Change brings in disruption, but it also has its benefits: It encourages every person to look at things differently based on the ever-changing circumstances. Every leader faces challenges in business, and it’s important that all leaders anticipate, identify and respond to the unexpected effectively. While some leaders have a natural talent for navigating change and other leadership skills, others need to develop and practice these skills.
Today, organizations are committed to developing leaders at all levels more than ever before. After all, retaining talent and maintaining competitive edge is only possible with professional development that gives leaders and emerging leaders the chance to connect, engage and be recognized for their contributions.
One leadership focus in today’s evolving business environment is that of “human-centered leadership,” which essentially is about “putting people-first.” Human-centered leadership encourages us to become better communicators, build an agile mindset and develop a sense of trust with our team members, especially during times of change.
In one Gartner survey of nearly 3,400 employees, just 29% of respondents said that their leader is a “human leader.” Gartner has identified three characteristics of human-centered leaders, outlined below:
- Authentic: Human-centered leaders act with purpose and enable true self-expression, for both themselves and their teams.
- Empathetic: Human-centered leaders show genuine care, respect and concern for employees’ well-being.
- Adaptive: Human-centered leaders enable flexibility and support that fits team members’ unique needs.
Especially in remote and hybrid work environments, leaders need to create a culture of open communication and active engagement. In “The Big Reset Playbook – Human Centered Leadership,” Josh Bersin highlights the need to “focus on hiring, developing, coaching and push people to grow, innovate, serve customers and improve the company.” This gives leaders an opportunity to understand “what makes people thrive, what drives creativity and problem-solving in the company, and how we can support people during times of change, stress, or disruption.”
Let’s look at the skills and practices managers need to develop to embrace human-centered leadership. The first set of attributes are inward looking, and include:
- Develop a growth mindset. The first step toward being a human-centered leader is believing in your ability to lead. When you believe that you can conquer the challenges ahead, you can address obstacles by leveraging your knowledge and competencies. To do this, we need to be humble and empathetic to understand others’ viewpoints, perspectives and work styles. Active listening also helps in understanding others’ views and perspectives, which can help you to evolve your own. Ultimately, building a growth mindset will help you better embrace lifelong learning.
- Contextual understanding: Before embarking on various projects or initiatives, you need to understand the ecosystem in which you’re working. Industry, customer and cultural knowledge provides insights on how we should approach various initiatives as a leader. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) also plays a role in helping us understand our environment in an inclusive and equitable way.
- Have a purpose: As a leader, you need direction to lead your team effectively, and this starts with purpose. Purpose brings in the determination to focus on outcomes even when we are faced with challenges. Purpose enables us to persevere when times are tough.
- Build strong relationships. Every person is gifted with unique skills, and this brings in diversity in our thoughts, beliefs and actions. Combining these diverse skills results in positive and powerful outcomes for businesses. To yield these outcomes, it’s critical that we develop and maintain strong mutually beneficial relationships. These are essential for creativity, innovation and growth, all of which will set your team up for success.
- Practice The rapid pace of change businesses face creates volatility, which leads to uncertainty, that brings in complexity and leads to ambiguity. The result? Disruption. In a disrupted world, navigating daily challenges can seem daunting. As leaders, we need to practice resilience to help ourselves and our team members thrive during uncertain times. Practicing mindfulness and other stress-relieving techniques enable us to quickly bounce back and refocus our efforts.
The next set of human-centered leadership attributes are outward looking. These include:
- Practice inspirational leadership. As leaders, we should be able to motivate our team members, empower them to explore their ideas within the parameters possible and enable them to network with other experts and mentors, all so that they can excel. This requires us to identify our team members’ individual talents and aspirations and provide guidance to help them succeed. Providing opportunities to people for work in cross-functional teams enables networking, learning and growth.
- End-to-end process knowledge: Be it processes or operations or a project, it’s important that you and your team members can “see the big picture.” This helps projects and initiatives run more smoothly and allows for improvements to be made as needed. The systems thinking approach enables everyone to look at the big picture and be outcome focused.
- Focus on well-being. We lead most effectively when we’re fit physically, mentally, financially and socially. But as a leader, you’re also responsible for supporting your team members’ well-being. Giving people space when they need it and providing holistic support not only builds trust, but also loyalty.
By developing the human-centered attributes outlined above, you will be positioned to support your team through uncertainty and into the future.