In his first book, “Real Leaders Don’t Follow,” Silicon Valley management consultant and former senior executive Steve Tobak explains why, in an increasingly digital world, it’s more important than ever to be human.  

In a very real sense, we are becoming virtual images of our real-world selves. That would be fine if those personas replicated the real us. Unfortunately, they rarely do. Instead, they’re carefully constructed avatars that reflect social norms, popular themes, and wishful thinking. The information we share is filtered and purified.

More and more we behave like sound bites personified—virtual actors portraying cardboard characters in a two-dimensional digital world.

And the temptation to hide behind our creations is so strong that we’re becoming more isolated, less comfortable in our own skin, and awkward in the physical presence of others. That’s why we prefer texting, messaging, and posting to talking on the phone, meeting face to face, or speaking to a group.

In many ways we are becoming desocialized, like the proverbial children brought up by wild animals or dogs that never get to play or interact with others. We spend enormous amounts of time building our online networks and personal brands without realizing that we’re just blasting gigabytes of superficial sound bites and links at each other. We share lots of data that way, but all the social cues, emotional subtleties, body language, and intuitive inferences are lost.

In reality, social networking isn’t even fractionally effective when compared with a simple real-time discussion or face-to-face meeting. Besides the loss of enormous amounts of “human” information, you’re not really connecting on an emotional level, so the bond is far weaker. That’s why one relationship with a person in the real world is worth a thousand virtual connections.

Business is built on real communication and real relationships. Running a business is about motivating investors to provide capital, customers to buy products, and employees to work their tails off for you. Every business transaction ultimately has a human being at both ends.

Now more than ever, we need a renewed sense of humility and genuine self-awareness to remind us that we’re flesh-and-blood humans. That we’re not always the insanely great business leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, partners, and parents that we hold ourselves out to be in the virtual world.

In a world of indistinguishable online lemmings, where everyone tries to be different in superficial ways and, in so doing, ends up behaving exactly like everyone else, those who strive to remain unique individuals will have a big advantage.

Instead of hiding behind your social media avatar and personal brand, have the courage to be your genuine self. Forget your social network and build relationships in the real world. Listen to what people have to say and trust your instincts. That’s the only way to genuinely relate, make connections, and understand people.

Be human.

Steve Tobak is a featured columnist with Fox Business and Fortune, managing partner of Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting, and a former senior executive of the high-tech industry. This post is adapted from his first book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow, published by Entrepreneur Press.

Image credit Marvel Studios

  • BigGameHunter

    Superb article.

  • You have yet to disappoint.

    • Steve Tobak

      Give it time.

  • Brad

    I went from late to the FB party to finding myself checking it to occupy my brain/time at every blank interval and time I should and could have been doing more meaningful things. Sadly it had become a vapid obsession for many, me included. How can we lose our control over something so marginal?

    FACT 1: Humans advance and become creative when their minds are allowed to wander & ponder.

    Thanks to my daughter Haley: She wrote a paper for school on her concerns that people used to have a lot of idle brain time to think, observe, reflect, relax, read for entertainment or education, create and come up with new ways, invent the future, and so on. Now every slice is filled with checking social media thus robbing the participating human race of highly necessary idle time to ponder, observe, reflect and create.

    FACT 2: Humans are more interesting & whole when they interact with each other.

    I used to meet the most fascinating people in the checkout line, airports, airplanes, hotel lobbies, now everyone has their earbuds in or is checking their screen….including me. That has to change, from now on, I am back to reading the shampoo bottle on the toilet!

    Tainted Interactions:
    A general rule of getting along with people is not to discuss sex, religion or politics and people violate that (I have been guilty of this as well) on FB all the time and mostly to an extreme. It is funny to think that NOBODY would ever stand in a crowd at a party and announce those opinions and proclamations to several hundred people and yet feel perfectly comfortable doing it online. Distance invites the abandonment of decorum.

    Back in early 2015 I decided that my real life was far more fulfilling than the one fabricated for general consumption online. Great article, thanks

    • Steve Tobak

      Haha! What a great comment; thank you, Brad. And your daughter is wise way beyond her years. She’s absolutely right. I think you both will enjoy the book this excerpt came from. (Shameless plug. 🙂

      • Brad

        Thsnk you. Shameless plug landed with effect, on the way via our friends at Amazon. With your observational and matter of fact writing style I’m looking forward to reading it.

        • Steve Tobak

          I’m sure you’ll enjoy it … as will your daughter when she’s old enough, of course.