The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has set in motion one of the most abrupt disruptions in decades giving rise to a lot of new trends while accelerating some existing ones. The crisis has been a brutal reminder of how fragile our world is and how vulnerable our civilization is to global disruptors like the COVID-19. The risk to global health is just one of the global disruptors that author Michael Jenkins looked at in his book Expert Humans. Michael also delves deep into some very pertinent pointers including sustainability, digital transformation, inequality, and the erosion of trust in institutions worldwide.
While no vaccine can save the environment, writes Michael, on the positive side, COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief our capacity as human beings to care for others and to show altruism, compassion, and empathy. The big question is: will our awakening around these crucial human attributes continue in the post-COVID-19 era? This is a very valid question that has put leadership to a test. It’s time for a radical rethink of leadership, argues Michael. There is a growing demand for a different kind of leadership for the post-COVID-19 era -– one which transcends generational differences, according to him. We're seeing a confluence of frustration across the world arising from several sources of which one, in particular, is the persistent inequality that we see in all countries of the world. Gender inequality is a clear inhibitor of human progress: we have incontrovertible evidence that societies benefit hugely when women can enjoy access to educational opportunity – and power – of the kind already enjoyed by men. Hence, the radical rethink of leadership will require all leaders, no matter what their gender, to embrace those qualities that ordinary people want to see – namely altruism, compassion, and empathy. But that’s just the start. Above all, we need leaders who are competent and can actually do the job they are paid to do. You might be the kindest, most thoughtful leader ever – but if you are unable to plan, to communicate effectively, to be consistent, and to act quickly and decisively – then your chances of success are likely to be significantly diminished.
Purpose and sustainability
The issue of purpose and sustainability has suffered in terms of focus, writes Michael. For some companies, sustainability has been part of their corporate strategy for a significant period of time already, so these organizations continue to make (some) progress even in the grip of the pandemic. In Expert Humans, Michael made the point that purpose and sustainability have to go hand in hand: employees need to be reassured that their top leaders – the CEO and other C-level leaders – are authentically behind the sustainability drive and that their words and deeds are aligned with organizational and individual purpose.
Bringing out all this change warrants a mindset change. The ‘‘Expert Human’’ mindset is one that embraces some of our under-utilized human capabilities, namely altruism, compassion, and empathy (ACE). These human attributes, Michael says, are entirely “developable” and that techniques and approaches exist that can help us all to develop these qualities. He has included hints on how to get started in terms of developing these attributes. This includes the role of HR leaders to be able to support the implementation of more ACE behaviors by modeling them themselves.
Michael shares some outlines that organizations can follow to cultivate a culture as they seek to transform themselves for the better: 1) Develop policies and practices that open up lines of communication. 2) Consider cross-generational leadership training, as more employees today believe that empathy can be learned. The book also talks about the much talked about co-existence of humans and AI and the key elements of a human-centered AI. Organizations of the future will be able to benefit hugely from what we might call “human-centered”- AI – something Michael often thinks about as the “EI-AI balance”, namely the co-existence and complementarity of emotional intelligence (of which ACE is a component) with artificial intelligence.
For the first time in history, we have at our disposal a vast array of digital tools and support systems that not only make our lives way more liveable but also open up the possibility for us to develop “digital weak-tie networks” – ways for us to connect with people in a tech-driven yet deeply human way. Tech is also providing us with a way to connect with people in what he would call “the Middle Distance” – those outside our “strong-tie networks” but with whom we have stronger links compared to the links we have with people in our weak-tie networks. This is where Michael thinks we can expect interest in ONA (Organisational Network Analysis) to surge and concomitant with this, a huge debate around ethics and privacy. So the potential for us to use AI for good, especially if we can merge it with altruism, compassion, and empathy, holds rich possibilities. This is particularly true when we consider the growing importance of EX (the employee experience) and the positive impact that AI can have on shaping this.
With year-long digital transformation compressed into months and weeks, it's certainly breathtaking to see the changes that have come about as a result. One only has to consider the strides made in healthcare to see that digital appointment-making, digital consultations, and so forth are becoming the norm. Successful organizations at the forefront of digital transformation are also the ones with their finger on the pulse of what it means to be human – and these will, he believes, continue to enjoy success.
So what happens next? What do we need to stop, start or continue as we come out of this pandemic? We should be asking ourselves, says Michael, how altruistic, compassionate, and empathic are you prepared to be even as we come out of the pandemic? Are you aware of what you need to stop doing, what new behaviors you might need to adopt, and also, are you clear about all the great things you already do that are working and that you would like to continue? And just how far are you really willing to go to compromise or change your behavior in the service of others?
Michael concludes with the importance of practicing self-awareness, self-compassion, and compassion for others. Overall, Expert Humans is a good read which encapsulates some of the most pertinent questions that leaders need to ask themselves and prepare for, as we come out of this crisis, to develop more human workplaces and a better world.