This is a detailed exploration of human-centric leading (HCL). You can read a summary here.
HCL is a tool, as well as a model that is universally applicable. Distilled by Leaders for Good (LfG) founder Eleni Pallas, HCL works at the assumption level about what it means to be human. It uproots a mechanistic perspective of the human experience that is embedded into the subconscious mind through repetition at school, permeating our societies globally.
I distilled human-centric leading after connecting the dots across many fields of knowledge, as well as the practical side of working with people and noticing patterns of what they assume about what it means to be human.
During the my 20 years of corporate life, I spent much time working with cross-country projects in Europe, the BRICs and emerging markets. While I was taught that ethnic cultures are at the root of specific outcomes, I noticed the same organizational and societal problems globally. I wondered why people in France, China, India and Russia, for instance, would have the same problems when their ethnic cultures are drastically different.
When I started Leaders for Good, I won bids to help people solve bullying, conflict an intense team tension. In individual meetings, I would ask the people who were considered bullies: “Do you believe that you behave as a bully?” and would receive shocked responses illustrating a self-awareness disconnect. In group meetings, I would invite team members to pair up and inform each other how a specific behavior felt to them and how they reacted subsequently. Amidst such meetings, much insight surfaced in a short couple of hours. Each person became aware of how s/he was behaving and how that affected others in ways they had never before considered. Most participants went into brutal self-judgement, as they realized they were behaving in the same ways they consciously intended to avoid. When I asked them to observe what they learned with a judgment-free awareness, there was an emotional release that led to awareness and insight that informed what they subsequently contributed to the team culture. This helped loosen their use of blame. They started to realize that everyone is “right” from his/her perspective, which helped them drop the limitless arguments around proving they’re “right” and so, listened to understand and collaborate around solutions that work for everyone.
Working with bully behavior and related team dysfunction is not for the faint of heart. After doing so for years with people across generations, cultures, industries and experience levels, I realized that there are certain subconscious assumptions of what it means to be human. Few people question these core assumptions or “human operating system” yet they influence every conscious thought, feeling and behavior.
Here is a list of core assumptions that sit in our individual and collective subconscious minds, placed there by the industrialized education system:
- People are cogs in a wheel with no inherent value and only as good as their latest visible achievement
- Human capital and natural resources are commodities
- Humans are extrinsically motivated by position power, prestige and money
- Logic is the only reliable human intelligence
- Scarcity perspective – there’s never enough
- More is better – the growth imperative
- I’m right, you’re wrong – a dualistic, win-lose perspective
- Morals don’t matter in leadership
- Highest value is efficiency
Do you recognize any of these assumptions? Continue to read through this webpage to learn more about how they play out in the business world or society at large
After becoming clear of the above list of assumptions, I started to script a new assumption set (enumerated further on this webpage) and invited people to use them deliberately. It was amazing to watch criticisms, judgments, blame and resulting problems fall away to allow for open, safe space to emerge. When people consciously saw themselves and others as humans with skills, talents, goals and dreams, as well as fears, concerns and emotional triggers, they were able to deal with the problems that arose with ease. There is hardly a lack of IQ in any organization, rather a set of EQ or emotional intelligence skills that need strengthening. In fact, the problems that arise in organizational and societal life are a function of the cog in a wheel mentality. This insight is one of the most important contributions of HCL.
To learn how and why these legacy assumptions have been embedded into our subconscious minds and how they affect our business and societal results, keep reading…
Who is socialized as a cog in a wheel? Anyone educated under a reward and punishment model, also known as the use of “carrots and sticks.”
How are we socialized as cogs in a wheel? Through repetition at home, school and work, the focus on doing what is deemed as “good” and avoiding what is deemed as “bad” embeds specific assumptions into the subconscious mind. Unless these subconscious assumptions are questioned deliberately, which means consciously, they dutifully stay in place.
The public education process is a mass distribution system, designed during the Industrial Revolution to create more workers to meet production. Until then, most people were illiterate, as only the elite were educated through private tutors. With industrialization proving more grand for entrepreneurs than expected, they needed able-bodied, literate workers for the assembly lines, railroads, etc. The public education system was the first society-wide effort to educate people and that system reflected, and at the core level still reflects, the thoughts of the time.
In the Industrial Revolution days, people were seen as physical bodies and nothing else. Predictable, standardized behavior was sought-after and expected, creating what is the basis of today’s legacy industrial model. When Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Carl Jung (1875-1961) started to explore people’s internal needs, all that knowledge was bypassed by people in the business world outside the tactics of Edward Bernays (Freud’s nephew) who used them to sell ideas or goods, creating the basis of today’s public relations and advertising industries. Even today, the business and education systems are not questioned at the root level or “human operating system level” and so, we perpetuate the cog in a wheel mentality without even realizing it.
While we humans are born pure, whole and complete with unlimited potential, we are educated to think that we are inherently valueless and need to prove our worth through visible achievements. Yet, intuitively we know this is not true. When we watch children before they are socialized, we see they are curious, open, honest, trusting, imaginative, generous and they love to learn. They have inherent value that shines through.
Modern psychology research, from the 1940’s with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs onward, has confirmed that we humans are intrinsically motivated to meet our basic needs for love/connection, certainty, significance, variety, growth and contribution. This is above the obvious needs for clean and reliable oxygen, water, food and shelter. The internal needs are universal and motivate all humans, yet what differs is the ways we fill these needs. Some people fill their needs with money and therefore, hoard cash or resources to feel important, loved/respected and safe. Going to the other extreme, monks fill the same needs to feel important, loved/respected and safe by very different ways — praying, connecting to a higher consciousness, collaborating as part of a community for food, shelter and the like. The more skilled we are in filling our internal needs in a variety of ways, especially internally, the less likely we become dependent on the external world to feel good about ourselves and safe in the world.
Yet, while through science we have learned considerably more about the brain and the conscious and subconscious aspects of the mind, we are not taught to question our subconscious assumptions about what it means to be human. This is an important contribution of HCL.
One of the interesting aspects of being human is our keen capacity to focus. We can watch a movie and miss details because we focus on other aspects of what is going on. As an example of this, click here. This is not a lack of intelligence or a weakness of the human situation as some people conclude, rather the fantastic capacity of the mind to seamlessly sift at the conscious level while the subconscious mind absorbs everything.
At school, we are taught to prove our worth with visible achievements such as grades, which is perpetuated throughout life for prestigious degrees, top jobs, big homes and the like. We learn to depend on material goods and external validation to feel good about ourselves and safe in the world. This way of thinking is reinforced by the bad apple theory, which sees people as either good or bad — and getting rid of bad ones protects the good ones. It is the basis of corporate firings and demotions, yet it has been debunked. Psychologists have proven that humans have both good and evil capacities and behave according to a specific context. Examples:
(1) When we work in positive environments where we feel safe, we can let our guards down and focus on creating, innovating and collaborating with ease — thriving.
(2) When were work in unsafe contexts where we are judged, criticized and have the fear of losing our jobs, we focus on getting/staying safe above anything else — surviving. See Stanford psychologist Phil Zimbardo’s provocative TED talk about context and behavior to assess the research for yourself.
To learn the effects of the legacy industrial model on organizational and societal life, keep reading…
Seeing ourselves and others as cogs in a wheel or replaceable parts in a system is the root of the problems we face today. These are the problems we most commonly experienced at work or read about in business media:
- low engagement – aka compliance
- low creativity and innovation
- increasing health care costs (sick days from pressure, stress, conflict, criticisms, fear, burnout)
- employee and customer turnover
- lost opportunities from ineffective team turnaround
- conflict, violence
- racisms, sexism, ageism, homophobia, Islamophobia, other
- environmental degradation
- competition over natural resources
- low creativity for new political, business/economic and societal models, alternative energy sources, etc.
Do you recognize any of these and how they play out at work?
You may wonder how seeing people as cogs in a wheel creates the above problems. The fact is that assumptions inform the ways we think, feel and behave.
For instance, if someone assumes we are cogs in a wheel, meaning we are replaceable parts in a system, we feel it. We feel worried about being criticized, judged and blamed; we are anxious of making mistakes or being fired. Those feelings create behavior such as defending our ideas, playing political games, avoiding accountability for fear of the consequences and doing what we need to do to protect our jobs. We spend our time in self-preservation, which is a survival mode. We humans pay attention to being safe before being creative (a hierarchy of needs), yet our organizations are designed to maximize efficiency and profits, not optimize engaging and enriching team cultures through which we can thrive.
It is time for dramatic and transformational change.
To learn more, keep reading…
HCL is a leadership tool that creates dramatic change because it solves unwanted problems at the root assumption level. It shifts us from the cog in a wheel mentality to seeing people as humans with inherent value, unlimited potential and fears or emotional triggers.
HCL assumes what has also been proven by science and empirical evidence:
- Humanity is the highest value
- People are conscious dynamic beings with inherent value
- Human capital and natural resources are irreplaceable
- People are motivated intrinsically to meet our internal basic human needs
- Logic and emotions are reliable and useful
- There is enough – abundance mentality that promotes collaboration
- We’re each right, now what? — possibilities thinking
- Morals matter
This list of assumptions promotes a more accurate and empowering perspective of what it means to be human. It also responds to today’s global complexity, diversity and uncertainty such as the changing workforce consciousness, multi-generational and multi-cultural teams, hard-to-find and retain top talent, jobless economic growth, ever-quickening technological change and increased conflict. These challenges can be unraveled using HCL as it offers a new way of seeing people and designing positive environments in which people thrive.
HCL also generates organizational results that everyone wants — responsive (vs reactive) decision making, adaptability, loyal employees and customers, engagement, top talent retention, collaboration, accountability, creativity and innovation. These create great places to work and spend one’s precious life-force and energy.
Further, HCL supports the experiences we crave — meaningful work, feeling energetic and healthy, feeling safe amidst uncertainty, having trusting relationships and engaging things to do. We can create such environments when we challenge the legacy industrial model assumptions and design companies that respect people — and, of course, the habitat that allows life, Nature.
Try HCL. When you experience it, you believe how powerful it is.
To learn more about how HCL works, keep reading…
HCL shifts our mentality from seeing people as cogs in a wheel to seeing people as whole beings — with talents, experiences, ideas, goals and dreams, as well as fears, concerns and emotional triggers. When we see ourselves and others in our entirety, it is easier to feel safe enough to bring our authenticity to work, which includes our creativity or highest potential.
To change a team culture to help humanize an organization, HCL resets the rules of engagement by inviting you to use three HCL tools that are summarized in these four questions. They are simple, yet powerful questions that transform a team culture one interaction…one meeting…one project at a time:
- Awareness: what do I contribute?
- Emotions as data: what do my emotions tell me?
- Needs: what do I need to feel empowered and do my best?
- Perspective: what would a wise person do?
Here’s an example of how these questions address tough challenges, such as low morale, high stress and conflict within a team context with directive leadership and a focus on mistakes, which leaves people feeling disrespected, unappreciated and tired:
When the team leader, we’ll call her Valérie, asked himself: “what do I contribute to the team culture?,” he realized that he was contributing a directive leadership style that stymied team engagement and creativity. Valérie also realized that she assumed that she had to be a tough leader and that tough leaders are never questioned. She also realized that she assumed that criticism is good and it motivates people to fix problems.
When Valérie saw her emotions as data, she learned that her anger was telling her that she felt squeezed between a boss who wanted a “yes man” and a team who wanted a freedom fighter who fought for their rights. She also noticed that she was very stressed and that stress told her that she was going against her own belief that directive leadership does not work, even when she thought it was what she was supposed to do. She also realized that she felt badly that people on her team were unhappy, felt she was mean (critical), which motivated her to find a solution.
When Valérie asked herself what she needed to feel good and do her best, she realized that she needed to change her directive style and give her team a voice. When she asked himself what the team needed to feel good and do their best, she knew they needed to have a forum to speak up, share their viewpoints and ideas and participate in the decisions that affected them.
When Valérie wanted to access added perspective, she asked herself “what would a wise person do?” and realized that she needed to change her directive leadership style to a democratic one, yet also ensure that her boss felt safe and in-control, and that these changes were for the better. She also knew a wise person would ask everyone on the team how they felt and if the changes she was thinking about would suit them.
After using the HCL process with herself, Valérie had a team meeting (with her boss included) and used the HCL process to uncover everyone’s complaints, needs, concerns, challenges and ideal outcomes. While a few such meetings were required, the end outcome was a more happy, open team with people who felt heard, respected and empowered to participate in team decisions. The outcome also included an understanding that a team culture is a function of how people think, feel and behave and so, must be constantly nurtured. It is not a one-time fix, rather a process for thriving.
To explore further how HCL solves organizational and societal problems, keep reading…
Here are some common organizational and societal problems that are solved at the core level using HCL. HCL is an explorative rather than a prescriptive model, thereby, promoting the use of empowering assumptions that generate intelligent behavior and innovative solutions to problems.
Let’s explore an example with conflict — a common experience in organizational and societal settings. In any group, there is a likelihood for differing perspectives of any given situation , which can be positive if there is respect and negative if it is assumed that one person is right and the other(s) wrong.
Using an example of a team disagreement: a case where the team leader, Manish, is a baby boomer who values certainty and loyalty to the corporation (perceived as compliance) more than team democracy or creativity. The team members, in this case millennials in their 30’s, value cross-team collaboration, creative problem solving over certainty and compliance. Using HCL, it was/is assumed that everyone is “right,” which prompted everyone to focus on what to do rather than to prove they are right and someone else wrong. They used the HCL tools, summarized as four simple questions, which focused their attention on how to solve the challenge at hand:
- Awareness: what do I contribute?
- Emotions as data: what do my emotions tell me?
- Needs: what do I need to feel empowered and do my best?
- Perspective: what would a wise person do?
The team realized they contributed differing values. They also noted their frustration, which was telling them that they wanted one result, yet were getting something else. When they asked themselves what they needed to feel empowered and do their best, they realized that they needed to ensure everyone’s values were respected and internal human needs were met. They also realized they were judging differing values, ideas and perspectives that were not theirs when they could get some perspective and wonder what a wise person would do. As a result, they could strategize using guide posts such as:
- What is the worst that can happen?
- What is the ideal outcome?
- How do we close the gap?
- How will we think, feel and behave when filling the gap?
While the entire process took a mere hour, Manish and the entire team learned a lot about themselves and each other and how easy it is to get things done in ways that respects everyone’s values, ideas and dignity.
This is how HCL transforms a team culture…one meeting at a time that expands new thinking exponentially.