We often appear to be attracted—or downright obsessed—by the concept of leadership. There is, however, a more critical aspect than leadership that few talk about: “Humanship.”
Why is “leadership” in such high demand? We often hear that someone is a “natural leader,” others are “promoted to a leadership” role, and some of us have worked very hard to “get there,” despite all obstacles and sacrifices that come with it. Being a successful leader directly correlates with higher income and more corporate power. Is the increased compensation of countless CEOs and VPs justified? The answer is “blowing in the wind,” paraphrasing a line from a famous song, but data seems to confirm this bias. In my personal view, charismatic, inspiring leadership is potentially priceless.
That said, however, leadership is the means to the end. Commercial success is standing on the shoulders of giants. In fact, the “giants” are standing on countless other giants: the people. The mythical “business value” is produced by hands and brains, not machines. The singularity is still decades away and perhaps will never happen—time will tell. In the meantime, it is us, the human beings, who are (or are not) motivated to work on products and services. The human spirit ingenuity inspires us to get together in groups to deliver a “whole” that is more than the “sum of parts.”
Is that the reason why we need leadership? What if leadership is only one intermediate factor? I firmly believe that the real reason we create business organizations is not the need for a somewhat abstract “leadership” or “value;” we are attracted to such concepts because of the ultimate concept of a purpose. “Purposeful systems,” famously postulated by the systems thinking pioneer Russell A. Ackoff, are driven by the purpose to achieve a collective goal. The purpose is the ultimate “motivator.” For instance, if the “purpose” is articulated by the need to transform an industry from combustion to electric engine, there is little need to create a “hipe” or promote “charismatic leadership” to achieve such a goal. The purpose will drive the demand, and involved people will follow that need without being artificially persuaded by PR manipulation. We are transforming entire industries for a clearly defined purpose.
Can we really motivate people? It appears that it is easier to persuade them until they don’t have any other excuse but to “join the pack.” Such a strategy is an outrageous perversion of a purpose. Instead, the purpose should stem from genuinely human motives. The human-centric attitude has been on defense for many decades. Ideologies, public relations (formerly known as “propaganda”), and other frustrating, manipulative strategies are choking our business world. There is too much “we-have-to” and “we should,” but not enough “I want to” and “I will.” In light of such insight, is it so hard to accept that many of us just throw in the towel and quit? When we honestly think about it, we will likely agree: we saw it all coming, and we should have noticed. People have increasingly decided to embrace change. The infamous “great resignation” is here, and it was not primarily caused but only accelerated by the recent pandemic.
Why are bitterly needed people leaving their jobs in droves? Why do we hear seemingly endless lamentation about lack of talent?
The absence of true purpose is at the core of why we sometimes lack the motivation to work hard on complex problems. The difficulty in identifying the precise answer to “why I am doing that, anyway?” appears as subversive as it has become prevalent. Countless authors find inspiration in analyzing the “BS Jobs” phenomenon. It is as entertaining to contemplate as alarming to realize that so many of us dislike what we do for a living. Now that we have had more time to finally think about how some of us want to spend the rest of our lives, we appear to have decided to rethink our professional strategies—finally!
How to handle this situation, and how to keep people from quitting?
Hilariously enough, some think that a pool table, free drinks and food, an occasional party, and “feel-good” social events will do the trick. Such cheap tricks might have worked in the past but have gone out with the wind of change. Instead, the key to the mythical “talent retention” is to identify the true purpose and to match it with the potential talent. The purpose is also the key to finding effective teams. Let us reflex on the reason why we should work for each other. Or maybe we should instead find a reason why we want to live with each other?
The answer lies, once again, in the underlying purpose rationale. The organization’s purpose must be crystal-clear for each individual and/or collective “talent” to attract and retain the right people. Can your organization identify and “sell” the purpose of your talent? That’s the question to ask.
There are ideologies and various manipulative PR strategies at work everywhere in our business world. We are not led—we are being manipulated. Putting it somewhat dramatically, it appears we are merely harvested and used as the humans in the Matrix movie. The “machine” in the movie is us, frankly. It is us who manipulate, suppress, oppress, blackmail, persuade, hard-sell-to, and force each other to do things we don’t believe ourselves. We develop “ideologies” and “principles” that are tools of oppression. But ideologies and dogmatism destroy humanity – and it has happened many times in the past, on every continent, often in a most horrifying way.
In the Matrix, Morpheus says: “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” Something is wrong with our world: an invasion of dishonesty and borderline racket. Honesty and sincerity is the key to escaping the “Matrix.”
It is not easy to earn enough trust for a leader to be accepted their leadership. Doubting leadership is a healthy, human self-preservation instinct. However, it is almost impossible to reject an honest, good purpose. Such a legitimate purpose will lead a successful organization from one victory to another.
I think the concept of “leadership” is distorted and overrated. Leadership is morally neutral, as we have learned in the previous century. It may—or may not—be desirable and “good” for us. Hoping for good “leadership” alone is not enough.
But how about “humanship” instead?
By “humanship,” I mean a purposeful, human-centric and compassionate attitude. It is all about being a human being. To me, humanship is the ultimate enabler and underlying motivation for each individual and each organization that strives for excellence. We should strive for humanship in place of leadership. Leadership may be necessary, but humanship is indispensable for a thriving human society. It means to be part of something great, a community of communities, a team of teams if you will.
While leadership implies a human fellowship, humanship does not. People don’t necessarily need to be led. Humenship works not because of some vague idea or ideology but because a group of humans becomes united by a purpose, and the purpose drives an organization to become successful and superior. An organization that emphasizes humanship becomes truly agile and fun to work in because nobody has to be told what needs to be done. Job descriptions become obsolete. In a humanship organization, people don’t have to be managed. Instead, we want to be helpful because we follow the same “vector”—the same purpose.
Because humanship is naturally human-centric, humanship is the ultimate talent acquisition and retention strategy and is, therefore, a concept of concepts, if you will.
Where to go from here?
We know that we are on the right path when our business, organization, etc., is recognized for its excellent humanship. Humanship is the ultimate virtue indispensable for successful organizations in the long term. Many problems and difficulties in finding and retaining talent stem from a lack of humanship in an organization. An effective humanship allows for lower organizational effort and frictions because teams and team members follow the purpose rather than their boss, who is supposed to tell them what to do every morning. An organization that promotes humanship attracts talent, and the talent will be happier and be intrinsically effective in such an environment.
How to achieve good humanship? There are no humanship seminars, or coaching concepts one can attend that would help develop good humanship skills. It is hard to measure humanship, too. I am, however, convinced that such humanship ideal exists and must be recognized as an ultimate goal for each organization that wants to gain the “competitive edge” over other organizations out there. In the meantime, it is best to focus on the proper definition of purpose within your organization. I strongly believe the right purpose automatically fosters humanship. Let us start with the purpose and the right humanship will indeed follow.
I am a project manager (Project Manager Professional, PMP), a Project Coach, a management consultant, and a book author. I have worked in the software industry since 1992 and as a manager consultant since 1998. Please visit my United Mentors home page for more details. Contact me on LinkedIn for direct feedback on my articles.