Traditionally, a good leader is someone who can inspire a team, encourage collaboration, boost productivity and command respect. But what these qualities often fail to achieve is human connection. In a world where hybrid and remote working have blurred the boundaries between our work and home lives, it’s become more important than ever for team leaders and managers to take a human approach to leadership, putting their people first.

But what exactly is human-centered leadership, and what could it mean for you and your business?

What is human-centered leadership?

What is human-centered leadership?

Put simply, human-centered leadership is leadership that puts people first. But what does this look like in practice? Being human centered is about valuing people for their individual qualities and respecting individual circumstances. At work, this means considering your employees as people, not job titles – listening to their needs and offering support where necessary.

So, what makes a human-centered leader? A 2022 survey by Gartner identified three key human leadership qualities:

Authenticity – acting with genuine purpose and allowing true self-expression

Empathy – showing genuine care for employees’ wellbeing

Flexibility – being willing to adapt working structures to meet employees’ unique needs

A human-centered approach to leadership is quite a step-change from traditional leadership, sometimes known as task-oriented leadership. That’s all about performance, profitability, deadlines and results. But businesses might be surprised at just how effective a more human approach can be in driving productivity and overall business success.

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What are the benefits of human-centered leadership?

What are the benefits of human-centered leadership?

Over the past few years, employee priorities have shifted dramatically. In the aftermath of the global pandemic, PEW research shows that a huge 79% of people would leave their jobs for one that better supports their personal wellbeing.

Employees would leave their jobs for one that:

1. Better supports their wellbeing (79%)

2. Gives them more control over when they work (72%)

3. Better supports their professional growth and development (69%)

4. Allows them to do more meaningful work (68%)

5. Lets them have more control over where they work (66%)

Wellbeing is the top priority for employees, even above benefits and salary. This suggests that leaders who can make their team members feel supported are far more likely to inspire a happy and engaged workforce, even in the face of workplace stress or other work-related difficulties.

Here are some of the benefits this type of supportive, human-centered leadership can bring:

Higher engagement

Employees who feel their views and contributions are valued are far more likely to engage with business objectives, leading to a more cohesive workforce.

Confidence about raising issues

Employees feel confident approaching their leaders and managers are far more likely to be open about issues in their role. That means you can catch potential problems early and nip them in the bud.

Increased motivation

According to a study by the University of Warwick, happy employees are 12% more productive at work. With employees working under human leadership more likely to feel happy and motivated, employers can expect to benefit form a more productive workforce overall.

Creativity and innovation

People-oriented leadership gives employees permission to think more creatively and bring their own ideas to the table. By encouraging creativity and innovation in the workplace, businesses can improve the way they work and keep themselves ahead of the game.

Lower staff turnover

Employees who feel happy and supported in their work are far less likely to leave for a job elsewhere, even if a new role could offer them a higher salary or better benefits. So human leadership that offers employees the right level of support can lead to increased retention and lower staff turnover.

Positive workplace culture

One of the key aspects of human-centered leadership is about encouraging authenticity in the workplace. By allowing employees to be open about their personal goals and motivations, you can encourage a more collaborative workplace, with a positive workplace culture.

Human-centered leadership vs task-oriented leadership

Human-centered leadership vs task-oriented leadership

Human-centered leadership and task-oriented leadership are often seen as being at opposite ends of the leadership spectrum. But both have their parts to play in the successful running of a business.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each leadership style, to see how they might inform different levels of your leadership hierarchy:

Human-centered leadership: the pros and cons
Pros

The greatest value of people-oriented leaders is their ability to energize employees and make them feel appreciated both for the work they do, and as individuals. By focusing on building employee relationships, human-centered leaders inspire confidence in their workforce and create a working culture that feels positive and supportive.

Cons

Some employees may not respond to a people-focused style as well as others, and may even feel overwhelmed by the expectation to be so open and collaborative. So leaders and managers should be aware that some workers want and need more direction. Another potential downside is that leaders who are too focused on providing employee validation could risk making ineffective decisions based solely on employee relationships.

When is human-centered leadership most effective?

When is human-centered leadership most effective?

Human-centered leadership is most effective in building positive working environments, where employees feel confident and happy to express their individual wants and needs, as well as feeling a strong sense of connection with business goals. This is particularly important for leaders of small-medium businesses, who expect to feel a personal connection with their leaders. Leaders who adopt a people-focused style can expect a loyal and motivated workforce, who are willing to adapt and champion the company for the long term.

Task-oriented leadership: the pros and cons
Pros

Task-oriented leaders are highly effective in meeting business goals. They’re proficient in setting clear, easy-to-follow strategies with specific deadlines so employees always understand what’s expected. Task-oriented leadership encourages people to meet high standards. It’s perfect for employees who struggle with managing their time or who need structure to feel motivated.

Cons

One of the downsides of task-oriented leadership is that it can result in a lack of employee autonomy and creativity. This can lead to employees getting tired and frustrated in roles that don’t offer opportunities for them to learn and grow. Working under strict deadlines can also lead to stress and low morale, especially if employees don’t feel comfortable approaching managers and leaders when they’re feeling overwhelmed.

When is task-oriented leadership most effective?

A degree of task-oriented leadership is essential for business success. But arguably, it’s more useful for your managerial teams than your leadership team. This is particularly true for larger companies, where teams need to be managed so they all work cohesively toward a common goal, even if teams don’t have any direct contact with each other.

What are the characteristics of human-centered leaders?

What are the characteristics of human-centered leaders?

So now you understand the importance of human-centered leadership, but how can you identify a human-centered leader, or check if you are one? Here a list of characteristics that all human centered leaders share:

A growth mindset

One of the greatest qualities of human-centered leaders is their willingness to learn and grow with their teams. The world of work is constantly changing, so being open to trying new processes and to thinking outside the box is a quality that helps leaders go further and achieve success faster.

Future-focused

Brilliant leaders don’t just focus on the here and now, they’re constantly looking forward. Human-centered leaders are great at communicating their visions for the company and inviting their employees on board with business goals, making them feel like an integral part of the company journey.

Emotional intelligence

Leaders with high emotional intelligence are able not only to effectively manage their own emotions through stressful periods, but to understand and influence the emotions of those around them.

Emotional intelligence helps human-centered leaders build strong relationships with their teams, to understand where individual strengths and weaknesses lie and to identify the best ways to inspire and motivate their team.

Feedback friendly

Being a good communicator is vital for all types of leaders. But human-centered leaders are particularly effective at communicating, being willing not only to provide quality feedback, but also to accept it themselves. Encouraging honest feedback from your employees lets them know that their opinions are valued, and also allows you to identify any problems and fix them early.

Authenticity

Gone are the days when you were expected to be a different version of yourself at work than you were at home. With hybrid and remote working bringing our work and home lives closer than ever, it’s important that employees can feel comfortable being their authentic selves.

Empathy

Human-centered leaders are empathetic when it comes to their employees’ individual needs and circumstances and willing to adapt in response. This means that employees are far less likely to experience burnout if they’re juggling work and home. They’ll also feel able to approach their leader about workload or personal issues.

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