by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
The role of business leaders has always been challenging, especially during change and uncertainty. Today, the weight on leaders’ shoulders is greater than ever, given a recessionary climate, skills shortages, and heightened customer expectations.
When it comes to people management, leaders can no longer rely on traditional practices that pivot exclusively on profitability, deadlines, status reports, and financial results. Business success in 2023 requires a more humane approach that recognizes and addresses employees’ fears, frustrations, and needs. We call this human-centric leadership.
Recent research confirms that human-centric leadership is what today’s workers expect: 82% of employees say it’s important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee.
What is Human-centric Leadership?
To understand human-centric leadership, let’s define what it’s NOT. Non-human-centric leaders set unreasonably high standards and view their employees as cogs in a machine that can be overworked and easily replaced if they wear out.
In contrast, human-centric leaders:
- Put their employees first and understand that success happens because of their people.
- Acknowledge that fostering employee well-being can lead to better business outcomes.
- Prioritize making life and work good for their people, believing that great returns will follow naturally.
Gartner’s abovementioned report states that human-centric leadership is a new imperative: “The human-to-human dynamic in the workplace pushes leaders to display human-centric leadership, defined as leading with authenticity, empathy, and adaptivity. These traits have been listed for some time among the key qualities of great leaders—but they were considered nice to have. Employees today demand them.”
Let’s break these three qualities down in more detail:
Human-centric leaders act purposefully and enable authentic self-expression for themselves and their teams. They have a sincere intention to contribute to the well-being of others and see them thrive. And they always back up their words with actions.
Human-centric leaders show genuine care, respect, and concern for people’s well-being. They’re sensitive to personal and professional challenges that people are facing, respond patiently, and look for ways to support and develop them.
Human-centric leaders embrace flexibility and accommodate the unique needs of their team members. They’re willing to adjust their mindsets, communication styles, problem-solving approach, and definition of success.
Strategies for Developing Human-Centric Leadership Skills
In our experience, the most effective human-centric leaders focus on embracing the following concepts:
Ensure you’re as flexible as possible regarding schedules and work locations. If you trust your people to work when and how they prefer, they’ll give you their best work. Also, appreciate the pressures on your teams and be open to negotiating timelines and projects to protect them from burning out.
Room for Failure
Accept that people are human and will make mistakes from time to time. Build in room for productive failure and create processes that help employees learn from missteps and move forward.
Showing gratitude for your people’s work is more important than ever, and even small successes should be celebrated. There are many ways to acknowledge and show appreciation for employees giving their best. You don’t necessarily need to offer monetary rewards; a simple phone call, email, or suggestion to take an afternoon off are effective ways to celebrate work-related milestones and achievements that won’t cost you anything.
The human-centered leader regularly and systematically asks for feedback from their teams. They take this feedback seriously and commit to improving or changing. They’re also not afraid to ask for help or apologize when needed.
Rejection of Bias
Human-centric leaders continually work towards creating a welcoming environment of coexistence and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to any form of discriminatory behavior within their organizations.
You may be familiar with the old saying, “Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.” Human-centric leaders reject the command-and-control leadership model in favor of one where senior managers and supervisors equip people with the skills to make the right decisions.
Employees increasingly want to feel that their companies are a force for good in the world. Consider matching employee donations, allowing time off for volunteering, or organizing community workdays to give people a sense of pride in their workplace.
A Comfortable and Convenient Working Environment
Consider offering amenities that make your employees’ lives more comfortable and convenient. Some large companies offer on-site gyms, daycare, and cafeterias. But smaller things can make a difference, too, for example, free snacks, good coffee, or a “pets welcome” policy.
Professional development can take many forms. Informal options include job shadowing or allowing people time to listen to work-related podcasts or videos. More formal opportunities might consist of attending a conference or taking a course. Encourage employees to share what they’ve learned in a team meeting and discuss how to apply it.
Human-centric leaders understand the role of in-person interactions in building a sense of connectedness in the workplace. When your employees are in the office, create opportunities for social engagement, such as scheduling a luncheon or fun activities like trivia.
The Time for Human-Centric Leadership is Now
Leaders must purposely move beyond managing employees to “get things done” and focus on recognizing them as human beings. In 2023 and beyond, the most successful organizations will be those that get intentional about establishing conditions where people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work.
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