The most powerful memory I have of our country being focused and united on one big thing is the complete solar eclipse that took place on Aug. 21, 2017.
Like everyone else I knew, I found a location for the best possible viewing in my area. I joined my then-finance (and now wife) Libby on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University. It was a warm, sunny day. Libby and I sat amongst hundreds of MTSU students and staff, wearing our special protective sunglasses as we marveled at the day suddenly transforming into night…and then back to day again.
In an America that feels more divided than ever, I cherish that brief, simple, but powerful memory of all of us being on the same page and captivated by the same event. As a country, we rarely join together to observe and persevere through times of darkness and light.
It takes an exceptional kind of individual to bring disparate, diverse groups of people together for a shared vision, purpose, or outcome. Such a person’s challenge is amplified by the rapidly evolving, endlessly converging, and ubiquitously disrupting technology that influences every aspect of how we work and live.
In this age of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, it seems like more and more of the skills and tasks we perform are being turned over to machines. Many of us are pondering large, unsettling questions, such as:
“Do my human skills and experiences still matter?”
“Do human beings still matter?”
Yes. More than ever.
I believe what makes us “uniquely human” is more important than ever. We’re hard-wired by evolution to seek and engage community, foster tight relationships, and actively care for other people and, to a large extent, other species.
And one of the most important qualities that each of us can develop, whatever stage we’re at in life (still in school, in the midst of a career, retired, etc.), is what I’m calling “authentic human leadership.”
Those three words resonate in different ways to people. At best, they inspire and motivate. At worst, they’re part of the cacophony of hackneyed “buzz words” or cliches we fling around, mostly devoid of meaning and impact.
As a professional coach, writer, and speaker, I think word choices are very important—and that words deserve to be accompanied by the clarity and intentions of the person offering them. And so I’ll share what each of those words means to me.
When I read, hear, speak, or write “authentic,” I envision someone forming genuine, non-transactional connections and relationships with others, curious about people and what’s most important to them. These relationships are strengthened by the “authentic” person’s willingness to be vulnerable and transparent, demonstrating ongoing learning (and unlearning) while owning their flaws and contradictions.
Authentic individuals share and remain congruent with their values, in both what they say and do, earning trust and respect. They craft environments of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and therefore embed a sense of belonging and psychological safety in those around them.
As powerful as AI and machines are becoming, there’s still nothing like being in the presence of a truly authentic individual. It’s not hard for you to immediately think of those people in your life who fit that description, and how much they mean to you.
These days, I’m frequently associating the word “human” with the many ways we can leverage AI to augment (not fully replace) the unique contributions we still have to offer. Even as AI improves and becomes more reliable, humans maintain the lead regarding dynamics such as empathy, interpersonal skills, complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence.
We make meaning, ensure accuracy, protect ethics, and guard against biases. We identify, respect, and tailor our approaches to various nuances. We envision and design products, services, and societies with the potential to elicit the best of us even in the face of the worst of us.
Not convinced that we’re still as relevant as I’m declaring us to be?
Here’s my “closer…” Even if verifiable measurements of technical proficiency give AI the edge—or at least a “tie”—in one or more of the topics I’ve included above, there’s a larger human need that AI can never fully satisfy…
…and that is to be understood by another authentic individual who gets what it’s like to struggle, thrive, and, eventually (another spoiler alert) die within this wondrous confluence of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen known as the human body.
I can respect and marvel at a great piece of music, literature, or film that’s completely or largely composed by AI. But I’ll never be as emotionally invested, moved, or inspired as I am by the creative outpouring of my fellow impermanent, flesh-and-blood, human beings.
Finally, leadership. Effective leaders inspire and motivate others toward a shared vision, purpose, or mission, as well as specific outcomes. They do so by leveraging influence, team building, coaching, feedback, and empowerment to ensure that they and those whom they lead are making the best decisions and fostering a healthy organizational culture.
The best leaders are courageous in the face of uncertainty and criticism. They persevere with determination toward the ultimate outcomes that every (I hope) company, organization, or institution wants: great customer and employee experiences that drive sustainable results and competitive advantage or market share.
Human beings recognize authentic human leaders, and usually respond with loyalty, productivity, a growth mindset, and the best work they can offer on any given day.
Four core “buckets” of behaviors
I group the numerous attributes, skills, or actions I’ve included above, when unpacking “authentic,” “human,” and “leadership,” into four buckets of mastery that differentiate the most effective leaders from their peers:
Storytelling: Who I am
Informing and inspiring others to act through a variety of creative and memorable means.
Immersive Empathy: Who you are
Choosing to look at someone else’s experiences from a different angle.
Dialogue: Who we are
Being fully heard by, and fully hearing, other human beings in spite of any differences each of you brings into the room.
Collaborative Problem-Solving: How we work together
Building upon the foundations of storytelling, immersion, and dialogue, great leaders harness shared values and purposes to more effectively and comprehensively tackle the most pressing and devastating issues across societies and the world at large (i.e., climate change, inequality, war, terrorism, discrimination, totalitarianism, and many other problems that I’ve left out for the sake of brevity).
The content above reflects the mindset I bring to my professional work as an experienced, certified coach.
My ideal clients are internal HR professionals seeking executive, leader development, or 360° feedback coaching for business clients needing to grow authentic human leadership in the age of AI; as well as business leaders looking to connect directly with a coach for themselves or their team members.
My three coaching specialties:
Executive Coaching: Equipping executives (directors and above) to more effectively manage people, teams, and organizations.
Leader Development Coaching: Equipping people managers or high-potential individual contributors to develop their leadership skills and capabilities.
360° Feedback Coaching: Equipping 360° feedback recipients to understand, prioritize, and act upon feedback from a cross-section of colleagues.
You can learn more about my coaching services and content tools at my website and contact me in one of three ways: