Humans vs. Machines: Daring Leaders Are Caring Leaders
Leadership is NOT about titles, status, nor wielding power! A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas and has the courage to develop that potential. When we dare to lead, says Brené Brown, American research professor and author of Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, we don’t pretend to have all the right answers. We stay curious and ask the right questions. We don’t see power as finite and hoard it; we know that power becomes infinite when we share it with others. We don’t avoid difficult conversation and situations; we lean into vulnerability when it is necessary to perform good work.
Brown defines a leader as someone who “takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to bravely develop that potential.” She invites leaders to dare to become brave leaders by leading with wholehearted leadership and self-awareness by embracing vulnerability and courage in their work culture.
To build courage in teams and organizations, daring leaders must cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation. In other words, courage is how leaders behave and show up in difficult situations, which ultimately strengthens care and connection between leaders and their team members.
Brown seeks to reframe what she sees as the myth of the essence of what vulnerability truly is. In many fields across various industries, vulnerability is equated with weakness and failure and workers are rewarded for their efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities every day. As she observes, organizations that have accepted that as their reality are the ones struggling most in terms of being void of daring leadership skills. She says, “many people walk into work every day with one clear task: engineer the vulnerability and uncertainty out of systems to mitigate risk.”
What Brown advocates for is embracing relational vulnerability between team leaders and coworkers. For work teams, the behaviors that coworkers need from their team almost always include listening, staying curious, becoming or remaining honest, and keeping confidential information. She believes this is the secret sauce for building trust within teams.
According to research, she says, “trust between team leaders and coworkers is the primary defining characteristic of very optimal workplaces.” With trust must-haves – such as continuous improvement and sustainable, measurable, and tangible results in marketing – are made possible in companies. In the workplace, trust is cultivated by daring leaders through active efforts to respect boundaries, practice reliability and accountability, and come from a place of nonjudgment.
How does Brown suggest leaders establish trust-building within teams? It’s through the small moments of care leaders show their coworkers: Trust is earned not through heroic deeds nor even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection. Trust is earned by asking our teams what they need from us in a way that allows for openness and safety in conversation. By asking questions like – “What does support from me look like?” – particularly during times of change, uncertainty, and challenge, team leaders can encourage disclosure from coworkers and improve the quality of the feedback and insights team members provide.
Another way to build trust between leaders and coworkers is through honesty. Most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we’re being kind when what we are really doing is being unkind and unfair. Distrust in and disconnection from leaders can come with great costs in terms of productivity, performance, and engagement. Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.
Daring leadership in a culture defined by scarcity, fear, and uncertainty requires skill-building around traits, which are deeply and uniquely human. The irony is that we’re choosing not to invest in developing the hearts and minds of leaders at the exact same time we’re scrambling to figure out what humans have to offer that machines and artificial intelligence can’t do better and faster.
What can humans do more optimally than machines and artificial intelligence? We can dare to develop and then practice empathy, connection, courage, and honesty with bravery.
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Vice President Emeritus for Learning Technologies Donald Smith, Ed.D, CPT, headed ME&A programs in learning, leadership, and performance enhancement. He stayed with the firm in his retirement, bringing more than 65 years of experience as a coach, designer, facilitator, evaluator, manager, educator, and organizational change architect in more than 50 countries.