Human-centered and authentic leadership are a few buzzwords that organizations have been using recently. What does it really mean for an organization to employ human-centered, authentic leadership practices? Many respected business sources, such as Fortune, Forbes, and McKinsey, share a common theme in their recent human leadership findings – people and purpose are at the core of thriving organizations.
A shift to human-centered leadership means organizations put people – their employees – first and the business second. You may be thinking, “businesses exist to provide a product or service in exchange for money… why would that not be the primary focus?” There’s truth to this, and it’s certainly necessary for a business to survive, but today’s most thriving businesses are demonstrating strongly that prioritizing people is a key to success.
In an article from Fortune, Josh Bersin shares that human-centered organizations have “people as the purpose of the business.” This has the dual benefits of winning over customers, who widely prefer businesses that “feel human” and authentic, and retaining employees who are happy, focused, and productive. In other words, start by investing in your people, and they will drive the business forward.
HOW TO MAKE A HUMAN SHIFT TO LEADERSHIP
Everyone wants to be empowered. Empowerment can come in different forms and generally includes feeling validated, heard, respected, included, and recognized for their individuality. For some, that sense of empowerment comes most strongly from within. For others, empowerment is driven by the external environment.
Organizations that want to prioritize human-centered leadership should have tools and processes in place to offer resources to employees for different types of empowerment and personal development. For example, if an employee has specific goals or would like guidance on elements of their career, they should have mentors, coaches, or another resource to make that accessible.
The availability of these resources makes employees feel important as individuals and communicates that their growth is a priority. It’s important to note, however, that encouraging an employee’s self-actualization should not have strings attached that only benefit the company. This can result in a lost sense of authenticity and often breeds resentment among employees.
2. Psychological Safety
Establishing psychological safety to encourage employees to provide solutions is essential. If employees fear company leadership, it will prevent them from communicating openly. This environment of psychological safety is completely up to leadership to cultivate. And the success of forming this environment will be dependent on the ways that the leadership team communicates.
Growth demands that you look to people for answers. Your team likely has dynamic ideas to share, and they need to feel like they can.
If you have provided a platform for employees to share insights, the next step is to sincerely listen. Many organizations will ask their people for input but fail to truly listen and execute it. Leadership is better off not asking rather than asking and not acting. This doesn’t mean that every employee’s idea will be actionable or is a good fit for the business’ goals, but showing visible follow through in some way on employee input is essential to maintain trust.
3. Promotion Is Not Always The Answer
Empowerment does NOT mean promoting everyone or giving leadership roles and greater responsibility to employees who are not qualified. Not every employee is ready to be promoted or has the necessary skill set to be a leader
Making a hiring or promotion decision that is premature or not a good fit will be detrimental to the organization and can negatively affect the people that report to that new leader. Besides this, hiring the wrong leadership can harm your organization’s ability to retain employees. The phrase “people don’t leave bad companies, they leave poor managers” is consistently born out in real-world cases.
In contrast, employees that demonstrate a strong ability to engage, listen, and lead can enrich your company with human-centered leadership. Promoting a manager that has a good reputation among employees will increase their confidence in the company overall, and is beneficial to retention.
4. Engage More Directly With People
According to Gallup, “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager.” The ability of a team to be unified is key to their success, and this all begins with management. Your human resources department and managers should develop strategies that engage individuals, instead of using pressure, threats, or inauthentic incentives to spur productivity.
One way that leadership can accomplish this is by allowing people to feel comfortable in bringing their whole self to work. As humans, we can’t flip a switch and forget the challenges we may face at home or with family when we show up to work – especially if work and home are one in the same. Establishing psychological safety will facilitate the process for managers to engage more directly with their teams, offer support, and create an environment that sets everyone up for success.
Managers often make the mistake of demanding that employees compartmentalize their home lives into boxes that they leave unopened until after work. This can actually harm productivity and leave the employee feeling unimportant. Engagement thrives where there is, instead, a culture of empathy. These soft skills speak volumes to employees.
Authentic Leadership = Respect, Trust, Compassion & Wisdom
Research from the University of Michigan shows that organizational performance and well-being increase when organizations’ cultures focus on respect, trust, compassion, and wisdom. Authentic leadership takes time to develop and deploy. Be patient with yourself and your colleagues when making the shift to human-centered leadership.
Successfully establishing human-centered leadership is an ongoing journey than a final destination. It is important to check in frequently with those you lead to get a pulse on your progress and continue to make changes. Seeing the growth after each milestone is so rewarding!
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Written by Elena Pastore
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