial results that shareholders, boards and fellow employees expect. The key may be not in seeking out an answer, but rather in asking a different question. What if their mission became to grow talent and profit, while identifying the practices that can create that dynamic? What if entrepreneurs started asking themselves and their business collaborators, how can we do what we love and make money, while building a better world?

Remember, it takes more focus, different questions, and better practices to grow into the complexity needed to be more effective leaders.

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