Productive Kindness and Resourcefulness

So this seems to be my new “thing”. I am totally obsessed with finding the sweet spot between “ensuring performance and results” and “being human” in business.

The COVID pandemic has highlighted one of the biggest dilemmas in our modern world of work, how do we find the balance between showing empathy at work while not dropping the ball on productivity and performance.

I read an article by my good friend and business associate @RenateJute in which she speaks of the difference between having resources and being resourceful. Her article’s concept is that we will never necessarily have enough resources but being resourceful means that we can optimize our resources, which sometimes negates the need for more resources.

For me, that sums up the essence of making Productive Kindness work in the business context. What impacts most on managers’ and business owners’ ability to empathize with employees is the fear that either their kindness will be taken advantage of, or that challenges may last indefinitely and the team member will become a drain on the business. As with all things, fear is a pretty powerful motivator, and with (predominantly big business) not being geared toward meeting out huge heaps of kindness, it is easier to stick with a norm where humanity and empathy are side-lined for the sake of policies and procedures which apparently have fairness as their guidepost.

Where does that fear come from? I believe it has two origins. The first is a lack of trust. Organizations that practice strict control over their employees show a lack of trust in their employees. If employees are trusted, they are allowed more autonomy and freedom; therefore, they can use more discretion in their work. A common response to this kind of statement is that things need to be done to a certain standard, or within certain regulatory guidelines, etc. I don’t doubt that, but even within such constraints, the question can be asked, “do you trust your employees to do it well?” or “must your force them to do their jobs well?”. As I have had this conversation often in the business context, I know that the answer is the latter, often followed by “but they simply cannot be trusted because [fill in any of clichéd beliefs about employees]”. Setting aside the obvious question around hiring practices, if the business consistently hires individuals who are not trustworthy, the answer I never hear is, “they cannot be trusted because I don’t know how to teach them to trust me”. That’s right. You heard it here first. The problem with trust is that leaders do not model it by giving trust. This is a clear indicator of an organization that does not deal with employees as humans. 

The second source of fear is, in my view, inequality in levels of respect between employees and their managers. We most often feel fear when we do not feel empowered in our interactions with each other. Oddly, I believe this comes from paternalistic business models, specifically across levels of the hierarchy. Traditionally managers have been seen as “benevolent parents” or “critical parents” and employees as the “family” they need to take care of. As anyone with a background in psychology and, specifically, Transactional Analysis will tell you, that is never the most productive situation. In this case, especially with benevolent managers, you land up in a situation where you are taking responsibility for another person’s life situation. Being a critical manager points us back to the organization that is more driven towards productivity and business. As per the Transactional Analysis model, if instead, everyone treated each other as adults that were accustomed to taking responsibility for their own lives, we could work with each other to devise a support structure that meets the productivity and human needs and also removes the possibility of the manager being taken advantage of. 

By becoming self-aware of our interactions with others, it becomes possible to identify areas where support can be provided without putting the business at risk. It also will make it easier to empower those around us and value their contribution. 

Congratulations, you have started on the path to Productive Kindness already, just by paying a little more attention to the individuals around you. 

COVID and Productive Kindness

In the past year I have often made reference to the fact that we cannot underestimate the impact of COVID on our emotional lives. I never highlighted the importance of the indirect impact of COVID.

As I write this I am at the beside of my father who fell and is now being admitted to hospital with broken ribs and a broken wrist. My father is in his eighties and is frail both mentally and physically and I am responsible for his day-to-day care. Typically when I say I have this I covered, I mean really covered, from meds, to finances to small rituals and routines. This is not the first hospital visit and normally I would be able to take this in my stride, I’ve so got this. Except I don’t…..

With COVID I will shortly have to leave him alone in the hospital and I will not be able to see him for a few days, even if he has surgery. Even though his ailment is unrelated to COVID it touched our lives. As I sit here a thousand scenarios are playing out in my mind and I feel really vulnerable – vulnerable for him, vulnerable for me and vulnerable for feeling vulnerable.

This makes me wonder how many people in the past year have been overlooked? How many people have been impacted indirectly by COVID? How often have people complained about illness or mental health issues to be told “at least it is not COVID”. It may not be COVID but it is still real, still scary, and it still impacts our sense of general safety and well-being.

Now before I fall into a level of self-pity that requires at least one container of Häagen-Dazs, it is important to reflect on a few important points.

  1. I work for myself, there is no foot-tapping, timesheet watching boss to appease.
  2. I have a wonderful tribe of associates who are helping me postpone meetings, taking over for me where they can, and who are sending paired down to-do lists so I only need to focus on the most essential work.
  3. I have a bunch of friends who stop at nothing to help me keep my household going.
  4. I have long-standing and generous clients who are willing to be kind at this moment.
  5. I have a job and business I adore and which leaves me energised.

I wonder how many other people feel the same? Probably not many. In a time of such vulnerability, I wonder if there is more we can do in business to create productive kindness. Can we:

  1. Use smart collaboration to provide the support team members and colleagues need while still meeting business expectations. 
    Think of multi skilling and cross skilling as a staple along with proper succession planning.

  1. Create a company culture that is as employee-focussed as it is client-focussed.
    Think of personal and professional development and coaching – specifically around wellbeing and resilience during these challenging times. This will not only create a support network now, but create a resilient company culture to manage future challenges.

  1. Accept that work needs to be purposeful and meaningful and that team-members would like to show-up, be present and perform.
    Think of ways to link business strategy to team member performance at their level. Be clear about linking expectations to team member contribution and strengths. What do they do, why is it meaningful to the business and why they are the best person to do it. Use recognition, work and job satisfaction to re-energize team members.

For too long it has been okay in the business world that team members are treated as mere resources. Right now organizations that can rise to the challenge of productive kindess are going to become key players in the search and retention of the best skills and talents. They will also show the best of what humanity has to offer, when the bottom line is not only measured in currency, but also in team member growth and engagement.

Becoming More Tolerant

Last week I was presenting a mentoring session focused on human-centered change management. While the focus of the session was on change within the business context the question was asked how we change people’s minds to accept vaccination. Given the recent emphasis of vaccination against COVID-19 and its strains, and the strong response from anti-vaxxers, the question drew more questions around how to address racism, patronage and so on. I jokingly replied that I would solve world peace shortly. Earnestly though my advice was to have the tough conversations. It takes education to change minds – education that actually focusses on taking abroad range of perspectives into account.  And that I think is the downfall of how we communicate.

For too long we have been taught that there is a binary approach to life. That there is only one correct way, that there is a mould to fit into, or that by poor luck no matter what one does there no way you can ever fit into the mould. As a Strengths coach and avid follower of positive psychology, I believe in leveraging diversity, and not just the gender, race, creed, colour or religion version, but all diversity. When we disagree it means there are multiple perspectives to celebrate, when there is more than one opinion, it provides us with options.  In a world full of complexity, is this not the time to break away from the binary and embrace variety and diversity? But what does it take to make this move?

  1. Identify your tolerance levels
    The first step is to understand your own levels of tolerance. Now, before you go all binary, it is important not to judge yourself. Consider life as a ladder, there will always be people below you on the ladder and people above you on the ladder there is no reason to judge. However, it is important to understand to what degree you are open to new and different concepts. You may find you are on different places on the ladder depending on the topic.

  1. Inspect your values
    Our values are the most basic building blocks of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour – they are the guardians of who we are. Given that, it is important to understand your values and how they influence you. Values that are inadvertently triggered can derail any attempt to remain tolerant, so be aware of what and where those triggers are.

  1. Avoid getting offended
    Being offended can be a lovely sensation. Think about it, when we feel offended we are filled with some righteous thought that we are perfect, that we have it all together and the other person (normally the word person is replaced by many less agreeable terms) is entirely wrong. Not a little wrong, but a lot wrong and that gives us license to stop listening. That path however does not lead to our goal of being accepting of diversity. Work hard at not being offended, try to understand where others are coming from. Forgive them for not having the right words to make the communication easy maybe no-one before has been prepared to listen to them.

  1. Choose understanding
    From the above we can see that being open to alternatives is a process guided by discipline. We can choose to try and understand others, we can choose to be open to alternative perspectives. We can choose to listen for understanding… not just to toss back another clever quip. I am not saying we always have to agree, but I think it is great when we disagree intelligently. This means we disagree with a variety of facts in hand, from a variety of perspectives. But at least along the way we learned a few things, that will help us be better informed next time around.
Motivating & managing WFH teams in 2021 – Part 2

Practical tips to tackle the 2 most pressing business issues created by work-from-home

As discussed last week, the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to extend the company’s role from simply building a better employee experience to supporting a better life experience.

In part 2 of this topic, I discuss the 2 most pressing business issues created by the WFH situation and give suggestions on how to ensure company needs are aligned with the all-important experience we need our team to have to ensure peak performance in the workplace.

Accept that the company culture has evolved

A company’s culture is created through years of operation, setting a baseline of how managers and teams are expected to interact – both with each other as well as the customers they serve.  Healthy cultures make allowances for evolution, shedding outdated habits and adopting new ones as fresh trends and strategies emerge.

With the sudden implementation of a strict lockdown, many companies suffered something of a culture shock, realising that their culture didn’t necessarily align with the digital world we inhabit.  Perhaps it’s time for a good look at whether your culture fits this “next normal”?  For example, what is the management style in the organization? Do managers manage activity or outcomes? Do they clearly communicate expectations to team members?

“WFH is simply the next step in company culture evolution.”

Perform Forward tip:  Don’t resist change; it can be a force for good for both the individual and the company as a whole.  If the company had a solid culture before the lockdown, chances are only minor refinements are required to absorb and accommodate WHF.

Make amendments to company policy

Last, but not least, we need to consider how any adjusted approaches may conflict with existing company policies.  Everything from the dress code policy to employment contracts needs to be revised to ensure that outdated documents and procedures accommodate changes.

A company’s workforce is bound by the legal documentation they’re required to sign, and it is our responsibility as leaders and managers to ensure that what we say, do, expect and enforce are in alignment.

Perform Forward tip:  Review any changes relating to WFH and associated policies that have occurred.  Clarity goes a long way to creating a well-functioning work environment, so revise current documents, make the necessary amendments and communicate the changes with your team through official channels. 


To reiterate last week’s conclusion, the employment landscape is going through a rapid evolution.  By ensuring that our culture and documentation are in alignment, and by making sure that communication of any changes is transparent, we can effectively manage the transition from outdated to current, and in so doing, create an environment that fosters a feeling of safety and fulfillment.

Motivating, managing WFH teams in 2021 – Part 1

Practical tips to tackle the 3 most pressing human issues created by work-from-home

With more teams spending time working remotely in the last 12 months, leadership has been given the proverbial “peek behind the curtain” into their personal lives.  This has created an opportunity to extend the company’s role from simply building a better employee experience to supporting a better life experience.

In part 1 of this topic, I’ll be looking at 3 of the most pressing human issues created by the new WFH culture, and give you some pro-tips on how to handle each situation.

Be aware of daily routines

In the not-so-distant past, employees were expected to be at the office at set times.  During that period, they were expected to give 100% focus and effort to their assigned tasks, while dealing with personal issues in non-work hours. 

In the last 12 months, the flexibility provided by working from home (WHF) has created a unique set of challenges for employers, as team members juggle business and personal responsibilities simultaneously.

As the saying goes, “life happens”, and to get the best out of our teams, we need to accept that if they’re working from home, personal issues may need to be handled swiftly to create the necessary space to give full attention to business-related matters.

Perform Forward tip:  Having an awareness of each team member’s personal life should be a priority. Include the “biggies” (e.g. relationship status, living arrangements, kids, and pets) as well as smaller, seemingly insignificant points (e.g. an employee deals with work stress by hitting the gym every day at lunchtime).  This will help you provide a better framework for interacting on a human level.

Create and respect “time boundaries”

As the focus has shifted from the office to remote locations, it’s tempting to erase the line separating work hours and non-work hours.  While WFH has increased the ability for everyone to follow their unique rhythm, tackling tasks when their focus and energy is at its peak it has blurred the line between work and home. 

This has created a scenario where team members are expected to be “always-on” simply because the office is now the dining room table, kitchen counter or spare bedroom.  This, in turn, leads to unrealistic expectations regarding turn-around times on replies and projects.  To make matters the situation more complicated, it is usually a gradual process that leads to work creeping into traditional non-working hours. 

Perform Forward tip:  Remember that WFH doesn’t mean “available 24/7”.  Creating a framework that regulates expectations around responsiveness will go a long way to ensuring individuals are maintaining a healthy work/life balance. 

Take mental well-being seriously

While the last decade has seen an increase in soft-skills and well-being workshops, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought mental health in the workplace to the fore.

Managers now face a complicated challenge when it comes to keeping in touch with individual team members’ mental states.  No longer can we rely on a glance around the office to see that “Kim is drowning” and “Thabo hasn’t been himself the last few days”. 

Feelings of isolation and fear are just 2 of the concerning effects of the extended lockdown.  The neglected mental well-being of a single team member can have devastating effects on the team as a whole, so it is vitally important to connect with each individual on a human level.

Perform Forward tip:  A combination of quick check-ins and in-depth one-on-ones will help managers stay on top of potential issues.  I suggest keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest research, surveys and trends on mental health in the workplace, and use them to formulate a strategy (e.g. daily check-ins and providing resources) to help team members who appear to be struggling.


The employment landscape is going through a rapid, albeit overdue, evolution.  Effective change management is required to help our teams navigate from “the way we always did things” to a new, better way of interacting with our teams.

Wrapping up or Setting up for Success

As I sit to write this blog, probably my last or second last for the year,  I’m feeling kind of checked out. And I think part of the problem is that after the year 2020, everyone, including myself is looking forward to the Festive Season, and time with friends and family. To add insult to injury, instead of writing my blog I found a new app that was interesting, and very distracting.

While I was about to judge myself, I realised that at the end of the year we are so focused on wrapping up that we’re not thinking about anything new, and that is part of the problem. When in that survival mode new is challenging, new may even be scary. Instead, it is easier to looking forward to anything and everything that’s not related to work.

I found myself wondering, for those of us who still have another week or two left before the holidays, how do we go about changing that? Maybe the focus should be less on the finality of wrapping up for the year, and more about creating momentum for the new year. This is something that many people suffer from, while they enjoy a good break when they’re back at the office, they find it really tough to get the momentum going again.

And so I have decided today (after I’ve written this blog because it does need to get done) to sit down and plan the first week or two for 2021. These simple questions could help me get started:

1.     I think it’s about answering “What is 2021 about?”, “What’s the vision?” and “Where do we want to go?”.

2.     I think it’s always important to understand why we want to go there. “Why is this important?”, because the why is really going to tell us how much energy we prepared to put into this.

3.     Then we would need to understand at the “How”, how do we intend to fulfil this vision? What are the actions needed to get this done?

4.     Now we can ask “Who do we need?”. This includes all the individuals that we need in order to make this happen and could include a business associate, a supplier, etc.

5.     The last step is to look at the “What we need?” in terms of other resources needed. Do we need money, facilities, tools, techniques, training?

Now that I know what the plan is I can start pulling together what I need in these next two weeks to set myself up for the first two weeks in January 2021 so I can hit the ground running. As much fun as the festive season is I know that work is satisfying and fulfilling and so when I come back to it I want to make a difference from day one.

I hope that this quick little tool will help you shape will help keep you focused for the next two weeks and set you up for success in 2021.

The Risk and Reward of Your Employee Spend

Would you ever buy a thoroughbred and expect no return on your investment? What would be the logic of spending time looking for the best breed, with the best breeding lines, the best muscle tone, and the best character and then putting it in a field where it does not have place to run? Surely at the cost of buying the most capable animal you can find there is a sense that this is a resource that can be utilized to make money?

In a recent conversation with Junita van der Colff, who specializes in Risk Management, she mentioned that risk is only one side of the coin – the flip side is opportunity. Hence the analogy of the horse. Why take on the risk of owning the animal if you don’t make use of the opportunities created by the ownership.

The Risk

This got me thinking that one of the biggest risks companies are facing now is their employee spend. Let us first get a good perspective on what the cost is of employing staff. Often times we think of it as just another salary bill at the end of the month, but actually it includes the following: 

  1. Recruiting expenses
  2. Monthly salary, bonuses, incentives
  3. Office space allocation
  4. Employee administration costs such as Finance and HR
  5. Tech and equipment costs
  6. Leave
  7. Training and development
  8. Meeting times (unless billed to a client) and Manager inputs.

Generally, depending on business size and industry, it is accepted that up to 30% of a company’s revenue goes straight into employee salaries. If that covers point two above, it still leaves seven other areas of business where money and time are being spent on employees which is unaccounted for.

A lot of businesses, especially with the effects of COVID-19 and Lockdown, are having to take a long hard look at their employee spend as one of their biggest risk factors. At the same time they are dependent on their employees to provide the services and products they sell. It is an enormous Catch 22.

The Reward

While retrenchments are the order of the day, I believe that businesses are missing an important step here. Instead of getting rid of people, they should do more with the employees available to mitigate this risk.

It is interesting that employers often prefer a plug and play model of management. They want to hire the best people, match them to a job profile and then they want them to “get on with it”. This approach reduces real connection between the manager and the employee. It does not take into account the employee’s unique skills, abilities and strengths, and in essence relegates the employee to a machine.

I believe that when we connect with team members we can unlock more potential and by seeing and getting to know them as individuals we learn what motivates and inspires them. This process is good for business as more value is gained from the same individual, while simultaneously rewarding the individual for what they are good at. This creates a win-win loop of positivity and engagement from the employee, as managers provide them with interesting challenges relevant to them as employees. This then solves the problems the manager is coming across and removing stress from their environment.

The “How”:

  • Constantly review conventional norms.
    Often employees are under-utillized because they aren’t allowed to act outside of their job profile.
  • Be open to ideas from team members.
    I have seen too many businesses hire the best and most talented people just to force them into the mould of “that’s how we do things here”.
  • When there is a problem to be solved ask around.
    Sometimes people with the least knowledge of a problem have the best solutions because they can provide a fresh perspective.
  • Acknowledge all contributions.
    Employees are being asked for their inputs, they are not sitting an exam. There is no such thing as failure in thoughts. The moment people’s contribution in solution crafting is judged harshly you remove their future ability to speak up.

In essence, show trust and create a safe environment for brainstorming. Then see how you can further leverage team members to bring the plan to action. This way you will get a great return on your employee spend. Both from a financial but also a psychological level. This allows you to do more with less.

This week my Coffee Companion on @Performance Café is Junita van der Colff, MD of Protean Business Solutions and host of the Risk Revue podcast. We talk about Risk Management and how to be properly pro-active as well as constructively reactive, to ensure that employee performance is at minimum risk during challenging times.

Achieving the Impossible in 2020

The return of Spring in South Africa during September brings about a sense of renewal and optimism. Sun-loving South Africans pack away winter clothes and spend long days enjoying the great weather the country has to offer. By October the focus moves to the final weeks of the year. A sense of exhaustion sets in with days being counted until the start of the Summer holidays. This seems to be the time when innovation and creativity take a back seat, and it is easier to manage the structured and routine tasks that keeps everything afloat.

This year more than most, it appears that this exhaustion, which has been made worse by COVID and the Lockdown, is much more palpable. The difference is that this exhaustion arrived earlier than expected. By June, with COVID reaching its peak, people already wished away the year.

So how do we approach the last few weeks of 2020, when energy is at an all-time low?

1. Mindset Shift

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done”. Many factors impact persistence and dedication, but most of all it is a matter of mindset. Believing nothing can be achieved or that no effort is valuable at this time of the year is a sure-fire way of ensuring nothing happens. It is also a way of sucking energy from any initiative. Right now is the time to plan how to exceed your goals, not shy away from them.

Tip: Identify the top three goals that have not been achieved this year and re-look how you can reach them given the current situation. They need not look exactly the same, and the approach may be different. Don’t hang onto the irrelevant. If the situation has changed, change the plan.

2. Plan and Measure.

With so much to do, in such a short time, it is crucial to have a finger on the pulse. Knowing when a task is lagging, or something is about to fail is vital. There is no “later” to deal with issues that arise. If you depend on a team, it is also demotivating for them to feel their efforts are at risk because of a breakdown somewhere else in the system.

Tip: make detailed plans and link them to short timelines. Then review and measure these almost daily.

3. Keep communication lines open.

Legacy thinking in businesses dictates that (a) spending time with employees is a waste of time and (b) that employees are wind-up toys that need no guidance and support to achieve their goals. Both of these assumptions are incorrect and detrimental to good leadership practice.

Tip: Have frequent shorter meetings with team members both on an individual and team basis to help resolve issues they cannot clear themselves. Use these to listen and support and avoid telling them what to do. Empower the team to help and support each other as well. There may be a valuable transfer of skills that can take place as well as an improvement in team dynamics.

4. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate

It is easy to get fixated on a goal, but as the saying goes nothing succeeds like success. Celebrate the small wins to provide continuous energy for the work needed to achieve the final destination.

Tip: Break goals down into milestones and celebrate the success of each of these. This can be done by sending a congratulatory mail or mentioning the achievement in a meeting.

These steps could start turning the tide on a challenging year and help set you up for a much improved 2021. If you don’t quite achieve the impossible by the end of 2020, you may get there in 2021.

This brings to mind David Houle who is my Coffee Companion on Performance Cafe this Friday. David is a well-known futurist who has through his life had a natural tendency to achieve the out-of-the-ordinary. Listen to the full discussion to hear what he has to say about performance in uncertain times.

Two ears one mouth

There is a quote attributed to Epictetus, which states “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This quote came to mind when I was chatting with Paul Ruinaard about his experiences with the Enneagram and how he and his sales team use it to ensure that they become more attuned to clients’ needs and perspectives. Their use of the Enneagram helps them to better shape solutions to fit client needs.

The reason I found this so interesting is that in many western societies, sales is the domain of fast-talking individuals who focus their personal development more around skills of assertiveness and persuasion than of on client-centricity. This is often true in business where telling is a preferred method of management.

Contrast that to our society where digital technology is creating an environment where consumers are dictating what they want, how they want it, where they want it, and even in some cases, how much they are willing to pay for it. This trend leads me to beg the question, would this work when managing employees? Would we get more done if we stopped allocating tasks and instead provided team members with required outcomes and listened to their solutions? This lets them decide the tasks that are needed to achieve the results.

My feeling would be that it would be more effective. There are a few reasons for this:

1. Despite years in business, managers often lose touch with the day-to-day tasks of team members. This could lead to managers who are unaware of the latest and newest technologies and techniques available to teams. They not only impose their preferences on the team but also negatively impact the development of the team members.

2. Autonomy is one of the major contributors to work satisfaction and improved engagement. Team members have a higher level of responsibility in their work and feel more pride in the outcome if they can determine the approach to take.

3. Managers easily complain about team members who need excessive guidance to get work completed. This neediness could be caused by managers not trusting team members and not allowing them to determine their approach. It breeds a culture of dependence on the manager instead of letting the team members deliver outcomes independently.

It would appear therefore that deciding outcomes, discussing those with team members, finding out how they would shape the solution and provide results within the allotted time is a good a way to provide them with the clarity that they need while leaving the results up to them. It also is a great way to measure the problem-solving capabilities of team members while encouraging their development beyond the managers experience.

A cautionary point though is to never confuse autonomy for team members with abdication as a manager. Although team members get to decide the steps to results, the manager is still required to check that they are on track and that there are no obstacles that they cannot overcome. This is specifically true for more inexperienced teams or team members who may need a little more guidance initially until they have adjusted to the expectations placed on them. Maybe I could edit Epictetus’ quote by adding that there should be two ears, one mouth and two supportive and trusting hands.

Paul Ruinaard ( if our Performance Café, Coffee Companion for this week. Look out for the interview on our YouTube channel, LinkedIn or Facebook page.


Paul Ruinaard ( if our Performance Café, Coffee Companion for this week. Look out for the interview on our YouTube channel, LinkedIn or Facebook page.

Managing like a (Human) Boss

This week @Herman Singh, CEO and Founder of Future Advisory, is my Coffee Companion for my vlog @Performance Café. Herman published his book Di-Volution earlier this year which looks at the Digital Revolution, where we are at and where we will be going.

During the recording session, one of the questions we covered was whether machines are about to take over the world – his answer was not yet. He explained that most computers only work from a deterministic point. This is similar to doing if/then statements in Excel. For example, if a self-driving car approaches a traffic light it is simple enough to see what the color of the light is and respond accordingly. If the light is red it will stop. That means that they are not yet equipped to deal with humans, who do can deal with any number of variations within seconds. To continue the example, when the self-driving vehicle sees an amber light it is likely to slow down in preparation to stop. By comparison a human driver may time the changing of the light to see if they can clear the intersection before the light changes to red. Here the human is calculating the probability. This is something that “the machines” cannot do yet.

The other interesting titbit from the interview was that by 2030 the ability to connect with humans or using interpersonal skills will be a significant advantage. These are often referred to as soft skills when actually they are the most difficult. Ask any manager who has had to mediate conflict between two employees whether it was easy and they will probably agree that soft skills is a misnomer. I would like to replace it with the term interpersonal adaptive mastery. Why? Because we each create our own realities based on our own characteristics, skills, strengths, beliefs, values, abilities, and so on. Our reality is not the cookie cutter replication that our schooling systems seem to try and create and larger corporates also tend to maintain.

To go back to our example of the manager mediating between employees. Our traditional view would be that there are three individuals taking part in the process and while that is correct, the reality is that the following aspects may not be shared by all three individuals: 

  1. They may not all be of the same gender.
  2. They may not be of the same culture.
  3. They may not have grown up in the same area.
  4. They may not have studied at the same schools.
  5. They may not have the same level of tertiary education.
  6. They may not have the same relationship status.
  7. They may not have the same number of dependents.  
  8. They may not travel to work in the same way.
  9. They may not have grown up speaking the same language.
  10. They may not have the same belief systems.

The list carries on….

Given that these individuals are exactly that – individual – and given that we acknowledge that humans can respond probabilistically. It is important to understand that all management, whether in a small business or a large corporation is in essence dealing with complexity and that the best way to manage humans is by taking their differences into account instead of trying to be too deterministic.

Another aspect to take into mind is sentience. Computers are not self-aware, therefore they are impervious of their effect on others. Through our self-awareness as humans we are able to understand that we bring our own dynamic into interactions. Therefore the manager who is mediating understands that he or she is contributing to the discussion as well and therefore has to be very wary of influencing instead of mediating.

In conclusion to lead like a human boss you should:

  1. Treat team members as individuals and take into account their unique contributions.
  2. Understand that differences create opportunity and new perspectives. This is particularly important for innovation and creativity.
  3. Understand that every person in an interaction contributes to the dynamic.
  4. Embrace the complexity and don’t expect interpersonal adaptive skills to be automatic and perfect. They grow the more they are used.

I hope to see you at our Coffee Companions chat on Friday as we take a deeper dive into our conversation on the Digital Revolution and Man’s search for meaning.