Be a Human, Not a Robot — Author Interview with Mark LeBusque

Published on
May 12, 2017
Sara Saddington
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
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In his book Being Human: Why Robots Are Not the Answer, Harvard trained consultant Mark LeBusque advocates a more human approach to leadership. You may think that’s something you’re already doing, but how often are you rewarding robotic behavior like blindly following policy? Or merely hitting the numbers? Or what about punching in and out on the dot? Promoting this kind of behavior is a happiness drainer, and in the book LeBusque offers seven steps that he says are absolutely necessary to “rewire your management style” to a decidedly more human approach (you can learn more about the steps in our summary). We had the opportunity to sit down with LeBusque and pick his brain about some of the terrific ideas in his book.

I love the seven steps to more human leadership. Were there other steps that you considered including? What were they? How did you land on these seven steps?

Funnily enough I didn’t consider other steps. These steps seemed to really resonate with me (I had witnessed the opposite to them and it was simply not acceptable to me anymore—there had to be a better way). I landed on the seven steps based upon my understanding of some of the elements of human hard-wiring. Humans crave social belonging and avoid anything that will place them in a high degree of danger. The majority of humans also turn up to do great work, be really clear about their relevance and contribution to the team, department and organization and want to be given the room to explore, experiment and challenge based upon their high degree of curiosity.

In the book, you talk candidly about your successes and failures as you were developing a more human approach to leadership—when encountering obstacles, did you ever consider abandoning your ideas about human leadership and resigning to playing along in robotic organizations?

I did actually face a huge obstacle from within my own team (they told me some time after that they were actually keen to have me replaced as the change was more than they had expected) and I recall staying true to these three words: “Hold Your Nerve”. At times my peers would also ridicule me about “hugging my team and singing ‘Kumbaya'” as well as being “warm and fuzzy,” however this did not move me from my more human approach. There was not a time when I considered returning to a more Robotic approach as I truly believed that I was doing “what was right” rather than “what was popular”.

I loved the story of Frankie (a very human-like robot with some great ideas about leadership), and Otto (a very robotic leader resistant to new leadership practices). What advice would you give to a human leader in an organization of robots?

My advice is to be true to your belief and continue to role model these human management behaviors—over time the results will be so compelling that there will be a high level of curiosity and eventually acceptance of a better way to engage humans to be their best and do their best. It can be lonely work at times but over time the short term pain is worth the long term gain.

What advice would you give to people who are moving into a leadership position for the first time?

Know yourself first and foremost (self awareness is critical) and then invest time early to know your employees as people before positions or titles. Give them space to flourish and resist the temptation to do their work for them. As I say as a manager, you “don’t always have to be in the photo—let the credit sit with those who earned it”.

For team members who do not occupy a management position, what advice would you give to help them develop leadership skills?

Firstly, be really clear in your mind that you are passionate about leading another human being. Build self awareness, ask for feedback from peers and find great mentors who have experienced both managing as a robot and as a human. They will give you insight into the pros and cons of both ways. Work on your “human skills”—active listening, empathy, compassion, honesty and integrity. These skills have more impact than just in the workplace—they can impact across family and community. Be clear about why trust is so critical and which one of the three elements of trust is your trust killer.

Learn more about Being Human (and purchase a copy!) here.