In short, you need to be a better human to be a better leader. Researchers Yemiscigil, Born, and Ling reported in the Harvard Business Review that the most successful leadership development programs focus on developing human skills rather than specific job task skills.
Leadership development is less about learning specific, tactical skills than it is about cultivating the broad capabilities, such as self-awareness or resilience, that are necessary to adapt to dynamic, evolving challenges. These attitudes and behaviors are inherently widely applicable, and so effective leadership development must work with and transform not just leaders’ performance of concrete job tasks, but their whole selves.
(“What Makes Leadership Development Programs Succeed?”)
What is a better human?
For years I have made it my mission to grow better humans, but what exactly is a better human?
In the chart above, I break down better human skills into three areas: self-care, relationships with others, and impacting the world. Developing skills in all these areas helps us to meet our personal needs and experience true fulfillment.
Maslow believed that all humans needed to have basic needs met and that the ultimate goals were self-actualization and transcendence. That meant that after we met our physiological and social needs, we could fully become the person we had the potential to become, but the ultimate goal was beyond self-actualization to transcendence - improving the lives of people around us.
Although Maslow's theory has evidently never been empirically tested, it is widely accepted. Many other theories of human needs have developed, and the one aspect that they all include, and that has been backed by scientific evidence, is our need for belonging and social connections.
Numerous studies have also shown the importance of meaning for our mental well-being. Feeling like we are making an impact isn't just a lofty goal for leaders but a necessity for our mental well-being. That means you don't start with self-care to reach fulfillment and change the world, but each skill feeds into the other. As you do meaningful work, you improve your well-being. As you improve your well-being, you improve your social connections. As you improve your social connections, you can better impact the world. Each aspect is necessary and interwoven.
In short, better humans develop skills to care for themselves, others, and the world. When we do all three, we are happier, more fulfilled, and the world benefits. A better human lives a flourishing life and can experience their full potential, which means making a difference in the world around us.
Why do leaders need to be better humans?
Leaders often advance through the ranks because they are high performers, but the most impactful and long-lasting leaders must know how to relate to people, care for themselves, and make an impact in the world.
Without the appropriate self-care, leaders lose steam and burnout or simply languish and cannot reach their potential.
Without people skills, leaders are unable to influence and motivate people. Additionally, leaders need to nurture relationships for their own well-being and longevity.
How can I become a better human?
1. Create a vision for your better human self
As James Clear stresses in 'Atomic Habits', we need to visualize a new identity for ourselves to make lasting change. To experience true fulfillment, we want to imagine the possible and start taking action.
2. Evaluate your sleep
The number one indicator of self-care is how much you are sleeping. Sleepless nights reveal a person fraught with worry, and sleep impacts your physical and mental health. If you are not getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, set a new routine now and prioritize sleep!
3. Make time for relationships
Look at your calendar, and ensure you have at least one weekly instance to connect with someone deeply. When you are with them, fully connect. Put your phone and other distractions out of the way. Turn toward them. Look them in the eyes. Smile at them. Ask them questions.
What will you do today to become a better human?
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“What Makes Leadership Development Programs Succeed?” Harvard Business Review, 28 Feb. 2023, hbr.org/2023/02/what-makes-leadership-development-programs-succeed. Accessed 30 Mar. 2023.