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What is human leadership?

Human leadership is one of the cornerstones of what we teach at Ivy House. It is critical to creating effective, resilient teams, building high performance cultures, and maintaining brilliant working relationships. It is a mindset, a style, a set of skills, and we all know that it is extremely important in today’s working world… but would someone please explain what on earth it actually means?!

Defining leadership

Let’s start easy. Leadership, in its essence, is about establishing a vision, uniting people to a common purpose, having a plan that will get you there, and creating the environment to make it happen. It is about leverage: leveraging physical, financial, environmental and human resources to achieve a goal. That’s the ‘what’ of leadership. But what about the ‘how’? That is where human leadership comes in. It’s about how we do the job of leadership. It’s about showing up as a human to lead other humans. It’s about showing up as the full potential of your humanity to enable others to do the same.

Showing up as human

Sounds weird.. what else would we show up as? What we are really talking about here is showing up to our leadership role with the full power of our humanity in play – our intuition, our awareness, our courage, our ingenuity, our adaptability, our brilliance… We could go on, but you get the idea.

What it is not is an excuse to bring all our worst behaviours to the party. Over sharing, irrational, overly emotional, behaviour – as we call it at Ivy House, emotional sneezing. Human Leadership is about utilising the full power of being human, not spreading the consequences of being out of alignment with who we really are, and our wellbeing.

Human leaders are like premier league footballers, stepping up to the ball in the final shoot out, mind perfectly calm, briming with physical energy, clear on the task in hand with the skill to execute. Powerful. Brilliant. Worth following.

So how do we get there?

There are three things that will bring out the human leader in all of us.

Self-leadership: the choice

If you want to become a human leader, you have a choice to make. The choice to take 100% ownership for the leader you become and the life you create.

Making this choice sounds easy. Of course, we all want to take ownership for our lives but let’s consider for a moment what it really means.

It means not blaming the situation or other people for how we experience life but instead, understanding that we have full responsibility for how we react to anything that happens around us.

It means having the courage to learn, grow and change, recognising that we are all works in progress who always have something to learn. It means admitting when we’ve got something wrong, listening deeply to people with different opinions to us, and having courage to change our minds.

It means stepping past the populist mantras of strive, drive, and perform, understanding that as human beings we need rest, nurturing, variety, recognition and connection, in order to thrive.

Self-leadership isn’t the stuff of self-help manuals – it requires us to go far deeper than that. So deep in fact that we actually step past intellectual learning and actually change our behaviour.

Self-knowledge: the foundation

The next stage is to develop a deep level of self-knowledge – far deeper than most leaders (or people) tend to go.

Most leaders allow their egos and busy lives to get in the way of discovering who they really are. But for those courageous and committed ones amongst us there is gold to be found. To build your self-knowledge, start by discovering:

  • How and when you thrive – because great leaders thrive
  • What your zone of genius is, and how to spend most of your time there
  • What belief systems limit you, where they come from, and how to differentiate them from those that empower you
  • How you think, behave, and feel when you are off balance, and how to manage this
  • How to meet your commitments easily, rather than relying on sheer willpower or adrenaline to get you through
  • What your value system is and where it is most valuable in your organisation
  • Where you still have room to grow, and how to be proactive about it

Self-empowerment: the skill 

There is one more piece of the puzzle. Human leaders empower themselves by developing the skills they need to be exceptional – both day to day, practical leadership skills as well as the deeply profound, life-changing skills of understanding people and how they work. In other words, human leaders make a commitment to self-mastery.

A commitment to self-mastery helps us see that everyone around us is human first, just like us. We start to ponder questions about our team such as: when do I see them thriving? What destabilises them? What impact do they have on others? How do they deal with overwhelm? What narratives are they running about themselves that hold them back? And, what skills do I need to be able to support them grow?

Creating environments and conditions that are primed for individual and organisational success is an artform. But it is an art form that human leaders commit to mastering.  

Modern day human leadership

In today’s world, human leadership takes on a new dimension; building relationships now transcends geographical boundaries and time zones. We need to develop the ability to connect with individuals we may never meet in person, and to create safe, open feedback cultures within teams who work remotely. Wellbeing has never been under threat to the extent it is now, and leading people to be proactive in taking ownership for their wellbeing takes deep understanding.

The skillset needed to be a human leader has clearly evolved; remote working and fostering wellbeing are just some of the hurdles today’s leaders face. Human leaders are aware of the importance of adapting and constant learning, and they lean into it – knowing that the knowledge and guidance they need to overcome obstacles is out there, if they take the time to look.

Human leadership is more than just a buzzword; it is a fundamental shift in the way we approach leadership in the modern world. And it is the shift that delivers us not only people who thrive – but organisations that thrive as a result.

At Ivy House, we recognise the power that human leadership holds to transform individuals, teams, and organisations for the better. We see it as our role to take people on that journey of becoming a human leader, by investing in their self-leadership, self- knowledge and self-empowerment. We support people to thrive within their organisations, and, in turn, they help others thrive. This is how we create large-scale organisational impact – through creating extraordinary human leaders.

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