Margarita Mayo raises a poignant question in her Harvard Business Review article: If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists? It’s unlikely that people believe narcissists make good leaders. We understand (to use classical language) that narcissism is a vice and humility a virtue. And Mayo says the research confirms that humble leaders are better in the long run, both for a company’s morale and performance. But there is a conundrum because, often, “instead of following the lead of these unsung heroes, we appear hardwired to search for superheroes: over-glorifying leaders who exude charisma.”
In Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, Christian Madsbjerg analyses our societal shift away from the humanities toward science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). He suggests the sweeping nature of this shift is detrimental because “our fixation with STEM erodes our sensitivity to the nonlinear shifts that occur in all human behavior and dulls our ability to extract meaning from qualitative information.”
The leadership landscape in the 21st century is almost certainly different to what you prepared for.
Market volatility, strategic uncertainty, competitive complexity, and ethical and moral ambiguity mean every day is different. How can you succeed as a leader in this environment?
The great leaders of recent history can provide some clues.
You can learn much from the example of people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela – although their experience may seem far removed from you. They remind us that people matter, and that it is important to stand up for people.
This is the example set by Paul Polman, global CEO of Unilever, who consistently reminds us that ‘business cannot succeed in a community that fails.’ During more than five very successful years at the helm of Unilever he has constantly reminded those inside Unilever – as well as all levels of business government and society – that you need to look at where your firm touches people, at the impact it has on the communities of which it is a part.
Anthony Howard says the best leaders put people first to create an environment in which their employees can flourish
Human-centred leadership is a new model of leadership for the 21st century. However it is based on human-centred practices more than twenty centuries old.
These practices focus on living a good life — the best possible life — and being the best person you can be.
As such they provide insights about leadership that apply to the most challenging situations of the 21st century.
The ancient Greeks believed that a ‘good life’ was a life of human flourishing, and that the key to that was the practice of good habits, or doing the right thing in order to become the best person you can.
Why does this matter for leadership?
THE modern workplace is becoming a powerful and relentless factory that swallows up high-achievers and spits them out.
A New York Times expose on Amazon this weekend painted a grim picture of a “bruising” environment fuelled by ambitious recruits who are encouraged to tear each other’s ideas apart, provide secret feedback on colleagues and work long and hard at the expense of their personal lives.
Human-centred leaders put people before profit, doing what is right before results, and focus on creating an environment where people can grow, develop and become their best selves. When you care for people they will care for your business. When you put people first, the results flow through to the bottom line.
Are the people who work for you no more than a means to make money? While our natural desire is to maximise profit, there is a point where the human cost is too high. Although profit is measured by dollars on the bottom line, the size of that profit can be a measure of how you treat people. Sometimes it is the processes we put in place that damage people.
Many people first taste leadership when they receive a promotion and find themselves ‘leading’ a team. Over time, the team, and the leader’s responsibility, grows. But do they become better leaders?
Amidst a backdrop of unprecedented change, human-centred leadership offers the best possible model for navigating the complexities and challenges of the immediate 21st century, writes Anthony Howard