Maybe dehumanization of leadership is a real thing, eh?

Be Vulnerable At Work

Was reading this article just now, which then directed me to this paper on “the dehumanization of leadership.” The paper speaks to a “disconnect between leaders, people supposed to follow them, and the institutions they’re meant to serve.” (I’ve written a little about this too.) The basic idea is that a senior leader can be instrumental — which means they chase business goals/deliverables — or heroic, which means they chase a vision or bigger idea. (You can also be “post-heroic.”)

If you think that a senior leader can really only be instrumental or heroic, then basically they can either be “super-machines” or “super-humans,” right? And because they fear incompetence (like we all do) and want to hide their flaws, they end up either (a) striving and falling short of either role or (b) taking the safe route every time, which could cripple their org down the line.

Not a good overall situation, but I mean, they are getting paid a lot (usually). So that’s a thing.

This article gives three basic suggestions for what leaders can do to build themselves up and encourage trust:

  • Get emotional
  • Be whimsical
  • Express doubt

I’ve written about all this kind of stuff probably close to 300 times by now, but I couldn’t agree more. For me it comes down to some basic ideas:

Here’s what I’ve been thinking more and more in the past couple of years, right? We try to draw this strict line between “how we are with family” and “how we are at work,” but that line doesn’t actually really work that well. We’re still human beings, right? In a relationship — and work is basically just a complex series of relationships anyway — we want certain things, and we don’t necessarily want a different subset of things just because we’re in an office. (I’m not talking about how we behave, which might be different, i.e. “professionalism.”)

So we have this dividing line between “this is work” and “this is life/family,” but we’re still human beings in both situations. So why does the line need to be so stark?

For example, as this marriage research shows, small moments of attachment and intimacy are crucial to sustaining healthy relationships. Essentially, true moments of connection meet your need as a human being. It doesn’t matter if it’s work or family. Honestly. I’m sure most people read studies like this and are like, “Intimacy?!?!? That has no place in the workplace!!!!” Right. Thing is, intimacy doesn’t mean “sex.” They’re actually very different terms. Two men can be intimate. A boss and an employee can be intimate. It’s just a touchpoint of connection.

Vulnerability is a hugely relevant way of fostering connection, BTW.

I guess my broader point here is this: we often think about being “managers” or “leaders” in very deliverable-focused terms, and that makes sense. I’m sure most people who are managers get to work and feel they’re already 14 items behind, with five meetings scheduled for the bulk of the morning. (I don’t feel that way, but I’m someone who has the time to blog at work.) So with deliverables piled to the ceiling, who has time for this soft and fluffy stuff like “being vulnerable?” That’s No. 29 on the list, and the list stops at No. 6 every day, give or take. I understand that.

But if we started thinking of leadership or management as less about heroism or being instrumental and more about a mix of “hitting targets” and “coaching people,” maybe we’d be a little bit better off in terms of how we think about work.

Ted Bauer

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