THE AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS REVIEW: Humancentred leadership puts people first, does what is right

Humancentred leadership puts people first, does what is right

Business and government leaders need to answer some fundamental questions. Do we want a society based on economic models or on meaning and purpose? Do we want a society that puts people first or puts profits and economic performance first?

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These are questions of leadership, since leaders create the environment in which business andgovernment operate.

Humancentred leadership offers a way forward, since it puts people first and does what is right for people. Unilever’s Paul Polman insists business cannot prosper in a community that fails in a humancentred approach.

Another radical example is Ric ardo Semler at Semco Partners in Brazil, where people choose their work, salary, conditions, even their managers. Leaders are not appointed from on high but emerge from among colleagues.

Questions about meaning and purpose, about people who work and live in society, are arising in the context of four macro trends.

  • Trust is at an alltime low: Surveys point to a decline of trust in leaders in traditional institutions. Whenever a church leader speaks, we filter their words through a sea of scandal. Whenever a business leader speaks, they have to overcome perceptions of personal enrichment and lack of environmental awareness. We hear politicians through the selfinterested loudspeaker of power and privilege.
  • Fragmentation: While technology increases our global connection to people and events, we are increasingly disconnected from those close to us.
    Families can enjoy an evening together watching television while each browses on their tablets and carries on a conversation with no direct human touch. The landscape is marked by narrow selfinterest groups at a local level and increasingly argumentative — even aggressive — communities. We are regressing to a more divided, fragmented world.
  • Increasing dehumanisation: Bus iness has unwittingly adopted a view of workers as units of economic production. The prevailing adage that people are our greatest asset is true — when they contribute to financial results. When they become a cost they are quickly retrenched or made redundant.
  • The emergence of artificial intelligence: Computers, having begun as an aid to perform routine tasks, soon will be doing traditional intellectual tasks. The Mayo Clinic is using a computer called Watson, which operates at the speed of a human brain, to perform medical diagnoses with greater accuracy than doctors. Fully conscious computers may not be far away. Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and others have warned that humanity faces an existential threat from AI. The use of drones to make independent decisions about what to attack and eliminate is being debated. This is a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Management and leadership practices are largely based on industrialera command and control models that ultimately rely on coercion. Moral reasoning is largely based on definitions and expectations of right and wrong. Neither are suited to the 21st century.
Humancentred leadership is the solution. It overcomes the trust deficit, unifies relationships, treats workers as people and ensures human progress stays abreast of technological progress.

This is leadership exercised by people who operate by a clear moral compass, who make sound decisions that are good and right for people affected by their decisions. Humancentred leadership draws out the best in people and delivers the best for business, government and society.

Anthony Howard is the author of Humanise: Why HumanCentred Leadership is the Key to the 21st Century.