Are You A Leader Who Can Deal With The Humanity Of Others?

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership
Are You A Leader Who Can Deal With The Humanity Of Others?

How you show up in the world matters. You can go along to get along.

You can have a public persona or a mask you work from. If your mask spoke, you might hear: “Don’t make anyone uncomfortable” or “Never let ’em see you sweat,” or “A good offense is better than a good defense.”

Relationships with people are one thing. Relationships with peoples’ humanity is another thing altogether. I draw this contrast between relationships with people and relationships with people’s humanity because the humanity part is a nuance for me.

You see the humanity part when someone flips out when cut off by another driver, or when a customer growls because the barista gets the coffee order wrong. The humanity part is when someone is disappointed because a beloved other doesn’t call.

The humanity part shows up at work when an employee:

  • Is disappointed because the promotion didn’t come through.
  • Doesn’t have the resources to get the job done properly.
  • Is confused because the boss keeps moving the goal line.
  • Disagrees with this year’s performance appraisal.
  • Ends up without a chair in the latest game of musical chairs, and didn’t see it coming.

Some of us are not well positioned to deal with people’s humanity simply because we can’t face our own. We stuff it down: with food, with drink, with sleeping, TV, Internet, gaming or other distractions. If I can’t face my own pain, how can I possibly witness yours?

“When I know myself deeply – deeply enough to know the human experience – I can be truly compassionate.”

If organizations are to thrive, managers are going to have to take seriously their own health and face their own demons, in order to learn to truly lead others. No more big chinks in the armor. Can we have a Lucy from Peanuts table in every building?

Because that’s what’s going on, you know. I almost wrote, “that’s all that’s going on,” as if managing gremlins like self-doubt, overwhelm, or a hair-trigger temper are simple things to resolve. Some wounds are clearly bigger than others.

What Would It Take To Create A More Human Workplace?

This does not mean we hold hands and sing summer camp songs, or that you need to become a therapist. It means that we are adults at play at work. We all get to use what we are good at. We work through conflicts in a healthy way. Conflict is inevitable and good for challenging the status quo.

We respect the ways in which each person is different and have fun with it. Catch yourself when you want to judge, keep secrets, force conformity, manipulate, or look away from another’s humanity.

Instead, use differences, disagreement and compassion for each other’s humanity in the organization’s best interest.

What are you going to do today to create a more human workplace?
Photo Credit: Wavebreak Media Ltd.

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers:  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  06 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mary – fascinating post.

If I had read your post before responding to Scott’s post from yesterday, my words might well have been very different.

Your guidance on how to create a more human workplace is solid, from my experience and I wish I had done more of this, both as an employee and as a leader, when I was still internal. I think we too often assume that we cannot be fully human at work, because we assume that would be counter to our purpose at work, which is to produce something of value.

Truly valuing our differences and being honestly compassionate toward our co-workers seem like a very strong combination of skills for our modern workplace:).


Mary C. Schaefer  |  06 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Thank you, John. Your comments mean so much to me.

This post felt somewhat like a risk for me as I have been misunderstood so many times. It is an extension of what I wanted to get across with my TEDx talk. I guess this will have to be part 2.

Thank you, again.

Paula Kiger  |  06 Aug 2015  |  Reply

I feel similar to John – that in retrospect I could have handled this differently as an employee AND as a leader. I appreciate your perspective on this, Mary!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  06 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for your comment too, Paula. You knew how I felt about this post, but I was called to say it.

I observed it day after day when I was a corporate employee. It seemed like every time I raised the issue it was very polarizing, as if I was suggesting we share “too much information” and have group camping trips. If I am to simplify it I think I am looking for more compassion in the workplace, while at the same time, not sacrificing accountability for results. I know it can be done.

Thank you again.

Marvin Magusara  |  30 Aug 2015  |  Reply

I can understand and deal with others humanity, but often times I prefer to be blunt over diplomatic. If what I have to say seems logical and truthful to me, I don’t find the need to sugarcoat but rather just outright say it. Even though I could probably send the message across in a much more diplomatic way, I think everyone should be able to “toughen-up” and just handle the truth, if the comment is meant to be constructive and not out of spite or pettiness.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  31 Aug 2015  |  Reply

Hi Marvin. I can relate. It is tempting to want others to toughen up and adjust to my preference. One time I expressed this to a mentor who countered by asking me how often that was effective.

I don’t agree that being diplomatic is necessarily sugarcoating. My mentor’s words compelled me into a new level of reflection and development. I had to ask myself what I was willing to adjust in order to be effective and authentic at the same time.

Coincidentally, the Lead Change Group’s founder, Mike Henry, writes on exactly this today. You can find that post here:

Marvin, thank you for sharing your comments.

Jane Anderson  |  06 Jul 2017  |  Reply

Mary, I admit I had not thought of this aspect of relationship building before. I believe that’s what would come of learning how to use truth of circumstances to give us both insight and understanding of how we are influenced uniquely.

I have never heard your TedX talks. How can I find them?

Mary C. Schaefer  |  06 Jul 2017  |  Reply

Hi Jane. Thanks for resurrecting this old post. Coincidentally, the post I’m writing for next week is an extension of this one!

Only one TEDx talk so far ;) You can find it by going to YouTube and searching Mary Schaefer TEDx. The title of the talk is “Putting the Human Back Into Human Resources.”

Thanks for commenting!

Jane  |  06 Jul 2017  |  Reply

Mary, I think it’s sad that there are so many good articles that hit the sweet spot and they get a few weeks old and then a year old and they stay out there forever, but are forgotten – and new articles are written on the same topic, subject to the same cycle. I will look you up on YouTube.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  06 Jul 2017  |  Reply

Thanks again, Jane.

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