Written by Jill Pennington, Vice President, International Consulting
We conducted an international research study to learn how leadership is evolving. Of the 1,950 respondents, over 90 percent of leaders and employees agree that effective leadership is very or extremely important for the overall performance of their organizations. But what does that effective leadership look like?
In short, the answer is people-centered leadership. As organizations are pushed to evolve and embrace change, leadership styles that worked in the past may no longer be ideal. Modern workers need leaders who can empathetically and humbly guide them through changes and challenges while fostering a spirit of collaboration rather than leaders who embrace a top-down approach and try to have all the answers.
Let’s explore further what it means to be a human-centered leader and why this leadership style is so valuable for modern companies.
What is people-centered leadership?
People-centered leadership, or human-centered leadership, is a style of leadership that puts employees first and seeks to foster a working environment that feels safe, supportive, and open.
Rather than being stoic, confident autocrats , human-centered leaders:
- Show empathy and compassion toward their employees and prioritize employee well-being
- Communicate openly and authentically, and create psychological safety for employees to do the same
- Maintain connections with individual employees
- Demonstrate humility and open-mindedness
- Encourage collaboration across the team and the organization
Through these qualities, human-centered leaders promote high levels of employee engagement and empower their people to succeed.
Why is people-centered leadership worth pursuing?
Leadership development efforts should focus on helping managers and organizational leaders become more people-centric in their approach. Human-centered leadership is taking on greater significance because of the number of benefits it offers.
1. Attracting and retaining talent
In our research, both employers and employees identified attracting and retaining talent as the top challenge for leadership in the future.
The Great Resignation has shown us that employees are more willing than ever to walk away from a work environment they consider toxic, and in many cases, that comes down to dissatisfaction with their leadership. In a recent survey, 82 percent of American workers said they would consider quitting a job due to a bad manager. A Pew Research study found that one of the top reasons American workers quit their jobs in 2021 was because they “felt disrespected at work.”
If companies want to attract and retain talent, they need leaders who make employees feel understood, respected, and valued.
2. Motivating and engaging employees
Just retaining employees isn’t enough; you need to keep them engaged and motivated to perform their best. Outdated leadership tactics would often use fear of failure or undue pressure to motivate employees, but this approach is counterproductive.
People-centered leaders can more effectively inspire and motivate their employees through a spirit of collaboration and by acting as positive role models.
Human-centered leaders also create more buy-in by encouraging employees to share their thoughts and needs and by keeping them well informed. Research shows that this sort of culture of open dialogue between leaders and their employees is positively reflected in performance.
3. Enhancing employee well-being
The growing emphasis on people-centered leadership also coincides with an increasing focus on employee well-being. Research and practical experience are making it increasingly clear that employees want to be treated as whole people — not just as cogs in the system.
Consider these perspectives from two employees in our survey. One employee’s advice to leaders was to “[e]ngage more and help your employees. Try to prioritize their concerns and well-being as much as possible, since they are the ones who are really getting things done.”
Another employee noted, “Leaders must learn that they need to lead the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — and create a safe environment to allow them to flourish.”
4. Adapting to change
The right leadership style is essential as organizations try to keep up with an evolving world of work. Especially as the marketplace and employee expectations change, old styles of leadership will hold companies back.
Alarmingly, our research found that just 37 percent of leaders felt they were prepared to deal with future leadership challenges, and a mere 24 percent of employees felt their leaders were prepared. There is plenty of room for growth in this area.
Research shows great promise for leaders who take the time to help their people understand and embrace change. According to Gallup, employees who have leaders that “help them see how changes made today will affect their organization in the future” are far more likely to believe their company is agile and ready for customer and marketplace change. They’re also more likely to know what’s expected of them, and to feel engaged, and are much less likely to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or burnt out at work.
Empower your leaders to become more human-centered
Human-centered managers and executives will play a crucial role in leading their organizations into a bright and successful future. Want to learn more about the future world of work and how you can prepare your leaders? Check out our e-book, Changing hearts and minds: Empower your leaders to drive future-focused culture change.