Start By Being Human

We have something wonderful in common, and it can be the most powerful part of cultural onboarding: We are all human.

I want to start a conversation about what that means and how we can leverage it for growth instead of fearing it for failure.  Historically, we have wanted people to be less human and more robot at work, completing separating their personal life from their work life.  As you read that statement, you may even be nodding your head yes and saying, “Amen.  Leave that crap at home!”

There’s a problem.  It’s impossible.  Take for instance, the fictitious account of a man named Will Rawlings.  Will is a successful outside sales rep for a medical supplies company.  Last night Will came home to find a note from his wife.  This wasn’t abnormal, as they had a very good and intimate relationship.  But, as Will unfolds the note and begins to read it…his heart sinks to his stomach.  Becky has confessed to a year long affair, and informed Will that she is love with this other man, packed her belongings, and left.  Will this affect Will’s performance, energy, and general desire to succeed?

Okay, that’s a very BIG what if, and depressing, scenario.  How about the mom who has a sick child, and was up all night with her?  Or the man whose daughter just gave him his first grand baby, and his focus is solely on getting to the hospital?  How about the person who just got a promotion, or the one who just got a job offer with a new company?

I’m not saying we should be going in to work and vomiting our lives on other people.  I’m simply saying that our personal life will effect our work, and our work will effect our personal life.  Why?  Because they’re the same life.

You see, our brains weren’t designed to compartmentalize things very well.  We’ve culturally evolved as social beings, and our ability to empathize and be compassionate is an internal tool for altruistic living.  That means that we naturally care about the good of those we are associated with, because the good of our tribe creates the good for us.

And, for most people I meet, their work is where they find their social, or group, identity.

“Okay Brad, long nerdy intro…but it sort of makes sense.  How do we humanize our work culture?”

You ask great questions!

My answer comes in three parts:

  1. Human beings aren’t perfect.  Create a culture of compassion.
  2. Human beings generally have a more important tribe outside of work.  Promote their priorities.
  3. Human beings have something that make us uniquely human: mental time travel.

Let’s expound on those a little bit.


Create a culture of compassion.

I spent over a decade bivocationally (it’s not dirty, I promise).  I was a consultant/storyteller, and I was a worship pastor.  I spent hours every week sitting across the table from CEO’s, gang members, the homeless, and average everyday people.  They had something in common: they all had imperfect lives and seasons that went up and down.  Some by their own decisions, and some because life happened to them.  You know what they wanted?  Someone who cared about them as a person.  It was universal in my interactions.

Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere.  It’s human.

I’m not telling you to become the pastor to your team, I’m simply suggesting that you to care for your people…as people.  Lead with empathy, which will help you sense when your people aren’t well.  Follow up with compassion, the willingness to step into hard situations with the sole focus of helping them get through, even if it’s only in the work world.

Making this decision as a leader before you start your day, will give you a completely different approach to anyone having a bad day, week, or month.

Remember Will?  What if, after a few days of awful performance and catching Will crying in his car, his boss came to him and said, “Will, I can tell a lot is going on right now.  It’s not my business, and I’m not asking you to share.  I just wanted to let you know that I care, and I’m sorry for whatever it is.  Is there anything I can do to help you?  Can I take anything off your plate for the next couple weeks?”

That’s human.  His manager led with empathy, and followed up with compassion.  And, it wasn’t as scary as people think.  True, he has to be prepared for Will to talk to him about his problems…but is that so bad?  He doesn’t have to become a counselor.  He simply has to care.

And, guess what happens when we exhibit empathy and compassion.  People reciprocate, and the group of people in your office become a people group, or team.


Promote their priorities.

Whether people have a significant other, children, and/or a friend group; almost everyone in your office has an inner circle tribe of people.

You should understand, embrace, and promote this.

One of my favorite companies, Industrial Oils Unlimited (IOU) in Tulsa, has this down.  One of their core values is work/life balance.  While I hate that term, their living out of it is amazing, and it’s modeled from the top down.  The CEO has a core belief that, if work is the most important thing in your life, there’s something wrong.  He believes in God, family, community, etc.  and work is somewhere lower on the list.  I this approach scares most leaders.

I have had first-hand experience observing IOU’s culture and studying the way it is lived out.  In interviews with different levels of team members, including the CEO, the living out of this core value makes them more loyal, productive, and evangelistic about their company.

Truly valuing that people have priorities outside of work had helped them recruit better talent, retain better talent, and build a more cohesive team.

One of the biggest reasons this helps a business: When people are encouraged and empowered to focus on their priorities, they are less distracted and “lost” in the world.  That means that they are also less distracted at work.  How much is focus worth to your business?


Finally, Mental Time Travel!

What the heck is that!

According to Thomas Suddendorf, a psychologist, and author of “The Gap” (great read), two of the major things that make being human unique:

1. Our ability for Mental Time Travel, imagining different outcomes of both past and future events.
2. Our desire to link our scenario-building minds together.

What does that mean?  Simply put, we’re all looking for a community in which we belong, that fosters our individual dreams, and where we believe in, and become part of, the dream of the community.

Being part of an organization that values the uniqueness of being human is priceless. Empowering people to engage in their lives and pursue their dreams, will have incredible return.  Tangibly, they’ll be more focused, healthier, and grateful.  What you can’t anticipate, is the excitement you’ll get by knowing the dreams of your people and helping them win.

Also, their dreams will make yours bigger, because they will add tremendous value to the vision of the company.  Investing in the dreams of your people will allow a low wage team member to become a car or home owner….to take their family on a vacation.

It will help shape the mentality that people aren’t your biggest liability…they’re your greatest asset.

Craig Handley is the CEO and founder of ListenTrust, a call center in Mexico, with a staff of about 1,000 people.  This may sound extreme, but when they hire someone, they train them to quit.  What does that mean?  It means that it was his dream to build a 1,000 person call center. Every employee has their own dreams…even if the don’t know what they are.  They have created a culture around helping their people discover their dreams and pursue them.  Some of those dreams are to create companies and leave.  Most people love working for a company that invests in their dreams that their turnover is about 4% in an industry that averages 30-45%.  It’s important to note that he doesn’t just buy people their dreams.  He invests in their personal development to achieve their own dreams.  They employ a full time employee to coach their people. They bring in outside financial advisors and coaches to teach on specific subjects from budgeting to building websites.

Guess what?  His people willingly and enthusiastically build his dream and collaboratively build the vision of ListenTrust.  Why? Because they belong to a community that values their dreams and connects to them.


I hope that this article spurs you to engaging in your culture from a leadership perspective, to make it more human.  What will it cost you?  Being more human.  It’s worth it for your people, culture, and business.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Grace and Peace,

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Start By Being Human




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