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HLI Interview with Stephen Sloan

I think we have some serious questions about leadership before us that need our very best thinking – not one person’s best thinking, but the wisdom of the crowd.

We really need a new way of looking at our humanity if we’re going to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number going forward.

Stephen is the driving force inside the Humane Leadership Institute. He is also Managing Director of Sloan Value Partners, a management consultancy specialising in IT, sales and leadership development. Here are a variety of questions that begin to give us a sense of Stephen’s path here and what’s to come.

What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Architect and Astronaut. As a kid I was always drawing houses and designing tunnel complexes. Then, when I was twelve, the Viking mission to Mars inspired me. The big dilemma was whether I was going to grow too tall to be an astronaut. I think they only make spacesuits for people under six foot two. I did a lot of math in junior high to figure out how tall I was going to be. In the end, I grew well past six foot two inches.

Describe a typical day.
I work from home, so I get up without an alarm, read some news, check my social feeds and maybe make some notes or write. I check in with the team and have a cup of tea. Then the meetings start and I try to capture what needs to change in terms of priority, process or systems from those meetings. I try to see my children in the late afternoon and evening each day and most days I succeed. Bed early, check in on news on my phone, and I try to end with a book to add a bit of wisdom.

What is the greatest achievement of your life?
I’ll sound like a suburban dad, but my kids. In second place, learning to work with people in ways that help them to grow. I sold a business after twelve years and cleared out our twenty three thousand square foot warehouse.  Today, I only have one small box of training materials I wrote for my team there and a few photos of office parties.

If you were a superhero, what would your power be?
To consciously experiment with my own mental frameworks. We all have a certain set of data about our lives; where we live, how much money we have in the bank, the work we do and the people in our lives. All of that is framing our beliefs and values. I think the real superpower is to be conscious of our existing frameworks and to try out different ones to see if they work better. I think Bertrand Russell said if your philosophy doesn’t give you joy most of the time, you probably need a new philosophy. By way of an example, I realized as the main breadwinner in my family, I focused on financial success for most of my adult life. That’s not so interesting to me anymore and I’m beginning to focus on impact. If I focus on optimizing for impact, I hope I’m smart enough to figure out a way to handle my financial needs. That’s a shift I’m working on – experimenting with impact. How can I make a difference each day?

How physically fit are you?
Moderately. I aim for minimum investment in my fitness to feel human and capable. If I can get my exercise by walking to a meeting or having fun with the kids, that’s enough for me.

What’s your biggest extravagance?
I have a few minor extravagances: books, chocolate, time to myself, and travel. Ideally, I would travel way more than I do currently,

When and where were you least true to yourself?
In my early twenties I decided to buy a business in an industry I didn’t really care about. It was a means to an end – making a chunk of money. But it was tremendously costly, deprioritizing my sense of self, and denying me other opportunities. Who knows who I would have met or the man I would have become if I had used that time differently.

If your twenty year old self could see you now, what would he think?
My twenty year old self was pretty harsh so he’d probably think I was soft and I should step up and play a bigger game. In my defense, I pushed myself to get over being so introverted by working as a realtor and traveling on my own. I’m still an introvert, but at least I can function in the world.

Which object have you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
I miss the barn I lived in when we started our family. I have wonderful memories of the kids in the yard, the tree swing, sitting by an open fire with a book in one hand and a baby in the other. Those were very sweet times.

What ambition do you still have?
I think Emerson said something about great people aligning themselves with the core issues of the age. You could say a lot of great business leaders today aligned themselves with technological change, but I believe that technology is not what’s important to us next. I think there’s a bigger question around the quality and the values behind our leadership. I think that we have some serious questions in front of us now that need our very best thinking. Not one person’s best thinking, but the wisdom of the crowd. We really need to find a new model, a new way of looking at our humanity if we’re going to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number going forward.

How politically committed are you?
I am not committed in any direction to today’s politics. I am committed to living out my version of the French model; liberty, equality, fraternity and how we live in community. None of the last century’s experiments are optimized for the greatest good for the greatest number at this moment, so that’s a question I think worth pursuing. Hence, the Humane Leadership Conference.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far out of ten what would you score ?
6 now – considerably better than the 2 or 3 my twenty year old self would have scored his life. I know how lucky I am, but I’m still measuring myself against an idealized standard.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Yes, maybe it’s a bit more like our illusion of separateness evaporates after our consciousness returns from whence it came.

What is the greatest challenge of our time?
We’ve lost touch with ourselves. Our connection to our humanity (our own bodies, hearts, morals, values, or independent intellectual capabilities) have been either bent or squished out of us by the education system, work-place and popular culture. It seems like many of us have given up shaping our own destiny or creating a healthy, humane and lasting legacy. Everything can seem so transactional and transient these days. Recognising and changing that dynamic is the greatest leadership challenge of our time.

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