Years ago, there was an experiment where people rode a bicycle for a few hours and got comfortable with how it moved. Then, the researchers changed the bike so that when a person turned the handlebars to the right, the wheels went left, and when the person turned the handlebars to the left, the wheels went right. It was nearly impossible to adapt to the change, especially after the people were so used to riding their bikes a certain way.
Stanley Black & Decker CEO Jim Loree shared that story with me and compared it to the future of leadership, where things that we knew worked in the past will be changed and upended. We’re used to doing things a certain way over and over to get success, and now the handlebars are reversed and it takes a new way of thinking to succeed. Instead the repeating the same actions over and over, Jim says the paradigm is now to be open-minded, understand how to seize opportunities, and be bold and agile. And that way of thinking can work for a while until the handlebars change again and we need to take a different approach. Leaders have to constantly find new approaches and new ways to ride the bike.
One of the biggest reasons how we ride the bike is changing is because of new technology. Modern businesses are surrounded by new opportunities with AI and machine learning. Often, leaders fall into the trap of feeling they have to adopt every new technology and automate as much of their business as possible to keep up with the competition. And while automation can greatly improve an organization’s efficiency, it isn’t everything. In fact, a leader’s prime responsibility isn’t to adopt new technology, it’s to keep the organization human.
Jim told me this: “The leader’s job will be to humanize everything. Humans in the end require the human touch to be inspired. They can’t be inspired by interacting with robots and artificial intelligence.”
Humanizing An Organization
I had the chance to interview Jim for my new book, The Future Leader. We spoke about the skills and mindsets leaders will need to succeed in the next decade and beyond. Jim spoke passionately about keeping humans at the center of the business and keeping the company as human as possible, even as we’re surrounded by new technology. A company can become very clinical if the leader allows it to become that way instead of focusing on the human aspects of the company.
But keeping the organization human doesn’t mean avoiding technology or not adapting to changes and trends. In fact, it’s the opposite. Jim believes that future leaders will spend much of their time thinking about how to evolve the organization at a rapid pace. The goal is to manage a culture that continues to provide a human element to everything. To do so, leaders need to continually look to the future to make sure their vision and culture is in line with the company’s goals.
Humanizing an organization often means ceding control for leaders, which can be a huge challenge. Ceding control isn’t natural for most leaders, who have built their careers on controlling things. But to be successful, especially as organizations become less hierarchal, leaders need to build trust into their organizations and empower teams to do what needs to be done. The world will become less black and white with more opportunities of how to solve problems and find success. Jim says that because there won’t be a straight line from point A to point B, there will be more failures. Teams may have to fail to succeed and may fail several times before they succeed. Instead of jumping in right away, leaders must trust the humans and trust that their teams will figure out how to get to a successful end result. That’s part of being human—experimenting, collaborating, and continually refining until we find success.
Building that trust comes from inspiring employees, building rewards systems, and giving them a purpose. Humanizing an organization and building trust will be challenging, but it will create a sustainable human company.
“The future will be more human interaction, more making sure that people’s human needs are met. We all do some of that today, but that will become more important in my view,” Jim said.
Stanley Black & Decker has been around since 1843 and has undergone multiple evolutions and continual adaptation to stay relevant and provide the best tools and experiences to customers. Technology plays a large role in organizing and leading the company. Jim compares it to running on a treadmill. As the treadmill speeds up, you also have to speed up with it or you’ll get thrown off the machine. However, Jim notes that at some point there’s a limit to a person’s ability to run, based on their age and fitness. That means that at some point, every leader will get thrown off the treadmill, which is moving faster and faster with no signs of stopping. To keep up, Jim says that leadership doesn’t just need an evolution—it needs a revolution.
In a revolution, leaders must learn how to use technology and humans together. The future isn’t about technology versus humans; it’s about technology working with humans against a problem. As leaders make their organizations human, they must still have an eye on changing technology to find the best solutions to their organization’s pain points.
What can you do to humanize your organization?
- Create diverse teams and give them space to experiment and find their own solutions.
- Build and strengthen human relationships full of trust.
- Pay attention to new technology and how it can help your organization by augmenting the work humans already do.
- Be agile and willing to more with new trends, ideas, and technology. Try your best to keep up with the treadmill.
Humans are central to leadership, both now and in the future. Jim says that leadership is the art of guiding and directing people in organizations to a positive visionary outcome. As technology grows and naturally dehumanizes organizations, leaders will have to work even harder to inspire their teams and humanize their companies. It’s all about constantly re-learning how to ride the bike. Of all the many responsibilities of a leader, the most important is to humanize everything.
From my interview, here’s another quote I loved from Jim: “In this type of environment, the only chance an organization has is to be completely open to change and what that means is inclusiveness and collaboration, and having every available individual to have a voice, and to tap the vast horizontal talent that organizations have in a much more efficient way than we have historically.”
140 of the world’s top CEOs identified a specific set of 9 skills & mindsets that are crucial for leaders to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF below.
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