Leading a business is a challenge under any circumstances. It’s a juggling act of managing strategies, projects and teams. It’s tracking the moving parts and changing priorities, and it’s supporting and upleveling people.
In a year that has dished up one rollercoaster after another it’s natural for us to feel that we have to do more, be more, take more than ever onto plates that already were full.
I see so many leaders who are rising to that challenge in astonishing ways. They’re taking care of business, and the people their business depends on, using every feature of technology and every ounce of creativity they can corral.
Some of my clients have even commented that this remote work thing isn’t all bad — in fact, it can be super-productive. Their teams are head-in-the-game focused, rising to the challenge of using technology to cover the functions that their shared workspaces once filled, joking about the one-minute commute from bedroom to office and the new “business on top, party on the bottom” dress code.
But I believe that this pandemic is going to prove, perhaps faster and more definitively than I expected when I first read it, that what John Naisbitt wrote in “Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives” will be absolutely prophetic.
“The most exciting breakthrough of the 21st century will occur not because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”
I included that quote when writing “The Human Team,” which is about the importance of bridging the gap between nature and nurture before I’d ever heard of COVID-19, and as the pandemic has unfolded I’ve watched the effects on leaders and teams and seen how true those words are in this emerging business environment.
Here’s what leaders have to remember, especially now: Just because you’re the leader doesn’t make you less human. And to harness the brilliance of your team you have to embrace your humanness as well. You have your brilliance, and if you aren’t bringing that full and authentic brilliance to the team, you’re making yourself the weakest link in the chain.
But to do that you have to take care of more than the business and the people who make the business possible. You have to take care of you.
Now this isn’t a column about self-care and I’m not going to recommend that you make sure you eat good food, take long walks and sit in a bubble bath with a glass of wine or a cup of tea now and again. Self-care is important, physical health is important and if you love bubble baths please enjoy them liberally.
But just as I discovered after nearly a decade working, employing nurturing activities in the workplace won’t serve any purpose if the team’s basic human needs aren’t being met, and no amount of nutrition, exercise and relaxation will keep a business leader at their at peak performance if their needs aren’t being met as well.
As we seek to master “remote leadership” it is easy to become isolated, to give up our peer group meetings or the happy hour time with other entrepreneurs and business leaders. We might find ourselves pouring all our energy into our work — clients and team — without giving ourselves permission to ask, “Who am I, where am I, who are my peers, what is it going to take for me to be my best, and how are my needs being met?”
I’m finding that “The Six Facets of Human Needs,” which is how I’ve defined those universal human needs that, much as Maslow’s Hierarchy illustrates the requirements for an individual to self-actualize, provide a framework for the requirements of a group of people to realize their potential as a business team, are just as applicable to business leaders as they are to the teams they lead.
So before you put on those tennis shoes or pour your glass of wine or cup of tea give some thought to this list of needs and how you can make sure you’re meeting them for yourself as well as your team.
We need to be clear on the bigger vision, the expectations and the requirements. Without clarity we feel uncertain and confused. Give yourself focused time to get clear on your core values and priorities and what part you need to play in the business to move forward most easily and powerfully.
We need a sense of belonging, solidarity and community. Without connection we’re isolated, insecure and easily threatened. Plug into your support network and find ways to connect at a human level to your peers and team.
We need to feel that what we do matters. Without contribution we feel insignificant and disengaged. Finding ways to contribute to your community as well as to projects within your business can bring it home for you just how important your unique brilliance really is.
We are wired to strive for something greater. Especially in crisis we need structured and healthy challenges. This might be the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill or take over a project in an area where you will have the encouragement and support to succeed.
Everyone needs to be seen and regarded as a whole person. Without consideration from others we feel invisible. Regardless of their role and status, leaders need to surround themselves with people who honor their humanity and recognize their inherent worth. Hopefully you have the consideration of your team, but ensure that you’re building a peer “tribe” of people who value you just for who you are.
Confidence gives us the ability to trust ourselves and the world around us and to move through, even embrace, risk and failure. It’s natural that you’ll doubt yourself sometimes, but make a daily practice of being grateful for both successes and failures, acknowledging your gifts, and allowing yourself to celebrate your unique, brilliant, human self.
Because, in crisis or any other time, to be a truly effective leader, and to get the best out of those you lead, you can’t be afraid to be fully human, embracing both your unique brilliance and your universal human needs.
As this year winds down, I remind myself and my clients more often than ever that it’s OK to be human. In fact, the most important thing we can be right now is human.
Just remember that you are a human being, not just a human doing, and to be your best self requires more than nurture or self-care. It demands that the needs that come with being human are being met for you as well as for your team.