What does it mean to be a human? The biological definition doesn’t come close to the contextual meaning and the layers the word means to us. Over the years I have discussed many qualities of leadership, but human wasn’t one of them. A post by Kerry Azar, Great Leadership is Radically Human, has me thinking that I had missed an important quality. It encompasses much of what constitutes Emotional Intelligence, but goes beyond that to a new level.

Our first thoughts of what a leader is tends to focus on their dynamism and vision. Someone who gets things done. This is true, but it’s only about the “doing.”  We are human “beings.” How we act and behave is more important. In our dealings with others, we need to be human. Being that way is how great leaders behave.

In her post, Ms. Azar writes of being “radically human.” She defines it as, “showing up (in) more transparent, authentic, vulnerable, empathetic, passionate, and compassionate ways.” When you are human, you behave as such wherever you go. Others respond on a deep emotional level to that kind of leadership. Think of the administrators you have had who you admired and loved working for. They were undoubtedly human beings. They cared. They pitched in when needed. They were supportive. You felt safe in going to them with a problem, knowing they would help.

We all know humans make mistakes. Being transparent and vulnerable about these mistakes makes you real. You don’t hide your doubts. You welcome input from others. We are never perfect. Accepting that in yourself and others creates that safe, welcoming environment we strive for in our libraries.

Being passionate shows our values and core beliefs. Anyone who meets me knows I am passionate about school librarians being leaders and intellectual freedom. Letting your passion show lets people know what matters to you as a person. It also gives them the freedom to share who they are. This is how relationships are built. And we are in the relationship business, so being human is good for our work.

Azar also talks about “kintsugi,” a Japanese art form which repairs broken items by putting them back together using precious metals. The restored item doesn’t look like the original but it “maintains the integrity of the original creation while creating something even more beautiful and enduring. Kintsugi is a suitable metaphor for how a great leader deals with our pandemic-challenged world. When we view it as creating something new amidst the broken and perhaps something better, we help ourselves find the direction forward. This allows us to lead the way, helping others do so as well.

Being radically human isn’t easy. Azar suggests we take time to ask, “how am I getting in my way”, not to look for where we’re making mistakes, but rather to look for how to be more transparent, authentic, vulnerable, empathic, passion and compassionate. When we do that, we will find our way forward and be able to grow through what life brings us.

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