Human Centered Leadership

September 2, 2021


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On this conversation we welcome Sesil Pir, the author of the book Human-Centered Leadership. The author serves as Head of Employee Experience at Takeda Pharmaceuticals and CEO of SESIL PIR Consulting GmbH, a boutique management consultancy, focusing on changing the status quo of work. Mrs. Pir is an active contributor of Forbes, has been published in the Harvard Business Review, HR Zone and UK’s HR Magazine. She has contributed to many management books over the years.


Living Room Conversations: Human Centered Leadership

Timm = Timm Urschinger (Host)

Sesil = Sesil Pir (Guest)

TIMM: Hello and welcome to our Living Room Conversation brought to you by the LIVEForward Institute. I’d say something about that in a second. Well, welcome to my little living room home office here too. I’m really excited to have you all joining, and before we start, there’s a little chat window there as well that you can use it’s free to bring in your questions. Before we go into the topic though, the LIVEForward Institute, we do believe in conversations, we believe in conversations fueling ideas, giving us all a different inspiration and new dimensions, and actually just a place of resonance and connection. And it is what we are trying to achieve with deliverable conversations, generally and also today and obviously there is that a part of the institute which is more focused on training and the know-how and creating connection via these content related topics. So for today, I have the pleasure and I’m really excited actually to have Sesil Pir here with me today or my living room so far I can sense. So we should see Sesil as well. Hello, Sesil! 

SESIL: Hello!

TIMM: Pleasure to meet you, thanks for coming and thanks for taking the time. So for everyone who’s not have interactions with Sesil, obviously first of all, that’s a big miss you should change that, and connect with her. Second of all, Sesil is more than a decade, long years of experience in private sector and big tech and big pharma companies, And then 2015, went off created her own consultancy, there’s Whirling Chief which is an interesting platform that we might talk about later as well. Lately, or actually the newest thing is this one here and big recommendation, I’ve started to read, I’ve not finished it yet. Your book, Human Centered Leadership – Awakening the Choice Within. So by says this book, that’s also a good choice and obviously we’ll talk about some topics that we see in the book. Human Centered Leadership, the topic for today. Sesil, thanks again for being here, real pleasure and looking forward to our conversation about Human Centered Leadership.

SESIL: Thank you for having me, Timm. I’m looking forward as well. You and I have been partnering on a number of platforms so we’re getting to know each other, each other’s ideas, so it should be a fun exchange, yeah.

TIMM: It should be, indeed. So, maybe just kicking it off because leadership, management leadership, human centered leadership that’s lots of buzzwords that have been used in all sorts of different ways and all sorts of different definitions. So maybe kicking it off with what’s your definition of human centered leadership? What’s the qualities of it?

SESIL: Oh, that’s a big one. 

TIMM: Yeah. 

SESIL: Let’s start with leadership. I think I see leadership slightly different than management, we can get into that, but for me the etymology of leadership is really about inspiring people, and that inspiration brings almost like a breath or air into the systems or organizations that we are part of. It’s really about filling someone or people, you know, collective groups with the urge with the ability to feel something, to want to become part of something. This is sort of how I think about leadership. And again, which is slightly different than management for me, and human centered leadership is really about coming into terms with who we are as human beings. We each have their unique qualities that we’re born with, we have unique strengths that we offer to the world as a value. And it’s really about honoring all of that together and creating the space for people to show up fully, for one another to relate to each other from that authentic place. There are a lot of words there I said, I think are really loaded, you know like humanity, coming into terms with who you are, authenticity, I think is another loaded one. So we can expand those a little bit but this is how I think about human centered leadership.

TIMM: Great! Let’s go into these deeper topics in a minute. Maybe the the other question, why do you think is it important that we have this conversation right now and by, or is it maybe getting more and more important now, nowadays even with all the change that we’re seeing around us.

SESIL: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. So I think leadership has always been important, but the definition of leadership for me is evolving, and it’s very contextual, as we all know. The environments that we live in, that we work in, are much much different than what it used to be. Even I think about when I started, you know, 25, 26 years ago, I had a very different experience with people that I considered were my leaders, and I certainly didn’t consider myself as a leader. I think what we’re discovering today is that it’s a more even play field for people. So leadership is not something that sort of dedicated to few at the top, it doesn’t come with tenure, or a particular title or a compensation package. It’s really distributed evenly across the systems that we become part of. 

And for me, everybody’s a leader. So it doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of college and you’re in the workplace for the first time or you’re a first time father or mother, doesn’t matter if you’re part of the school club that we each have a play in the realities that we create, and the realities that we share together collectively. So it’s a slightly different way of looking at leadership today than I think it has ever been traditionally. And of course that requires, you know, breaking down a number of stigmas, paradigms, you know, shifting a lot of our mindset so quite a bit of evolution for me but it’s all good, for me it’s all good and it’s again, going towards more humanity if you will, so I quite like the direction.

TIMM: Definitely. And if you say leadership is something that we all have and everyone’s a leader, is that already your distinction to management, where it’s obviously driven by a certain hierarchies and also certain job titles, I guess?

SESIL: Yeah I think so. So management, again by definition, it’s really a process of dealing with a number of tasks or a number of people I guess you would say also, if you put it in the work context. But their are these core skills of like planning, organizing, delegating, you know, controlling is a big one and I don’t see leadership as such. I think you can manage work, you can take a piece of project or a task and divide it into terms, into pieces. You can try to sort of time box it and say this is how I’m going to get it done or when I’m going to get it done. When it comes to leadership, it’s slightly different for me. It has a lot to do with response, and how we are sort of relating to one another. I hear a lot in organizations, people saying like, how are you being, how are you showing up, and then how are you doing the work, but there’s this really big piece missing around relationships, and for me that’s where leadership truly comes in. And again, if we compare it in the old sort of ways of thinking. There used to be more reliance on authoritative power, you know, I’m here and therefore you should trust what I have to say, or I’m here therefore, I get to tell you what to do. 

Now, I think, as we sort of shared this concept of leaders, there is more power to our qualities, actually, and how we can give and take. There’s more power to the guidance that we provide for one another, so how do we show up, walk two blocks the journey together.  So, yeah it’s morphing a lot, but I don’t like the concept of managing people, I actually quite disliked the language of manager. So for me, if I could do away with someone that vocabulary, I think it would really help us formulate again different realities in different systems that are going to offer a much probably much more inclusive experience to all of us.

TIMM: I just remembered from one of your articles, it’s been years and years ago actually where you said, obviously management and leadership are different and there’s a need for more leadership and probably less management to an extent, and then I think you just said that again. Yet they’re both part of a system of how we run especially private sector industry but also across the board I think there’s just systems that are having both management and leadership. So would you say we should actually do away from management completely kind of only have leadership or is there a place to coexist in a sense?

SESIL: Yeah, that’s a good question too, definitely coexistence is the key. I see management as sort of, you know, top down module and I see leadership as more of a breath and you probably need both to be successful. What’s important for us to understand is we really can’t manage one another. I mean I know you’re a father you have two kids, so you know, I don’t know if you can, but a lot of my friends I met a parent, but a lot of my friends tell me you can’t really manage your children’s rights, you can influence them, you can guide them, you can share some of your experiences with them or getting together with them. But what happens in practicality Timm when people are in sort of these authoritative seats, they’re often there because they have been good individual contributors, and along the years what they discover for themselves is, they can sort of again, plan coordinates, you know, delegate tasks or control it in a particular way. So if they have a mechanism in which they believe they can go from A to B in a particular way, when they become a manager, what they expect is when they delegate that same task, other people follow the same path, and they go exactly from A to B. 

Well the reality is some people may want to go to A to C and then to B, or their way may be different. And because we have these sort of paradigms in our heads like this is the way to do it, then we sort of start micro-managing people and saying, are you doing this, are you not doing that, and if you’re not doing that why aren’t you doing that. So it sort of takes away from the trust, and also takes away from the autonomy and the creativity of people. I’m not going to say, I have mastered that, either. I think we’re also the discovering how to be a better leader, but fundamentally, I find them different definitions and different skills.

TIMM: I can fully relate this especially to the part, try to manage your kids and you will probably be screwed totally. I mean at least for the two outside I can tell you.

SESIL: I can’t even manage my kids, I’m a cat man so I don’t know. 

TIMM: So yeah, I wouldn’t definitely try that. But, I mean there is that part of leadership also kind of coaching, the mentoring aspect, I guess the servant leadership is another buzzword that we’re having and that’s something that does work, I guess in the workplace, but also at home with the kids where it’s about, well, what are the boundaries, what’s the choices you really have, and what’s probably also places where it’s no go areas because that is something where I always find interesting. Where structure and boundaries actually create that autonomy in the first place. 

SESIL: Absolutely.

TIMM: Boundary less being is not autonomy right, that’s usually chaos or just.

SESIL: Absolutely and this is really important because, again, I mentioned when I started things were quite different. When I started, one of the very first things that one of the first managers of mine told me as, you know, people behavior is very predictable so if you observe it well enough, you will know exactly what’s going to happen. Well, that was partially true because there just wasn’t a lot of change in the environment. So individuals, teams, organizations could rely on processes, practices, and they were quite repeatable time over time. And nowadays, what I tell my team members is you know when you’re meeting your leaders or trying to observe certain behaviors, do not make any assumptions, because as much as we have commonalities between one human being to another, there’s a lot of context that goes into what’s happening. 

And there are a lot of different reasons in which why people are demonstrating a certain behavior here and not there or demonstrating a certain mindset here and not there. So as you said, there’s a lot more dynamism to our reality, and again it takes away all these assumptions and the cultural behaviors, because you’re going to get yourself into trouble if you do that so better that you connect to the reality and try to understand what reality that person is in, try to share their reality and potentially create a future together.

TIMM: So first of all, I totally agree with you, of course. I mean seeing that complexity around us, what we call life and so on, it’s hard to grasp really. Then on the other hand side and I know from my own shortcomings, there is always biases, there’s always the filters and a perspective that applies to life and I guess we all do to a certain extent. So what’s your kind of practical tips for leaders and managers, the like out there, to say, well how do you get a step closer to that human centered leadership really.

SESIL: Yeah, it’s a good question, it’s a loaded question, I think what’s really important, and us building quality relationships is to hold back judgments, this is really important. I think a lot of the times we think we can do the job better, think better, problem solve better, create better, right, because we all think highly of ourselves and that’s wonderful. But it’s really different when you’re walking in someone else’s shoes, and my experience over the course of 26 years is you can’t lead change, if you’re judging people, you can’t meet them where they are, if you come in with that filter. It’s not to say we don’t have biases, we don’t have beliefs, of course we do, but I think you can approach the relationship in a different way to say, here’s what I have learned, here’s where I stand, here’s my experience, where are you coming from, and then truly be curious about that person’s reality and try to listen with intent, because then you create the safe space for you to both exist, and potentially build a bridge. Otherwise, it’s really more about you telling what’s true, what’s right, what’s the path, and the other person listening, they have an option to take it in or not. So it’s a slightly different thing, again for me, Timm. But then when it comes to sort of coming into terms with our own leadership, there are different schools of thoughts out there, a lot of people talk about self-awareness. I believe awareness is great, I believe in awareness comes after acceptance.

I think it’s really important and this is why we wrote the book Human Centered Leadership. We recognize none of us are whole or wise or at our best at all times, otherwise we would all be Buddhas. We all have qualities that work for and against us. We sort of name them as sort of shadow sides if you will. It’s really important that we first accept ourselves as who we are. If I can’t accept my shadow sides and work with them, there’s no way that I can show up fully, because a lot of the times what happens is we self judge, and we do it unconsciously. When we self judge, we deny ourselves from the core, and then we start projecting from that place we think others are judging us and because of that our relationship suffers.

So it’s really important that we first accept ourselves with who we are, you know, with pros and cons if you will, I don’t want to use good and bad in terms. And then from there, once you have acceptance, sure, being a little bit more mindful around the behaviors and what may be triggering what, that gives you the awareness that creates the space for you to potentially try some new things and put you know, new behaviors or new thought processes into place, but I’m a firm believer that again acceptance comes prior to awareness and this would be my tip or you know, idea to start with.

TIMM: Interesting one. And I mean also I had reflections around in our LIVESciences, we have these self-set salaries kind of idea and you know this process around it, and that’s probably one of the things, especially if you want to work in a self-managed company but probably in any place really like you said, how do you define self worth and obviously that question is related to the self-acceptance piece. Now, starting there is a good tip I think I would totally sign that off. But then again that’s also a huge topic right, I mean that’s things that some of us struggle for our whole lives with to be honest. I mean, other than reading your book which I guess is always a good idea, of course, but what’s the practical kind of a day-to-day practice that you can maybe share as well in that space.

SESIL: Yeah, for me, I can just share from my experience. What I look, what I have committed to first of all, probably 10 or 11 years ago, is that I was going to surround myself with people who can be a true mirror to me. We’re going to bring their pure intent to show up at their best to their own capacities, and also reflect back on me, the kind of patterns that I demonstrate. And so I get a lot of feedback if you will, from the systems that I’m part of. And because of that my network is significantly smaller than some of the other people, especially in the private area, because people who are there for me, I can really rely on them for good and bad. And that keeps me honest because it’s very hard for someone to say yeah I’m doing this or I’m not doing this, or this is my typical thinking pattern or not. But if you surround yourself with people who are going to sort of play that role for you, you start to see a pattern and maybe you do see a pattern, you have a choice, whether you’re going to accept where you are and make an intent to grow, or you’re going to try to protect what you have and disconnect from the learning opportunity. So I think there’s a bit of a commitment there and that’s why we subtitled the book “Awakening the Choice”, I think we always have a choice at any given time, I believe we carry too intense, either it’s intent to learn and grow, or it’s intent to protect and save, one is potentially fear driven, the other one is potentially growth servant so it really depends on where you want to play. And there’s no right or wrong, but if we say we want to, you know, show up at our best to be authentic, we want to come to work as whole individuals then a lot of the times perhaps we need to choose the intent to learn. So again, that’s my practical tip for what it’s worth, I’m sure there are many others that people have and probably better than mine.

TIMM: I don’t know about the better path, but I do think it’s a great tip. I mean it’s not necessarily the most comfortable part because getting hold up the mirror obviously is not always just fun, right? And that’s part of my experience too in our setup here for example, with all the tensions and all this stuff but at the end of the day, it’s your choice. And I think it’s also fair point to say well for certain things, you know, either just accept the pattern and I will stop working on that and either it works for me in that relationship in that system, or it doesn’t right, that’s also a fair choice. 

Maybe, I mean your definition of human centered leadership, I think is also holding a lot of expectations towards the leaders in organizations that that we’re seeing today and you get 25 years of experience in the private sector in all sorts of different companies and industries. So what will be your outside perspective, your observations about leaders in bigger organizations, to what extent are we there yet and I am guessing or i’m fearing that I already know the answer but what’s yo ur observations there?

SESIL: We are not even close. I love the direction that a lot of organizations are headed. I think I see this concept of humanity, human centered leadership, heart driven leadership, etc. More and more, I think five years ago when I was talking about how HR really taking, should take back the heart of the business, people thought I was crazy. So there’s definitely more progress, there are a lot of good intent. The inspiration is there, the ways of working, totally gets in the way. Actually, I would even start with the ways of being. I think the way we have evolved our lives, I’ll come to the workplace next but is really working against us first of all, there’s a lot of pride and being everywhere. Having a very large network, doing a lot of different things, and I’m not sure how much of that is truly necessary for us to be our best. If you take that to the workplace, there’s a lot of pride around being busy, you know, you could argue whether that’s good or not but I know being busy doesn’t equate to being productive, certainly doesn’t equate to thriving. So I think there are some questions that we need to ask ourselves and similarly, there’s always been a delineation between life and work, and especially in the last two years with COVID-19 that has been pushed on to us we are integrated, more than ever. Are we prepared to handle that? No. 

You know, the number of eye problems, for example, quadrupled in the last two years. There are no psychologist available in the US, I’m exaggerating, but it’s one profession that’s being sought after the most. We have all kinds of other physical responses people have, again, this is World Health Organization, it was reporting and constantly reading. People have a lot more neck pains, they have a lot more gut problems they have intestinal problems. The truth is the ways we have set up our lives and work place experiences is really not supporting us. And so it’s really, in a way it’s really childish for us to talk about productivity and human centricity. As long as we continue to task orientation as long as we expect, exponential growth from organizations year over year, it’s just naive, it doesn’t add up. So I really want us to fundamentally question, what are the ways of living, that’s going to support us better as individuals first but then also, collectively, and I think our systems aren’t carrying us either, Timm. I was traveling about 60% right before COVID hit so I was really home only like one week of the month. And there were times going through airports, my soul would just leave my body and I would look into picture and it’s freaking theater. Like, there’s so much going on, and nothing makes sense, you know, babies crying, single parents trying to get through security, nobody’s helping them. There’s all kinds of bureaucracy in place, it’s a frickin chaos. And you would question whether the new current structure is actually serving us, or we are more of a slave to the structure because I think it’s more the latter. So the same is true for our  systems is when I’m trying to say that what we have created for ourselves is really not serving the core of our humanity, it’s actually working against us. 

Anyway, I’m going on and on but it is a lot, I think we need to sort of take a step back and reflect on, okay what is what has been and what do we want it to be going forward and start making choices, this is the other thing, I often talk about especially when I go to schools with the business leaders, you can’t expect to buy things cheaper, faster, with higher quality, and try to save the nature and be a fair share for people who work out in the field,  it doesn’t add up. Every time a company is trying to cut costs, it’s coming out of someone’s paycheck. And you know I’ve traveled extensively like going to Cambodia for example with a particular organization couple years ago, in the corporate headquarters in Atlanta, people have a certain lifestyle, then you go into Cambodia where they are in the fields, in the rice fields. They have a whole different reality, and those people have cell phones nowadays that are connected to internet so again, they get to see the disparity.

So you can’t just say, I want this cheaper and at the same time I want these people to have a better salary, it doesn’t go like that. So what’s the choice we’re making right. So, It’s easy to say the system doesn’t work, the leadership doesn’t work and this is where I really truly see the beauty of shared leadership because if you self-differentiate and self-isolate yourself, it becomes very easy to point pictures but if you understand the interconnectedness and if you accept humanity as part of the broader nature and the broader world agenda, it becomes a whole different responsibility and that’s the hard part. Again, I’m not saying I’m always there either right, I’m part of the system, I make choices good or bad too, but the invitation is for us to actually take a look at our existing realities with a different set of eyes and really question whether we are making the choices that we wish were made for us perhaps back when or that we can make now for the new generations, that’s the invitation.

TIMM: Really some good questions there to ask ourselves, I think. Are you also mentioned systems, and one of my colleagues in the Netherlands and we were always having conversations about well if you are kind of awakening to that humanity to that human centered leadership, are you getting so frustrated being part of a bigger system of a bigger corporation that you’re actually leaving, and is that in the wrong place because that means you’re kind of by yourself and you’re losing that that lever that impact that you can have to the broader organization, or the other way around? Is it even possible to change these bigger organizations to big corporations because leaders at the top are there for reason I think you mentioned before, oftentimes, individual contributors and the best individual contributors move up the ladder so there’s also a certain, almost like a self fulfilling prophecy, you only become that leader if you are in a certain way right, so what’s your view on that? Can you actually transform the system or do you need to leave the system and then kind of make an impact from the outside?

SESIL: Yeah, it’s a hard question. I don’t know that I have an exact answer, but my current perspective would be you need change inside out and outside in at the same time. So, I think, again with the shared responsibility we have a role to play as individuals, but at the same time, there needs to be more systemic change. And for this, I really am encouraging a lot of the businesses that I get to consult with or play an advisory role to sit with their peers, to find like minded organizations  and create the necessary platforms to have a voice, so it makes a huge difference if Sesil says we need to put people over profits, versus when Satya says we need to put people over profit, right?

TIMM: Fair enough.

SESIL: They have amazing reach and that’s the hidden power for me here. If just a couple of top technology firms for example came together to say, we’re going to fight the climate change, it is our committed action, it does so much more for the broader reality than if you will first, you know, coming together in your living room to say we’re gonna fight the climate change, but at the same time, even if we had the systemic view and individuals were playing our part, it wouldn’t go. So it’s sort of both, I guess in my head I don’t know how you think about it.

TIMM: Yeah, I know it makes perfect sense and I just noted down that I should ask such if you might want to come over for the next Living Room Conversation so we have one of these guys but no I’m totally with you. I think there is that part of, there’s a choice that we all have and I think it does make a difference if we take different choices, so we should not do that. And then there’s the the part I do think that especially big corporations from the tech sector but also across the Fortune 500, if some of these change the way of thinking, if some of these change the way how they look at things systemically, then it will likely have an impact on all of us as a society as well. And I think it goes a bit back to the chat, we have a question from May there. 

SESIL: I saw that. 

TIMM: May was asking, well first of all, what’s the way that you are trying to bring that to life in your current organization with human centered leadership but also their part, how can we bring awareness to lead us generally?

SESIL: I like both of those questions. Thank you, May. So at the moment, I am in a position with Takeda Pharmaceuticals. Takeda Pharmaceuticals is one of the top 10 pharmaceuticals in the world. We are slightly differentiated because we specialize in rare and orphan disease products. So it’s not the generics that you are used to, and therefore you don’t hear about it as much as let’s say Roche or Novartis but I’m actually very proud of this company and I joined the company, slightly less than a year ago. I had a number of opportunities to go back to when I decided to go back to industry. The reason why I joined to Takeda is because our leadership truly believes in putting people first. So part of our agenda, part of our corporate philosophy is bringing the best medicine, of course to the patients, but at the same time putting our planets and  our people first. So, in whatever engagement we have, whether it’s with the patient, with the providers, with the internal people or external stakeholders. We really try to live by our values, and you see that inside our corporation. I think they’re the biggest supporters of the Human Centered Leadership movement if you will so I’m quite proud.

Now how can we bring this awareness to the leaders, I think it’s really important, especially if you are in decision making seats for you to put out there some of the trends and talk about the impact that you’re having as an organization. Without  having a dialogue, it’s really hard for leaders to visualize how they get to play a role in this. But if you start talking about it, it makes a whole difference, it will pick up the difference. So for example, I’ll go to another company that I was part of previously, Microsoft. At Microsoft we always talked about how can we bring better technology enablement, to some of the growing emerging markets. And I think it’s, it’s a company that I still to this day I’m very proud of, because it has never given away from the mission of, you know, bring some sort of resource or tool to people that’s going to enable and sort of unleash their potential. And until you understand how you can do that, you really can’t become part of this leadership movement, but again there’s a choice there. 

So for example for Microsoft, at some point, we were donating thousands and thousands of second hand laptops, we were donating cellphones to you know India, to again countries that were developing that didn’t have access. Then we started writing programs quoting programs for some of the schools in rural Turkey, in Africa for example we took a lot of programs there. There’s a lot of heart centered work there, May. And granted, a lot of these people have big good salaries, but more importantly, they had very good skills to share, they have knowledge, they have skills to share. And so the more we talked about it, the more we said is okay what are some of the things that we can do with all these resources we have, because that’s the resource, right? Whether it’s financial, whether it’s your skill set, whether it’s your knowledge, but those are all resources that a lot of other people don’t have access to. So how can we share this and how can we become sort of a thought leader, or maybe a woman leader? And they did it, they were very successful. Here I am, after 10 years I’m still talking about and I wish the same for Takeda, I would truly wish, as we shift our portfolio, and our engagement model, our go to market model, I think we will become almost an academy of the next set of leaders, that’s my hope and commitment to the organization. So I really encourage you to open the box up, invite people for dialogue, explorer in ways that in which you can share what you have is a gift, individually, but collectively inside the organization with the rest of the world because this is the only way we can really expand the message.

TIMM: An academy for future leaders is a pretty big vision as well I would say, right? 

SESIL: I agree. I’m a women of stretch goals. 

TIMM: Yeah, totally, totally! And  I really do hope that you make it to that vision, of course. And I think you also mentioned today and I think phrased it slightly differently in one of your recent articles which was, we need to claim the human or the humanity back in human resources, so what’s the role of human resources you’ve seen, I mean first of all creating that academy for human-centered leaders of course, but also in that whole picture?

SESIL: Yeah, I love that question. So, this is a fundamental belief that I have, I’m sure their HR colleagues who will disagree. I have always seen HR, as center point, as a grounding point. And I often draw this triangle again when I’m in educational discussions with my peers to say you have at one point the employee, the other point the team, and the other point the organization of the triangle. You need to sit right in the middle, you can’t have interest that’s sort of drawn only towards the employee, only towards the team or only towards the organization, you act as a grounding centering point, and I think this is really important. There are a lot of skills that I think we’re developing within human resources. I strongly encourage my colleagues to understand more organizational psychology, and the dynamics that happen between the individual and the collective, I strongly encourage them to learn about design thinking and what it means to co-create solutions and realities for our people. I strongly encourage them to educate themselves around data, and have to pull on insights to understand the trends and what’s meaningful and pragmatic for their employees. 

So there are a lot of skills that we’re growing, Timm and this does require again us to think about our role differently. I think when I started, it used to be that we were really there for the managements, that’s how it was referred to, right? We were there for sort of making sure the management practices were, you know, being put in place or executed upon as effectively as possible. And then there became this more focused around like, okay teaming is a little bit important too, so maybe we should pay attention to how teams are billed and get the team effectiveness. And I worry that nowadays, this idea of human centered leadership gets associated with the individuality, because what it’s actually referring to be as individuals can’t live alone anyway, I mean human beings can’t survive on their own, we are collective human beings, so we inquire an ecosystem to thrive. But that means for HR to understand the ecosystem view, and understand how the individual and teams can drive within that system. You can have one or the other, you just can’t be successful. So my goal is really for my colleagues to sort of broaden their understanding and their perspective and really look at some of the practices with that lens, they may actually find out that a lot of the things that they do, may not be as relevant or as effective as they think if they take that sort of systemic view into their work.

TIMM: Makes a lot of sense and I think if I look at HR from what I’ve seen the past 10, 15 years that I would say as there’s indeed still a tendency towards one part of the training and it is not necessarily a balancing, grounding one so that’s probably good advice there. Wait one other question, because you mentioned that there needs to be a certain focus like people over profit and also for protecting over leads, it’s also patience and planet but also the people part so people over profit. Now, most of the companies that we’re working obviously are for profit companies, many of them are listed at the stock exchanges of the world, many are driven by shareholder, interest by investor interest so how would you kind of bring that together?

SESIL: Yeah, so this is a great question because there’s a lot of research on this topic, you know, not our research but the truth is, this is the best way to simplify, I think, when individuals thrive, organizations thrive as a result. It’s kind of paradoxical, but that’s what happens. So, when individuals are able to sort of bring their whole selves to work, and find good purpose, good autonomy, good mastery in the work, in the way they work, their whole well-being gets elevated. They also start processing information much differently. And as a result, they start growing orientation towards collective action. And with that comes more collaboration, more innovation, etc. that often drives profits. 

Now, it’s a misnomer to me why organizations haven’t embraced any of this scientific evidence. I think those who do, like Google’s of the world, Google is a perfect example, they mastered IO Psychology like they read everything and they put it in practice, you see the results. So, really, I really want to have like a roomful of CEOs to shake them up and say, what’s wrong with you, why aren’t you even using the evidence, it’s there like this is for everyone, but that’s the truth. And people can, I mean they can just Google it, they can just Google things like does individuals thriving, you know, thrive productivity or effectiveness or efficiency, you’ll get a whole lot of scientific articles. It’s been proven time and time again, I think, and I don’t know how to say this politically correctly so let me think about it for a second, I might get myself into trouble. I think it’s because majority of our leaders still have a different understanding of leadership and because of that and because they don’t have the guardrails in place, they have become really attached to power, so they have actually lost their interest of the purpose of the people, it may be more about the profit for them.

It’s not to again pass a judgement or make a claim, but I do question, how much they’re connected to themselves and to their environments, and how many of them are making conscious choices around how they are leading their organizations, I do wonder.

TIMM: Yeah. Fair question, obviously I don’t have an answer to that. But the science piece I think we looked into whatever was two weeks ago I think with a professor from University in St. Gallen who basically said the same about performance management, and basically how messed up it is and there’s science for 30 years telling you, performance management is the worst idea if you really want to have a thriving organization. So, we seem to be ignoring these signs, scientific proof, actually, for many of these things, leadership, performance management in many of the practices that we’re having, which is also interesting because as an executive if I’m focused on profit, which might be the case that actually if I want more profit, I should focus on people, right, it might be counterintuitive in the first place for some people but actually, that will be the right way to go.

SESIL: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, yeah. I mean for executives, I highly recommend it couldn’t hurt. If you have the right intent, take a half a day, research subject matter experts, get yourself in a room, have them brainwash you like ask what makes or breaks performance? What makes an individual thrive? What does a purpose do for people? You know, why is it so important for sense making? You know, innovation is something that we keep talking about what we want to sort of inject it from outside in. What’s this concept of wonder, like, what does curiosity do for people? Does it really make them more innovative? Just play around, kick the ball for half an hour, if nothing else, you will still stay you ground, you won’t change any of your ideas, fine, but maybe you discover something in there that you think is going to be helpful for you, that you can challenge your assumptions and build your practices differently. I would highly encourage executives, chief HR officers to do the same.

TIMM: Definitely. Let’s switch context a little bit from big corporations into education, into schools I’m actually pretty passionate about it also, I mean one for the reason that the little ones hopefully get some better schooling than what I had before, but also I’m looking to kind of agility and the self organizing schools and all that I find it incredibly interesting in the chat. We have a question from Mariana, who is a teacher and kind of trying to encourage students apparently to find a way to achieve the objectives in their own way. But then again, obviously, they will go into the wrong direction passion as well. So what’s your tips, what’s your tricks, what’s your practical insights to more human centered way of schooling in the sense that that one good example sentences that I can use if I fall into the trap of my old patterns?

SESIL: Mariana, you are doing my hard profession. I think teachers are the angels of this world, I honestly think so, very similar to motherhood for me they’re sacred professions, so thank you for what you do. I don’t know that I understand your context fully but what I think often helps, especially with adult individuals but probably also with teenagers, is to ask questions, help them come to solutions. So, I have noticed you doing X, is there a reason why you’re doing it, or, you know, how are you thinking about this? What I find is by recognizing people’s efforts, and asking appreciative and inquiries, you know, appreciative questions. They’re able to give you more insight as to how they think, or why they do something or don’t do something that could potentially give you a bridge, then you can start working with them. I tried to do the same in the workplace when I noticed some of the leaders, either doing or don’t doing something, I often start with, you know, we were in the same room the other day I observed you do X, what were you thinking, etc. And then from there I tried to go deeper and deeper and deeper that would be my maybe one practical tip. Maybe you have another one, Timm?

TIMM: No, I think that makes perfect sense. I mean the thing with schools at least how I observe it here, Germany, Switzerland, that’s the context that I know best at least but I’m guessing it’s the same across the globe, really, is that as it’s a systemic problem. So, is a teacher there to tell me what kind of wisdom and know how is out there in the world? Can kind of just teach me what’s in the books and that might have been true? I don’t know, 50 years ago, 100 years ago, right, because you could grasp all of that. It’s completely impossible that I know everything that is available kind of know how was in the world, so for me the role of a teacher is changing and I’m not so sure if the educational systems are catching up with that so there’s also that part. 

Similar to leaders in big companies I think teachers should be human centered leaders in the sense of well actually asking the questions that you that you just said, there’s a lot about self-acceptance, self-awareness, self-efficacy, as well I think, which is which is what should be taught in schools really and then should be developed and it’s not so much about knowing what has happened 1867, right? I mean that’s good I can look that up and it might be good context but that’s not what I think schools are there for at least not nowadays, or you should be there for, maybe. But yeah, that is something that requires a systemic changes as well, I guess. There’s another question though, from Tin in the chat which is, and I think Mariana’s happy with with your answers as well. 

SESIL: Yeah, I saw that.

TIMM: Okay, so that’s good. So, anyway back to the question by Tin so, in some countries, unfortunately, there may be companies also strict management that’s actually welcomed by employees and we’ve discussed, cultural differences and cultural perceptions I think in some of our Living Room Conversations as well which is how do you convince them in a different cultural context, or would you maybe even say that human centered leadership is culture context specific and only works in certain cultural contexts. So what’s your opinion then?

SESIL: It’s a good question, yeah. I don’t again, I don’t know that I have a perfect answer for this one either. What I know to be true, I completely agree with you, I think there are some countries, geographies, companies in which a lot of the people share behaviors, and there may not look as authentic or human centered leadership like, I agree to that. What I observe in those sorts of environments, is that a lot of the behaviors are learned, as they are in anywhere else. And it’s not because people take pleasure out of for example being aggressive, it’s because they’re trying to cope in the system that they’re behaving that way. So, it’s just that they haven’t experienced another reality within their environment and they don’t feel safe, trying something else out. What I may recommend, again, this is what comes to mind at the moment is actually taking them out of context, and trying to show them, maybe different realities, it could be another company, could be another country, it could be another community where people are just as productive, just as effective, just as efficient perhaps, but demonstrating different behaviors, because that may awaken some of their senses to think about adult behavior. And there are a lot of misnomers here too so I hope I don’t lecture you but let me try to simplify as much as I can. 

People think, by learning something by reading a particular information or sitting in a trading room will result in leadership, or adult behavior change and it doesn’t, because how an adult behavior comes about is significantly different than how a child, for example behavior comes about. For all of us behavior development starts with sensors, if we don’t sense that we are safe in an environment. We already, go to a certain pattern, and then from there, their typical emotions that they default to if you are disconnected from your emotions, you’re also going to influence your behavior pattern formation, they’re taught processes, mindsets, etc., it’s a spectrum but it starts with the senses. This is also why sometimes, especially for like criminals, they will take them totally out of context and isolate them and try to actually understand what’s causing certain behaviors and then put them back into a collective community, slowly introduce them back so that they can regain certain understandings, emotions etc. and evolve the behavior pattern. 

So, what comes to my mind is if you feel like you have a team for example, and they’re demonstrating behaviors, you don’t feel comfortable or you don’t feel human centered, maybe try to take them out of context, maybe connect with another team or a community where there may be different realities and exchange, a little bit, you know create environments in which you can problem solve together, maybe you can think together and see if any of those different behaviors rubbing onto your team. This is sort of what’s coming to my mind at the moment. Timm again maybe you have something else to offer there too?

TIMM: I think context is indeed the keyword, putting them into a different context just experiencing what might sound crazy or completely impossible in the first place, putting a different context and I think one of the reasons for having the Living Room Conversations also the LIVEForward Institute is connections. Because I think it is also something like if I’m part of the system, can I be the missionary changing that, can I be  kind of the you know the wise guy coming and telling them the truth, whatever, the truth is anyway. So I think these connections are incredibly powerful and just connecting with like minded people connecting maybe with teams or organizations where you have seen some of the changes already, and just bring them in into your context to shake things up a little bit I think it’s an incredibly good idea. And as I said, connections fuel ideas and I think maybe that sort of thought, there’s not one cultural context on earth that I have experienced at least where I would say it’s not possible to look into human centered leadership. I think humanity is one of the aspects that we all look and lack of I think is well, globally, so it’s not like anybody in the world would say, humanity we don’t need I think I mean, I’ve not heard that at least.

SESIL: No and a lot of the times leaders too, you know, in my experience, I see this often, but I say because it’s true. I have never come across a leader who has said, I don’t care about my people, or I don’t want to lead effectively, never. Nevertheless we have certain behaviors in the workplace so there’s a disconnect between the intent and the outcome. And again, since the human psychology right like we judge ourselves with the intent and others by their action. So it’s a lot easier to point to things that are not working out from others, right? So I agree with you Timm, I think to internalize some of the experiences and ask ourselves, you know, how are we really playing a role here is quite important.

TIMM: Definitely. And I think it’s also good to acknowledge there’s a difference of intent, and what we’re actually doing and it’s maybe just a little tool or method that is missing, maybe the last little tweak I think, a week or two we talked about microhabits for leaders as well as what’s this little, little thing that you can change tomorrow that might have a huge impact, actually. And I think the last thing that I would say it’s also about courage, because if you’re part of a system that just kind of acts or behaves in a different way then there’s probably a certain courage that you need as well to shape them.

SESIL: Courage is one of the core human attributes we talk about, there are eight of them in the book. It starts with purpose and then the second one is courage, and they come in and order for a reason but courage is a really important one. And a lot of the times we think of courage as sort of giving voice to whatever comes to our mind, that’s not courage, courage again, but the etymology of courage is actually reads if you interpret it into English from Latin something like related to the heart. So it’s about being true to who we are and what we keep in heart and giving voice to that in a most effective manner. And when we do that, even though, it requires us to stick to boundaries, it helps people in terms of understanding how they can relate to us, they know, here’s my boundary or here’s the cities boundary, here’s where I need to stand, here’s what I can say, here’s what I cannot say. And when we don’t do that, when we don’t sort of, you know, live what’s in our heart, or put it out there, people sense that we’re holding something back, and then they start wondering, is there a threat in the environment that I’m not seeing maybe Sesil is seeing? Why isn’t she saying what seems to be bothering her or that the idea that she has, why isn’t she sharing it? If I speak up, am I going to be singled out? So people start armoring up because they pick up on the cues and start feeling unsafe in the environment when in fact this is what we explained in the book. If you can carry through with courage, you become part of climate formation where there is more psychological safety for others, versus when you disconnect from them, people actually start to feel a bit more insecure so again the choices with us. There are going to be times that we are not connected to courage, but especially in decision making, you know situations where we are together with our team or with our leaders and we are expected to contribute. It’s really important to remember people are observing us as role models, and they are able to read beyond the words that we put out there, they see what’s in our eyes, they see the energy, they see the body language, they see that we may be thinking about something but not seeing it, and all of that still has an impact on how they show up and then how they contribute to the environment too. Okay, I think I said what I wanted to say.

TIMM: Perfect! No, I’m also looking at the time because we’re close to the top of the hour and I know we need to finish on time otherwise our producers in the back and they always get mad at us, so Sesil maybe last question before we close the session today. So, what would be your wish for all of the viewers out there? So what’s the thing that you’re wishing for?

SESIL: I didn’t know this question was coming, but not that I knew what these were coming you didn’t give me questions but this one I didn’t think about what would I want the viewers think away. You know what I would really wish is that whoever watches the video, maybe finds time in the next couple of days to take a 20 minute walk into nature and imagine what a different reality in the workplace could look like. You know what could be some of the changes that would make them feel more whole, more safe, maybe more joyful. Just imagine that, I think there’s a lot of power in imagination, I am a big day dreamer, I valued so much. I think I told you I often lay on the floor, people think it’s weird but I just laid my back close my eyes for 10 minutes and just imagine, there’s a lot of power to that, the more you allow your mind and your heart to go to places that you haven’t been captivated or captured, the more expansion I think we find in our bodies and in our capacity so maybe that would be my invitation, Timm. 

TIMM: Awesome. Thank you Sesil for that. I think the other one that we can take away is, if you want to have your executive suite brainwashed like Sesil said before, feel free to invite you her and I think you’ll be happy to do that. Obviously, have a look at the book again, Human Centered Leadership, a good summer vacation read I’m sure and I’ve read a part of it, at least so that’s on my list for the next few weeks of vacation too. And I know Sesil that one of your things that you always say, I love being able to touch human lives and I’m pretty sure you’ve touched a few human lives I’ve truly enjoyed our conversation. Thanks a lot for taking the time I’m sure we touched a few of the viewers that I’ve seen in the chat as well and probably some more that are watching the video later. So thanks a lot for that. Thanks all for taking the time and being here with me today, really enjoyed our conversation I hope you did as well.

SESIL: My pleasure. I did, I did, Timm. Thank you for the questions. Thank you for the questions also in the chat and for people tying in. Yeah, it’s always a pleasure so thank you.

TIMM: Awesome. Thank you, Sesil. And I think the last thing that I can say, our producer Ken will put up some of the QR codes and some of the next events that are coming up so if you enjoyed the conversation today there’s a few more Living Room Conversations coming up, the one in August in two weeks is with Rebecca Roberts talking about Inner Architecture so I think that ties perfectly into what Sesil talked about with self-acceptance, self-awareness. So if you want a few kind of hands on tips and tricks and tours, Rebecca is really great to listen to and then obviously there’s a few of these are the courses that we’re having, Performance Management, we touched on really briefly so that’s for September I guess, so feel free to join there. And I think with that we are top of the hour, thanks again Sesi, thanks everyone for tuning in, real pleasure and hope to see you around next time again. Enjoy your afternoon, evening, rest of your day.