To be the best leader, you need to be the best human

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The relationships you have with those who support you at work are key to your success as a leader. Without those, nothing happens like it should. And good relationships are dependent on your ability to be the best human you can be.

You might say that you lead two lives that are very different, one outside of work where you can be more “real”, and one inside of work where you need to be “professional” or “buttoned-down”. You can’t be a buttoned-down leader all of the time at work and foster the kind of relationships you need to have others be influenced and inspired by you.

If I spoke with your stakeholders – your manager, your direct reports, your peers, maybe even your clients – what would they say about you as a human being?  (And if you’d allow me, I’d also love to talk to your partner, spouse, friends, close relatives and children). They want more from you than you are giving today, and the only way to give it is to be a better human being in all areas of your life.

So ask yourself these questions and see if they resonate and tell you anything about your separate lives.

In your private and work lives are you:

Are you creating strong trusting relationships that all of you can use to be successful, together?

When you let your hair down, are you staying within moral and ethical boundaries and living your values?

Are you kind and civil to others in all areas of your life?

Are you treating others with respect and dignity?

Do you support your family, friend, and work colleagues without judging them as human beings?

Are you listening to everyone in your life for understanding, even when you disagree? When it’s their turn to talk do you cut them off?

Are you helping everyone in your life to learn and grow in some way?

Are you taking care that you are personally balanced physically, mentally, and spiritually? (If not, what’s missing for you?).

While taking care that you are balanced, are you putting others first?

What negative behaviors do you participate in outside of the workplace or in your private life that you would like to change?

Do you know the blind spots that show up for you inside and outside of work? Do you have an action plan for them?

Are you getting feedback from people in all areas of your life (p.s. listen intently because this feedback sometimes gets disguised as something else)? Are you listening to it with curiosity instead of defending yourself?

What would your partner, spouse, and stakeholders say to me if I asked them the questions above?

All of these questions are about who you are as a human being. And your answers will inform how you show up as a leader. Because as a leader, your humanity is on display for all to see, at work and outside of work. Be a better human, and you’ll be a better leader – its that simple (and that hard).

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “To be the best leader, you need to be the best human

  1. Dear Mary Jo
    Thank you So much for this. I’ve been trying to put this into words for a long time about why professional behaviour is not about being professional it’s about being human , kind , compassionate, yer most of all it’s about being the best version of yourself that you can be . I am proud of myself as a person and a midwife and know that the two must go hand in hand . My family are just as important to me as the women. families and children that I care for as well as the future midwives that I act as a role model to . There is a qtaetion I must ask and it’s about bullies – I feel that they have problems in their lives which they bring to the workplace – do you feel that there is a way to help them as much as the people they choose to bully ?

    Yours in admiration

    Jenny Clarke aka @JennyTheM

  2. Hi Jenny,

    So glad you grasp this idea that great leadership is also about being a great human. This is one reason why leadership can’t be “taught”, but it can be experienced and learned. Re:bullies: I would answer this in a general way- anyone can change, but they have to be motivated to do so.

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