Treating people like ‘human resources’ and ignoring the development of human connection comes at a high cost. People slip through the cracks and struggle to reach their full potential, which puts a strain on the business or organisation and stifles growth. If your intention is to develop your people to get the best out of them and grow the business, you need to provide an environment in which connection is fostered and people are encouraged to grow and thrive. In this article, I address the importance of understanding who your people really are, what they care about, their strengths, where their gaps are, and why all of this is crucial for developing them in their role and beyond. I also share two critical factors that support people to grow into new positions within an organisation – presence and vulnerability.
In an environment where people are only seen as 'resources', they may not open up, share what’s concerning them or be clear on what’s expected of them. They may not speak up when they’ve made a mistake or failed to live up to expectations. They are also less likely to seek assistance to do their role or ask for support to develop themselves. An environment like this instils a fear of looking incompetent and making mistakes. It creates division, anger and frustration between leaders and employees, leading to an 'us versus them' culture. Ultimately, people with potential experience self-doubt, hide who they uniquely are, fail to fulfil their roles and fall short of their own greatness.
Being seen, heard and valued
When people feel seen, heard and valued, you get to know the person behind the role, and this has the potential to lift their performance and develop them into leaders. Through human connection, people can become who they have the potential to be, far beyond simply fulfilling a role. Instead of focusing on expectations and mistakes, cultivating an environment that encourages people to open up and share fosters personal and organisational growth. It all begins with being present, a critical factor in fostering human connection.
According to Ashkan Tashvir, author of BEING and creator of the Being Framework, presence, as a way of Being, is when you are ‘fully and intentionally connected and in communication with others. It is the authentic relatedness that occurs when all parties experience being fully heard and understood. There is no distance or barrier between you and mutual understanding is fully available’.
Let’s put this definition into a leadership context. When there is no distance or barrier, and mutual understanding is fully available, strengths, gaps and performance can be discussed without tension and resentment. Presence is an asset that leaders must possess to support people to believe in themselves, move beyond their current limitations and become assets to the business or organisation.
I was consulting for a large government organisation across various departments, and I saw a recurring theme that I found concerning. There was a heavy emphasis on the ‘human resources’ aspect in people’s immediate roles and a lack of attention on human connection. Consequently, leaders were much more concerned about people’s performance than each person performing the role.
Take Steve, a rising leader within the organisation. Steve was promoted to the role of a leader, where he was responsible for the development of others. He was promoted because someone saw potential in him. However, he was essentially thrown into the deep end without adequate training to support him in the new role. His new duties included operational training, assessing, giving feedback, passing or failing people and designing, developing and facilitating ongoing professional development workshops for people in higher ranking roles. While he was a leader in an operational sense in his previous role, the layers of complexity in his new role left him feeling intimidated and inadequate.
Hiding his self-doubt, Steve attempted to be someone he thought he ‘should’ be. He felt like an imposter. Worried about his reputation, he deferred making decisions and taking action instead of requesting support. Steve’s actions raise another major factor that can get in the way of human connection, which, in turn, stops people from performing well in their roles – vulnerability.
In BEING, Ashkan writes that ‘an unhealthy relationship with vulnerability indicates that you are likely to defer or avoid taking action or making decisions when you feel they may negatively impact your reputation’.
To Steve, his reputation was at stake, and he didn’t want to look incompetent. So rather than telling his leaders how he was feeling, he did everything he could to avoid being open and vulnerable. Had he accepted being vulnerable, he may have found the courage to seek support and take on his new role as a true leader. Furthermore, had Steve’s leaders been present to his needs, he would have been better prepared for the role. Instead, he was thrown into a role for which he wasn’t ready or prepared. Even though he was proficient operationally, he was challenged and overwhelmed by the complexities of his new role and the authority it brought. With a low self-image, he regularly questioned his ability. Ultimately, a lack of human connection combined with Steve’s unhealthy relationship with vulnerability led him to underperform.
Building authentic leaders through human connection
I worked in the unit for about twelve months and, during that time, was given the opportunity to coach and mentor Steve. By fostering a connection with him, I gave him permission to open up and share his concerns, challenges and self-doubt. I discovered why he accepted the role, his vision for people's growth and development, and what he cared about. I got to know the uniquely authentic person behind the ‘imposter’ persona and how he wanted to approach his role. Had I focused on performance alone, I would have missed the underlying drivers influencing his behaviour and driving his decisions, actions and results.
Steve became present to what was going on with others on his team and went beyond seeing them as ‘resources’. He could see people were beginning to trust him and look to him as a leader. His self-belief grew, and he took responsibility for his development. He was becoming the best leader he could be. Presence – being fully and intentionally connected and in communication with others – builds people and fosters growth.
When we focus on people and support them to feel seen, heard and valued, we get to know the person behind the facade and become present to the behaviours driving their decisions, actions and results. By bringing presence to our colleagues, coworkers or partners, we can move beyond seeing them as resources and build greater performance from the ground up. With this foundation of human connection in place, we can support our people in developing themselves and moving into new and more challenging roles when opportunities arise. It is normal to grow into a role for which we initially may not feel ready. However, when we bring vulnerability to the equation, we open up the possibility to grow in that role rather than trying to uphold a hollow impression that we’re doing well.
I encourage you to reflect on what might be missing from how you are currently connecting with your people. If you feel this conversation has resonated with you, join me on the platform, and if you’d like to learn how you can connect more authentically with your people, reach out for a conversation.