When it comes to executive coaching, one of our primary focuses is on developing human centered leaders. You have likely heard this buzzword recently, and with good reason. Authenticity in leadership is crucial in today’s business world. We have often discussed how modern employees and job seekers demand human centered leadership more than any generation before, and that adopting this human-centric approach has enormous benefits.
But what about the downsides? Are there any?
In particular, our clients often voice concerns about how becoming human centered leaders while managing employee incentives can sometimes hurt a business’s bottom line. To glean an inside perspective, we asked several of our professional executive coaches to share some of their own insights on the topic. Here’s how they responded!
1. Is there a shadow side to human-centric leadership?
The shadow side to being a human-centric leader can result in a leader being too soft and caring so deeply about the human side of the equation and the relationship that he or she fails to address opportunities for improvement.
When a leader fears that feedback may hurt the relationship or an employee’s feelings, the opportunity is missed. Much like a seesaw, the leader needs to operate with balance, providing objective feedback and accountability with a focus on the behavior. Then the leader can support the person and avoid falling into an “everything is okay” syndrome. That does more harm and fails to raise the performance bar, and the employee is not challenged to reach their full potential or to meet and exceed best in class outcomes.
Absolutely not! I do not believe many organizations actually practice being human centered leaders enough to experience a shadow side. When I think of this topic, I see leaders grasping at straws to BE human centric, yet being pulled by outdated organization structures and hierarchies that draw them away from being human centric in the first place.
Yes. I have a client or two whose companies have fantastic people-culture, but they sometimes seem incapable of executing. If the focus on human-centric leadership implies that execution / results don’t count, then organizations can become more ”human”, but ultimately fail to support those same humans with the organizational growth required to offer jobs, etc.
2. What are you hearing and seeing from your clients on the subject of being a human centric leader?
I am seeing more leaders (and HR) take an interest in how their managers and directors are generating results. It is becoming more clear that for long term results, like motivation and strong retention, the WAY you generate results is more important than ever. I believe that if there was a debrief scorecard that departing employees completed about their supervisor’s leadership, the human centered approach to training and coaching would be a major focus.
I hear, ”I want to be focused on my people and teams…BUT…”.
I also hear that many organizations are finding pathways to rewarding leaders who are focused on human centric practices – good decision rights, role clarity and team over individual mindsets. And, these organizations are winning – in the marketplace, in the shareholder space, and certainly in the employee engagement space.
Not a lot. There is definitely more attention to this topic of being a human centered leader post-Covid than pre-Covid. However, I am hearing less on this topic than I did in the midst of Covid. It seems to depend on industries and individual businesses.
3. How far do you think companies can go in rolling back the accommodations, additional benefits and rewards provided to keep employees engaged during COVID?
We learned that the majority of employees work wonderfully from home; and they are very productive and much happier there. So rolling back the working from home accommodation really needs to be done in a selective fashion where having in-person engagement is really necessary versus working in a remote setting.
They need to stop trying. Instead, leaders can focus on how teams might choose for themselves how to complete work, when to work, and how to meet (and set) their goals. It shouldn’t be hard to succeed with all the amazing people out there working in our organizations.
How ”far” is difficult to define because each company’s accommodations were different. I see few, if any cases, of companies completely rolling back to pre-Covid policies. Many people tell me that they ”can’t” roll back completely because employees won’t tolerate it. But companies, in India at least, ARE issuing plenty of policies which require employees to be physically present 1, 2 or 3 days a week.
4. How are your clients balancing employee performance and profit?
Balancing performance and profit has been a yo-yo as profits increased for many companies when the T&E budget was shut down during Covid. Some businesses also realized increased top line revenues, such as pharmaceutical companies with medications for flu, or community acquired pneumonia.
Unfortunately, some companies more recently have had to let people go to maintain their share holder value given a drop in top line sales. Every company, regardless of performance and profit, wants to retain their best people and we all know people leave bosses more often than the company itself.
This makes the need for human centered leaders even more important. Many companies take that one step further in an effort to keep their super HIPOs (high potential employees) by having a conversation to re-recruit them. They share that they believe in them and that they have a very bright future at XYZ company. These leaders share that while they may not have any promotional positions available now or the individual is not yet ready for the next role, the company would like to invest in the employee’s accelerated development and to prepare them for when the time comes with an executive coach.
I don’t think it’s a matter of balance as much as it is realizing pathways TO profit by engaging in real conversations around what good looks like, what customers expect, and how to engage the brilliance currently in our teams and organizations to make those expectations come alive.
My clients who are hard at work pushing decisions out to the edges of their organization are engaging in practices to enhance and build self-managed, focused teams. These organizations are training and rewarding leaders to stop solving FOR their people and instead coach and support them into seeing results in profit AND performance.
Focusing on employee performance and profit often seem like the same thing. If employees are performing well in their roles, then profit will correlate. Invest in one and you will see results in the other.
5. What one or two tips do you have for leaders navigating this change?
We are never going to get away from the necessity of downsizing, right-sizing, or reengineering the number of employees in an organization. Your team will usually be impacted, up or down, based on the profit realized or not realized. That is how you manage the shareholders, and it’s especially expected during economic turbulence. It’s important, though, to keep these factors in mind:
1) Regardless of profit and performance, we need to hire and develop people and companies to last by innovating along the way. This is essential to stay viable and competitive; routinely re-recruiting top talent , leading with a human centered approach, and investing in HIPOs . All of this will help build a resilient and agile organization for the future and one that retains talent and attracts the candidates you desire.
2) An important fact is that the best people are less likely to be let go when profit and performance fails. If they are let go, they always have an easier road ahead. Do great things where you are, be a human centric leader, develop yourself and those who work for you, perform and deliver. If you’re doing those things correctly, then success will almost always follow.
Listen carefully to what your organization already knows and is telling you to focus on as a leader.
Help team members remove roadblocks and red tape that get in their way of showing individual brilliance and capacity to learn. And oh yes, work with a team coach!
Avoid a binary approach where one philosophy picks either employee wellness or company profit over the other. Instead, embrace a ”yes and” perspective where the organization seeks to pursue both at the same time.
I suggest asking yourself this question: how can we do both as well as possible and at the same time?
The True Cost of Human Centered Leaders
Though our coaches have diverse perspectives and insights, as do most business leaders, it’s consistently evident that the benefits of working as a human centered leader outweigh the costs. This is especially true on a long-term scale. Retaining top talent and staying competitive in a tumultuous hiring market produce benefits that far outweigh any short-term costs.
The obstacle for most business leaders is not just recognizing the value of a human centered approach, but understanding how to implement it as well. We believe that successful, high-performance team coaching boils down to 5 core principles. To truly put those principles into practice, it’s critical to leverage a great team coach.
Interested in learning more about tapping into this resource? Get to know our leadership solutions!
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