Human tower

What It Means to Be a Human Leader, and Why It's Important Today

July 13, 2022 Leadership
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Building a healthy, motivated and productive workforce requires considerate, supportive leadership. Yet, while 90% of HR leaders believe a human touch in leadership is crucial to company success, only 29% of employees recognize their employer as a "human leader," according to Gartner research

“Today’s work environment requires leaders to be adaptive, empathetic and authentic – to exhibit more 'human' leadership,” wrote Caitlin Duffy, director of research in the Gartner HR practice, in the company's press release. 

But what exactly does that mean? And how does it help the company?

The Future of Leadership

The three essential components cited by Duffy — authenticity, empathy and adaptability — are the future of human leadership, according to Gartner. More precisely, this means the leaders of tomorrow will demonstrate:

  • Authenticity by giving employees the freedom to express themselves and take responsibility.
  • Empathy by showing genuine interest in employees' lives.
  • Adaptability by being open-minded and helping the organization easily adapt to change. 

“Human leaders are essential to developing strong relationships in a digital workplace,” said Mia Naumoska, chief marketing officer at Internxt, a Valencia-based cloud storage company. "Leaders should be role models for building relationships and start calls with questions about employees' families and personal life.”

In other words, leaders must know how to engage with employees to ensure they feel valued and included in the decision-making process that concerns them. When employees are satisfied and confident in the leadership of the company, there’s a greater chance of success.

Related Article: 6 Leadership Skills for the Digital-First Era

How to Develop a Human Leader

Some people are natural born leaders, but the constantly evolving business climate requires continuous improvement to adopt new ideas and techniques to get the best out of the workforce. Here are five ways to help leaders become better “human leaders:”

1. Focus on Improving Company Communications

Communication is key to establishing and nurturing relationships. Building a solid relationship requires effort but it is always worth it in the end.

Becoming a human leader means opening and maintaining transparent companywide communication with colleagues. This helps build a healthy and productive workforce with a higher level of employee satisfaction and engagement. 

“If we seek to improve internal communication by implementing best practice techniques, we can all excel in our work and career,” Naumoska said.

2. Prioritize Teamwork and Collaboration

When leaders view themselves as part of a team, it changes everyone’s approach to work. Great teams are built on the underlying values of trust, fairness and flexibility. Therefore, to achieve human leadership, leaders must form a cohesive unit with their employees. 

"Companies should invest in overall company culture and activities but also empower leaders to pursue ideas that will help foster the connection and culture within their specific teams," said Sara Cooper, chief people officer at Jobber, a Canadian job tracking and customer engagement software company. "This can be done by giving human leaders a budget for group activities.”

By valuing and prioritizing teamwork, everyone becomes genuinely engaged in the job, sharing a common goal and striving to succeed together.

Related Article: Why Relational Skills Are Vital for Digital Leaders

3. Invest in People

Investing in people is essential to human leadership. By investing in their team, leaders support and encourage employees' growth and development. 

Enabling employees to spread their wings and improve their skills not only makes them better at what they do, it also drives innovation, loyalty, satisfaction and overall performance. The key is to avoid dictating the path ahead. Instead, give employees the flexibility to explore their interest by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

4. Encourage Feedback 

When you don’t see obvious red flags and the team seems to be doing great, leaders can easily assume that everything is good. But this is not always the case. In a toxic environment, some employees may be unwilling or discouraged to open up about conflicts or issues.

According to Sara Rahmani, vice president of people experience and DEI at Chronus, a mentoring software company based in Bellevue, Wash., leaders must make an effort to truly “see” employees beyond the surface. "Support a culture of gathering feedback from all levels on a regular basis,” she said.

5. Give Recognition and Compliment

Effective human leaders recognize the importance of complementing their employees' efforts. “Recognition is important for showing employees their value and belonging.” Rahmani said. 

Recognition can take on different forms, and leaders have a responsibility to understand the motivations of their employees. What works for one person may be a deterrent for another. To solve for that, Rahmani said leaders should regularly check-in with their team members individually to understand their preferences and needs so that they are recognized in an effective manner.

Related Article: We Can’t Keep Blaming Technology for a Lack of Leadership Empathy

Human Leadership in a Hybrid Workplace

Human leadership may be challenging in a remote or hybrid workplace, where face-to-face communication doesn't always happen naturally. This may require leaders to strive harder to be adaptive, empathetic and authentic in understanding their staff's motivations, needs and pain points. 

Employees are increasingly expecting a more personalized work experience that suits their unique needs, so today's leaders need to tailor their approach to suit the changing circumstances of employees. Prioritizing flexibility, employee health and happiness, training and support, and freedom increases productivity and ensures a positive work-life balance.

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