When I say the word leader, quite understandably most associate it with the ‘one-in-charge’, the top person. Furthermore, since leader is synonymous with the one-in-charge, then leadership must be the actions of the one-in-change. That is when the term leadership is the focus—be it in academic journals or the popular press—its use is most often referring to people in positions of authority such as top executives or c-level managers in organizations or officials of rank in government. We could just as well talk about top management since the terms connote the same thing. Even so, everyone would prefer to be a leader than a manager—it just sounds better.
Unfortunately the term leadership communicates very little about what is really needed. After all there are plenty of people in positions of authority taking action in managing things with people who follow their directives. Frankly, for some it would be better if they didn’t act at all!
So, most often when people talk of leadership what they’re talking about is not (really) what they’re talking about. No wonder we’ve made little progress in realizing what we (all) need—yet we keep talking about leadership. If it were prevalent chances are we wouldn’t be talking about it so much! It shouldn’t be surprising that the incidence of what is really needed is likely the same as people being struck by lightening. So much opportunity yet so little of it seized!
Previous Attempts to Reframe
Consider the following sampling of excerpts from various posts intended to reframe leadership:
- The realization of your leadership begins with your understanding of the very person you are and not with what you do, the position you hold, or what you have.
- I need you to relate to me, not as a boss relates to a subordinate, or as a leader relates to a follower—or any other dichotomous categorization—but core-to-core person-to-person.
- Until those in authority organize and manage with a far deeper understanding—one that facilitates humanly productive work—any gain in material productivity will be misleading and short-lived.
- A key principle of leadership—often overlooked in business—is that it requires a deep and wide sense of caring…Thus leadership is not about climbing to the highest rung in the hierarchy it is about rising up to our ‘I-We’ responsibility.
- Position-to-position, objectified individual-to-objectified individual can’t possibly form a ‘We’—two ‘its’ don’t make a ‘We’.
- Recognizing our ‘I-We’ nature puts us in touch with the individual and collective aspects of being human and to the simultaneous responsibility we have as a result.
To advance understanding and to change practice, it seems we need a better term. We need a term that doesn’t connote or fit nicely into the dominant mechanistic paradigm and that doesn’t align with the very thing we are seeking to replace. We need a term that necessitates a different perspective and understanding, one that requires transformation.
An Aha Moment
Accordingly, for years (yes I am slow), I’ve been searching for such a term. One that would not carry the one-to-one connotative correspondence with positional authority and that would clearly communicate the basis of the underlying concrete experience we are all seeking to have, as well as provide.
So what is the foundational principle that has been guiding me in my search? The following encapsulates this principle:
People not only want and need meaningful experiences people want and need to be experienced meaningfully—therein lies joy.
This implies that not only do we need our existence as an individual (human) being to be acknowledged by others but also that we experience the love of others. We need to know that we matter, rather than that we are just matter to be manipulated and used by others.
(I believe) I finally have discovered a term, humanship, which is congruent with the above principle. Oh I know humanship is not a word you would find in a dictionary (yet), but it does reflect and communicate the basis of the experience underlying what most everyone is seeking and needs.
As argued in previous posts the concrete human experience many long to have can’t be provided by a functionary, by another acting out of his/her position; or by one just back from a workshop that provided tools and techniques of leadership. The use of terms like tool suggests a mechanistic view of things, which couldn’t be further from what people need. Who really wants the experience of being ‘techniqued’!
The needed experience can only be provided through the genuine expression of the other’s personhood or humanness; thus the term humanship represents exactly what we need to experience. Realizing our potential, which everyone hopes for, requires the facilitative help of others, yes the humanship of others.
Deming recognized the critical importance of this with his Role of a Manager after transformation wherein he stated that a successful manager relies on 3 sources of power in the following order: personality, knowledge and authority of office. Given the depth of Deming’s philosophy of management and his penchant for critical thinking and learning, it is highly likely his use of the word personality is referring to one’s essential character and the quality of being a person and not outward and superficial things such as social attractiveness and charm.
However, with personality being the first source doesn’t mean one can’t and shouldn’t use ones’ knowledge or authority to help people. It is just that one doesn’t primarily rely on these. Relating to others person-to-person (on equal ground) rather than position-to-position (e.g. leader-to-follower or boss-to-subordinate, expert to novice) is clearly the way toward developing humanly productive relationships with others.
Moreover, the notion of humanship aligns with use of the positive energy triad and not the fear-desire-pride negative energy triad that is often used by those in authority within business organizations. The replacement of negative fear-based approaches with positive energy practices would contribute to the development of trust, which provides fertile ground in support of collaboration and the emergence of synergy and creativity. However having one in a position of authority absent of the will and/or ability to practice humanship is like having one who is tone deaf sing a song—generally not an a very enjoyable experience.
Although, in managing a business organization, humanship is necessary it is not sufficient. Profound Knowledgeä–the system of knowledge emerging from the synthesis of systems thinking, theory of variation, theory of knowledge and theory of psychology (individual and social)—is needed as it provides the lens through which one can gain an understanding of the organization. It makes for far sounder knowledge-based decisions.
Not Just Horsing Around
I found the term humanship being applied in regards to taking horsemanship to another level. Yes the relationship between a person and his/her horse! The philosophy underlying this approach to horsemanship is expressed in the following:
“the focus of humanship methods is to the place between the person and the horse; the relationship…At the core of our relationship building is our internal stuff, not the external…”
In the above if we replace the word ‘horse’ with ‘another person’, I think we have the essence of what we all hope to experience with and through other human beings. That is to say, one ought not let the position one holds, or the possessions one has, get between him/her and another person. It is not about what one has (acquired) but what one is!
Just think of the experiences we’d have and the relationships we could develop if we were to relate to each other core-to-core! Just imagine the potential that could be realized if we practiced humanship! This of course necessitates a conscious effort to know one’s self thus enabling one to transcend self-interest, which (of course) requires courage. But wouldn’t greatness be worth it!
To realize greatness we are and have what we need—we are human and we have each other. Don’t you think it is our responsibility (as human beings) to seize the opportunity we have?