Humanistic Leadership

Right now I am sitting at the airport in Copenhagen where I just watched a TV broadcast with Nelson Mandela, squeezed in between the football stories. Mr Mandela has been granted a long life; a significant life, a life of contribution and service to mankind. He serves as a beacon for all of us in terms of a great fellow man, a great leader and a great humanist.

It causes me to think of Europe today. Where are we heading? Who is our Nelson Mandela? Who serve as our lighthouse and provides our hope? Maybe this vacuum is actually the greatest leadership challenge we face in Europe today: We lack leaders that truly inspire our aspirations and who offer a sense of community and who facilitate a direction.

The European Union has been in many ways the great project of our generation. After a thousand years of wars and tragedies , Europe decided to start a project that would effectively prevent us from killing each other off again. A project that through trade, cooperation, mobility and economic growth would make Europe peaceful, as well as financially better off. But like all projects and organizations, we need a rationale – a purpose – that is legitimized and possibly renewed through coming generations otherwise its cohesiveness and coherence will run the risk of evaporating.

We have witnessed support and faith in the European project sliding. The economic crises, with the collapse in Greece as the most visible example, has put our faith and our capabilities to the test. What we need to see are leaders emerging, rising over the polarising rhetoric and articulating a common vision for us all to strive towards. This is the leadership deficit we are experiencing. What we need is an emergence of leaders with strong ethics and endowed with a purpose focused on positive change. Beware – this is not needed only for appointed leaders –  it is needed for us all. We must be the leaders we want to see in others. Now, there is an opportunity for us to re-examine what the European project could be about. We can identify the promise yet to be fulfilled of bringing the human side into the equation, setting our eyes towards the horizon and knowing that there is still more to be found.

Humanism + Leadership

Historically, humanism has taken root in times of turbulence, stress and upheaval.  Consider the eras  when  the  Renaissance and the Enlightenment emerged. Today’s upheaval comes in the form of the financial crisis we are experiencing, or, at the very least, its effects.  Is it just a financial crisis that we are experiencing or  is it not also a crisis in our societal order?  If so, then, this could be the time for a new humanism to take root.

Humanism as a philosophy places humans and humanity at the center, but it is not an egocentric concept. It is a deep personal conviction that by living an informed, conscious and compassionate life we realize our potential to do good for ourselves, others and mankind at large. This is something we can do and indeed have a duty to do. Leaders and leadership are central in the welfare, well-being and happiness of people
Leadership is itself  a timeless and universal idea no matter how differently it has been understood and applied.  Leadership is a way of making sense, making decisions, getting things done and of providing meaning, community and direction for others. It is also happens to be one of the most researched areas within business, one of the most common themes in management literature and one of the  most strived-for outcomes of MBA programs: the production of future leaders.

Getting things done through others takes leadership and it requires inflicting one’s will upon people and extending influence. However, leadership also has to be accepted since one is a leader  only tby the acceptance of others.  Someone cannot become a leader without having followers since it is the others that constitute the leader.   It is the course of action of others and  the result of their efforts, that is the true measure of leadership.

Humanistic Leadership

This form of leadership should be understood as humans having a value in and of themselves, not just as resources that can be calculated in relation to productivity.   Indeed, results without human growth are undesirable. Results, such as productivity and profit, are ways to measure human growth and not an end in themselves as not everything which is countable is accounted for when making up today’s balance sheets.

That which does comprise the philosophy of humanistic leadership rests upon and is guided by the following principles:

All individuals have the ability to be:

  • Value creators
  • Collaborators
  • Sensitive
  • Responsible

Furthermore, humanistic leadership has as its guiding principles that all individuals want to:  grow,    do good, live well, and create a better tomorrow. Bringing humanism into leadership means that it still needs to be be effective, deliver value and be competitive.   However, humanistic leadership recognizes that it is of and for the people and that it is about serving.  At its heart  it is about treating everyone with dignity and recognizing his or her significance. Humanistic leadership is about active values, utilizing potential and creating opportunities. Humanism requires leaders to set forth and show the way, and leadership requires the same from humanistic principles.

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