Better Humans Make Better Leaders

Have you ever had the experience where you hear or see something for the first time that immediately sticks in your brain, and then seems to reoccur numerous times in the following days? Recently for me, it is the idea that better humans make better leaders. I first encountered this statement during a webinar last week on the 7 Perspectives of Effective CEOs, led by a well-known executive coach and author Daniel Harkavy. I immediately grabbed a notepad and wrote it down. It is not one of the 7 perspectives. Instead, Harkavy called it a fundamental principle. He said if prospective clients disagree with him on that principle, they don’t become clients.

Intrigued, I googled the phrase a few days later. It seems primarily attributed to Jerry Colonna, a former venture capitalist from New York City, who is now also a renowned coach, primarily for startup founders. It’s one of the core tenets of his practice as well. I met Jerry a couple times while I was doing my first startup and had no idea he had become such a respected coach — let alone that his coaching had little to do with understanding cap tables, product-market fit or sales channel development. It’s much more about being a better human. His book is called Reboot:  Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. I debated ordering it, but got distracted.

Then a package showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep on Friday. I opened it and inside was Jerry’s book. The sender wrote a note inside, “For the Journey Ahead.” 

As I’ve thought about this phrase and yes, now read Jerry’s book, a few things have struck me. First is that I know some incredible humans who would not be outstanding leaders. Obviously there needs to be interest, desire and capabilities to lead versus be an individual contributor who writes, draws, codes, researches or puts out fires. Leadership is hard and it certainly isn’t for everyone. 

Second, our entire system of training and selecting business leaders has rarely focused on how to be a better human. Certainly it didn’t back when I got a masters in business. A quick glance at the vast Harvard Business School curriculum today shows a few classes that might hint at it. One is called “Crafting Your Life.” Another is “Authentic Leader Development” and “the Moral Leader”. I wonder how many students even take these classes. I doubt they are required. In thinking over professional development efforts and reviews when I was working in a large corporation, did being a better human ever get discussed? Not directly.

So how does one become a better human?

I personally feel like much of what I learned, and continue to learn, on this topic happens at church. I have had some incredible pastors in my life, including now. It didn’t shock me that Colonna cites biblical examples, as well as many teachings from Buddhism in his book. Certainly religion has it’s issues and isn’t for everyone. But, when Mr. Stevens asked me when we first met why I went to church, my answer was that once a week it was a reminder, and practical advice, on how to be a better person.

Colonna cites the process of radical self-inquiry as key to being a better human and provides a number of thought-provoking reflection questions like “How did my relationship with money first get formed?” and “In what ways do I deplete myself and run myself into the ground.” His formula for better leadership is practical skills development + radical self-inquiry + shared experiences = enhanced leadership and greater resiliency. His perspective might be the biggest reminder of why having a good coach and/or a good therapist matters.

But, resources on the Internet abound for those interested in self-learning. One of the more interesting collections is an aggregation of Ted Talks under the How to Be a Better Human banner.

Harkavy stated that if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that leaders need to be better humans. So I encourage all of you who lead, whether it’s an organization, a team, a classroom or family to consider doing one thing this week to learn to be a better human. This world needs you at your best.

Quote of the Week: “You are capable of so much more than we usually dare to imagine.”

Sharon Salzberg

What is Saturday Spark | Read Last Week’s Spark: The Intent to Action Gap in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Are you ready to build a better working world?