Humanity –  A Dimension of Leadership Character


Unthinking “boss types” will scoff at this one, braying “nice guys finish last!”  And to leaders tempered in New Zealand’s economic fires, it may seem counter-intuitive.

However, Ivey School makes a strong case for its inclusion: –

Humanity, which we describe as consideration for others, empathy, compassion, magnanimity and the capacity for forgiveness, is essential to developing followership. Without it, a person can be an effective boss, but never a good leader. We do not view humanity as a soft or weak dimension of leadership character but, rather, as a fundamental strength that is often at the core of fostering quality, candid conversations, and is essential in supporting other dimensions of character. However, we recognize that being tenderhearted may induce paralysis in decision-making, especially in situations in which some people may be disadvantaged, such as downsizing. We also recognize that being hardhearted, callous, or indifferent destroys human relationships, and usually results in leaders being rejected by their followers”.

It is helpful to view Humanity as a set of strengths focused on “tending others”. These strengths comprise:

  • Love (the Greek agape) – attachment to others, empathy
  • Kindness – altruism, generosity, helpfulness
  • Social intelligence.

In her last interview, the late Helen Kelly did not envisage weakness when she said “I want people just to be kind. It would make a hell of a difference”.

In his remarkable coaching career, Steve Hansen has brought humanity without weakness to his work. Sure, he has the other leadership elements well covered – commitment, competence and the whole range of character dimensions.  But his humanity is exceptional. He demonstrates daily his love for the players, his magnanimity and his social intelligence. Through this fundamental strength, he has developed a followership which together has produced an outstanding ethos, excellence, reputation and team of world beaters. And while he surely sets demanding goals, standards and KPIs and undoubtedly undertakes rigorous “candid conversations”, this caring coach shows the trust and the power to forgive.

In our own leadership work, we too can be strong in our humanity – tough and demanding on the issues while compassionate with the people.

Lead kindly,