While the world’s economy continues to expand, mostly driven by technology, trust in our leaders continues to either languish or decline. Part of the reason for this sad state of affairs is both current leaders and leadership development education are predominantly utilitarian and lack a humanistic focus.
In my two decades of work as an executive coach and consultant in organizations, I’ve found a direct correlation between an culture that has no joy, no passion, and little concern for the well being of its employees and a senior management team that makes little or no personal connection with those they work with. And much of that leadership behavior was encouraged in leadership development training, particularly in business schools.
In my article in Psychology Today, “What’s Love Got To Do With Business?” I said: “A predominant dispassionate, logical approach that distances itself from compassionate love, develops reward systems and training and development methods and the cycle reinforces itself. You will rarely see management training programs or employee manuals that address principles of tolerance, selflessness, kindness and compassionate love. When the leader models unloving, dispassionate behavior, this sets the tone for the entire organization, and when replicated across many organizations, sets a norm for business. It’s not that dispassionate, coldly logical ways of running organizations have not met with success, because they and their leaders have. But what has been the cost in terms of relationships, employee morale and happiness?”
We continue to hold up for admiration, if not idolatry, examples of business and political leaders who at various times are ruthless, unprincipled or abusive bullies who act out of self-interest. Add to this the never-ending list of books, articles, seminars or leadership training programs that emphasize a sanitized, technical or strategic focus. Rarely are the words “humanistic,” “compassionate,” caring,” “ethical” or self-sacrificing” heard.
Business school critiques (link is external)and growing skepticism of their value has increased. Management gurus such as Henry Mintzberg have criticized business schools’ excessive focus on abstract analytical models that rarely prepare graduates for the work of managing people. Other experts such as Samantra Ghoshal and Jeffrey Pfeffer have expressed concerns about the lack of focus in business schools on ethics or a general concern for employees or society. One need only look to the recent financial crisis to see how prominent leaders who were bereft of socially responsible values in their actions.
INSEAD business school Professors Gianpiero Petriglieri and Jennifer Petriglieri, authors of “Can Business Schools Humanize Leadership?” (link is external) have coined the term “leadership industrial complex,” which they say promotes a view of leadership that is depersonalized and sanitized: “Over one decade of corporate scandals, financial meltdowns and growing inequality has consolidated a disconnect with business and political leaders, as it is in the protests in the streets and squares around the globe.”
Leaders now are no longer seen as being role models or stewards of the common good, but rather as predatory plutocrats who profit disproportionately at the expense of the majority of the population.
G. Petriglieri and J. Petriglieri argue that we have experienced a “dehumanization of leadership” in which leadership is reduced from a cultural enterprise to a strict intellectual or commercial one, in which leadership “distances aspiring leaders from their followers and institutions, resulting in a disconnect their inner and outer worlds.”
The solution, the authors argue, is to re-humanize leadership, in which the process of becoming a leader is both a psychological and social journey, in which the core is to engage in identity work.
We might well be guided by answering the questions, “What and who does leadership serve?” What is its purpose?” If the answer continues to be self-servicing opportunism, then we will continue to be in deep trouble.
An emphasis on humanistic leadership in educational programs would contain some elements of a classical education, inclusive of the study of literature and philosophy, and emphasize a search for meaning and purpose in human experience, which is grounded in a moral ethos. Leaders need to continually have the answers to these questions: What motivates my actions? How do my actions serve the common good?
Humanistic leaders are compassionate. Humanistic leadership is grounded in a philosophy that recognizes the dignity and worth of every person. They never forget that the people they are working for are real, with feelings and emotions, not just data or expenses. Humanistic leaders are ethical, and live by ethical and moral values. Humanistic leaders encourage people to be the best people they can be, and model that belief. And finally humanistic leaders value above all else, service to others.
Making a living and making the world a better place are not mutually exclusive. Humanistic leaders build a workplace of trust and collaboration and focus on people over profit for the few.
The work world is changing, particularly for young people. People are now seeking out more meaning in their work and in their lives. People, thanks to the internet and social media platforms, have both a voice and a stage to promote that voice. Customers are increasingly becoming the focus of business rather than the producers of products and services.
People are getting sick and tired of the greed, selfishness and lack of integrity of organizations and their leaders. People are expecting a change. A focus and demand for humanistic leaders can do much to make that change happen.