The Need to Humanise Leadership & Work

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Gianpiero Petriglieri
E 139

In This Podcast

  • Leadership is a kind of love
  • The difference between good and bad leadership
  • Why leadership is shaping systems
  • How to know when you’re failing as a leader
  • The paradox of leadership and support

Do you bring your whole self to work? Are you encouraged to bring your authentic self to work? Or do you feel you need to leave parts of you at the door? If you’re a leader, do your followers bring their whole selves to work? Because, says Gianpiero Petriglieri, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, and one of the 50 most influential management thinkers in the world, if we’re not bringing our whole selves into the workplace, we’re absent from the very place where so many of us spend such a significant portion of our time. 

In this episode of Corporate Unplugged, Gianpiero shares his thoughts on the need to humanise leadership and learning, and how he encourages his students to look at leadership as a kind of love. Then, using this framework, he explores the difference between good leadership and bad leadership. 

“Good leadership is the one in which there is an element of seduction, but then there has to be something more. There has to be care. There has to be a promise. But there has to be something more; there has to be progress.”

Show Notes

What Makes Good Leadership with Gianpiero Petriglieri

We need to make a more concerted effort to humanise leadership and work, says Gianpiero Petriglieri, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD. We need to bring all the complexities of our inner and social world as humans into our work, and the way we live at work; but that is a hard thing to do. It’s hard to think about it, it’s hard to write about it, but most of all, it’s hard to take that path. 

“You need to have passion to be human in the workplace when so much of the history and so much of the present workplace norms and practices have been so mechanical, so technological, you really must want it.”

If we don’t bring that passion into the workplace, says Gianpiero, we can not bring our whole selves into the workplace. And if we’re not bringing our whole selves into the workplace, we’re absent from the very place where so many of us spend such a significant portion of our time. 

“This idea, this practice of humanising leadership and humanising work is something that has really oriented my professional trajectory from the very beginning and I still feel strongly [about] today.”

What is a good leader?

For Gianpiero, a good leader is someone who’s able to balance promise and progress. He likens leadership to a kind of love, in the same way that parenting is a kind of love, friendship is a kind of love, romance is a kind of love, he says. And if you think about it in those terms, is all love the same or is some love better than others?”

“For me, the question of what is a good and a bad leader is remarkably similar to what makes for good or bad love. Bad love tends to be anxious, possessive, objectifying – I love you, but I actually love myself in your presence.”

In bad romantic love, where one person doesn’t really care for the other one, they just want them, they need them, there’s a sort of possessiveness. The same is true in bad leadership, says Gianpiero, where there’s a sense of ‘if you don’t follow me, my ego would be hurt’.

The great love relationships are not based just on passion, says Gianpiero, they’re based on care. Because after the passion fades, what remains is care. And if you lead solely out of passion, what’s going to be there once the passion fades? Good leadership, therefore, is not based on worry, it’s based on care. Far too many leaders we admire, they prey on our worries. They find where we worry, they make us worry more, and then they promise they’ll make that worry go away.

“Good leadership is the one in which there is an element of seduction, but then there has to be something more. There has to be care. There has to be a promise. But then there has to be something more, there has to be progress.”

Good leadership sets you free

Leadership, says Gianpiero, is a relationship. Once you think of it as a relationship, then the question is what makes a good relationship? And what makes a good relationship is that you feel committed, but you don’t feel captive. You don’t feel like in order to be in a relationship you have to leave a part of yourself at the door. What you want is the opposite – to feel that because you’re in a relationship, more of yourself can come out. 

“If you ask people, who are the leaders that you remember, 10-15 years later, they often tell you, he was someone that saw me in a way in which I couldn’t yet see myself. And in that moment, I trusted that I could become that person.”

Good leadership, says Gianpiero, imagines you in a more expansive way than you can imagine yourself at present, and bad leadership forces you to make yourself smaller, in order to stay attached. It’s worry instead of care; in the presence of worry, you will shrink, and in the presence of care, you will expand.

“Leadership brings you to another place. Every leader promises you a better place. But good leadership brings you to a freer place.”

Leadership is about creating a new narrative

“Leadership is a story that moves you. It’s a story that moves others. It’s a story that moves from idea to reality. If it doesn’t move you, you lose motivation; if it doesn’t move others, you lose followers. If you don’t move to reality, you lose results. And if you lose results, it’s hard to remain a leader for very long.”

Lots of people can tell stories, says Gianpiero, but the best ones make people listen. Just look at Steve Jobs or Nelson Mandela. There are a million examples throughout history where lots of people have said the same story, but the ones who were able to capture not just the imagination, but to see it through, are the ones we remember. 

“It’s not enough that you articulate a good story, it is also necessary that you embody that story. You cannot bring other people into a story that you don’t own. You have to actually build good stories.”

When a leader begins to fail

How do you know when you’re beginning to fail as a leader? In many cases, says Gianpiero, you begin to fail when an opportunity to lead opens, and you look at that opportunity and you’re nodding, you’re ready, you want to take the lead, and instead of saying: ‘this is the help I’m going to need’, you say: ‘thank you for the opportunity’. And in that moment, you’re thinking: ‘how do I prove to you that I deserve it?’ Instead of: ‘what do I need to get done? And what am I going to need?’

In that very moment in which you worry about what others are going to be thinking of you, says Gianpiero, rather than asking for the help you need, you’re beginning to fail, you’re beginning to worry, instead of care.

Too many leaders compare themselves to elite athletes, says Gianpiero, but elite athletes in the beginning have very little support; it’s only when they reach top level do they have a support team around them. Executives, on the other hand, work in the exact opposite way. When you’re a junior member of the team, that’s when the most support is offered, and as you get more senior, people feel like they should have their act together. But that’s simply not the case. As you get further up the ladder, that’s when you should be getting the most support. Because how can you care for those below you, if you’re not receiving care yourself?

Companies need to focus on inclusion and care

Organisations have shifted their discourse from building a machine to deliver certain goals, to building a society, a community and having a social impact, but you can’t build a society with the same principles which build a machine, says Gianpiero.

“If an organisation is no longer a machine, rather it’s a society, then the focus cannot be efficiency and alignment, it has to be imagination and inclusion.”

But too often, because of our pervasive obsession with alignment, we miss out on being more inclusive and more innovative. And given how quickly the world moves, and now much higher social expectations are in business, if you’re just building a machine, your machine is going to be inadequate immediately, and obsolete very soon.

“There’s only one planet and it’s important to care for it because if we want to be good leaders, we should preserve or build places that are not just for us to inhabit, but for our kids and their kids and their kids to inhabit.” 

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