Put People First: Human-centered Leadership

- Leadership

Guillermo Lechuga, Management 3.0 Facilitator from Mexico, puts people first. He recently discovered this leadership style can be referred to as human-centered leadership. These are his thoughts about it:

I have always thought that being in charge of a team is a great responsibility…perhaps one of the greatest in my life. I remember when I started being a team leader I had a very human approach. Back then, peers and direct superiors criticized me for that.

They told me I should be harder on people because being “considerate” would only make them abuse my goodwill and make me look bad later on. At times I wondered if thinking of them as people, rather than employees, was the wrong approach.

Fortunately, the fun combined with good results made me realize my approach worked and was worth it. In time, I realized that I was not the only one using this leadership style. Some even call it “Human-centered leadership.”

What is human-centered leadership?

As the name says, human-centered leadership is a leadership style in which people are the priority. It’s about putting people first. For this, it is important to focus on aspects such as their motivation, state of mind, fears, social relationships, environment, and other things.

Leadership is not about being in charge, but about taking care of the people in your charge.

Simon Sinek

Leadership seeks to make things happen. Within human-centered leadership thinking one of the great challenges is to be aware that each person is unique and different, and that every day they are exposed to situations that can positively or negatively affect their motivation, state of mind and social relationships.

Why lead by centering on humans and putting people first?

Many people criticize the human-centered leadership approach, thinking that the important aspect for every organization is to generate results. Of course, results are important, but to reach those results it is important to look for your people.

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.

Richard Branson

In our VUCA world, organizations have to keep up and they need great talent to do so. Other companies might offer better salaries and benefits. But without human-centered leadership, those employees may suffer from a lack of commitment and motivation. This of course hinders organizations from achieving their goals.

What are the characteristics of a human-centered leader?

You are probably wondering how you can identify a human-centered leader, or even check if you are one. Therefore, I came up with a list of characteristics of human-centered leaders:

Human-centered leaders have a real interest in people

Human-centered leaders care about their team, about their personal and professional well-being. This concern must be genuine.

Human-centered leaders will seek to generate the conditions to promote a balance between these aspects no matter if there are goals related to this, a promotion, a bonus, or even a good story for a book; they will do it because they care about people.

human-centered leaders listening
Human-centered leaders are interested in their people and know about the power of listening

Human-centered leaders are gardeners

Human-centered leaders look at each person as a flower: Each one is different, regardless of whether they are of the same species. Just like the gardener, they will seek to create an enabling environment so people can grow and develop, understanding that each has different interests, experiences, learning styles, and rhythms.

Human-centered leaders’ mission is to create a successful team with happy and competent people who generate results. Following the gardener analogy, they will achieve a beautiful garden, where all the flowers, despite being different, complement each other.

Human-centered leaders believe in people

Trust is essential to collaborate effectively. This is why human-centered leaders trust each person on their team, understanding that each one will do their best to achieve the desired results. Empowering people builds trust.

Also read: Collaborative Leadership

Human-centered leaders are vulnerable and honest

They show themselves as they are. Human-centered leaders are connected to their feelings and are capable of transmitting them to their team regardless of whether they are negative or positive. They understand they are human. Along these lines they seek to be honest with their feelings and the situations that occur on a day-to-day basis with their team members and colleagues.

Also read: The power of being vulnerable as a leader

Human-centered leaders have empathy

Of course, day-to-day, many setbacks happen, that’s the nature of life. Human-centered leaders don’t forget that their team consists of people with desires, dreams, problems, and fears. That is why for them it is important to connect with the other person and look at the situation through their eyes to have a better understanding.

According to Gartner, “CHROs need to provide managers with the proper tools to become human leaders and manage employees’ career perceptions, well-being and connection to organizational culture.”

Human-centered leaders see opportunities

Every time they encounter a problem, human-centered leaders transform it into an opportunity. They accept diversity, understand that people have different points of view, and seek psychological safety to address and resolve these situations without waiting for them to become bigger. 

Human-centered leaders are lifelong learners

They understand that learning is constant, intentional, and strategic and that skills can be developed with effort and consistency (although some people may already have them). 

Human-centered leaders teach how to fish

There is a phrase that I love that says, “Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.” Human-centered leaders teach people to fend for themselves to promote their autonomy, knowing there is a place for everyone, and helping people shine with their light.

Human-centered leaders are feedback lovers

They are committed to continuous improvement, not only of their services or products but also with their leadership and the collaboration with your team. Human-centered leaders constantly ask for feedback to improve, as well as seek instances to be able to give constructive feedback that allows people to develop.

Remote Feedback
No matter if in the office or remote: Human-centered leaders strive for building a healthy feedback culture

Human-centered leaders constantly thank and acknowledge

They know the importance of not only recognizing and thanking results but also good behaviors. Because human-centered leaders know it makes team members feel valued and that their work positively affects them, specifying where and for whom.

Human-centered leaders inspire instead of forcing

Through example, they inspire people to give their best and to choose to do the tasks that allow them to meet the objectives set, instead of being forced to do them by the imposition of the leader.

Human-centered leaders keep calm in uncertainty

Human-centered leaders understand that things can get out of control and seek to generate calm in people so that, with a calmer mind, they can think of options to help them reach their destination together.

Human-centered leaders act in congruence

Their intentions and the things they say are backed up by their actions.

Also read: Leading by example

Characteristics of Human-Centered Leaders
Characteristics of Human-Centered Leaders

Fostering Human-Centered Leadership

Does becoming a human-centered leader interest you? For me, the starting point to start developing and applying is caring about people. 

Some tips to start the path on becoming a human-centered leader:

To become a human-centered leader, generate connections and a sense of belonging

As a starting point, it is important to make people feel that they are in a safe and trustworthy environment, surrounded by people with defects and virtues like them, with things in common and/or topics of interest. Generating connections between people is a good way to develop a relationship of trust.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Personal Maps

In the same way, we are social beings who like to feel part of something bigger, so it is important to generate a sense of belonging through the construction of an identity as a team. Why not define a name and a symbol together that represents them?

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Identity Symbols

To become a human-centered leader, seek the well-being of people

People must be well, and therefore we need to know how they are feeling. In our busy work days it can become difficult to find space for this, especially in fast-paced environments or big teams. An idea to overcome this is to establish check-ins at the beginning of every meeting. Make the first agenda point a quick check in round in which everyone shares how they are feeling at this very moment.

Or  you experiment with check-out at the end of the work day:

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Niko-Niko Calendar

Learn about the Management 3.0 mindset and practices

Knowing how people are will allow you to engage in valuable conversations with them, understand what is happening, and offer help in time it’s needed

To become a human-centered leader, strive for motivation and engagement

To make things happen it is important that people are motivated and engaged. However, according to Management 3.0, technically we cannot make people feel motivated and engaged, as it is something personal. However, as a leader you can establish the right conditions to maximize the probability of this happening. To do so you first need to find out what motivates people and this is where one of the most popular Management 3.0 Practices comes in:

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Moving Motivators

To become a human-centered leader, delegate and empower

As they develop professionally, people need more autonomy, therefore it is essential to provide them with confidence, knowledge, and security. It is important to empower people to make the necessary decisions in their day-to-day life, delegating these decisions to them as a leader and ceasing to be a bottleneck.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Delegation Poker

To become a human-centered leader, encourage appreciation and recognition

According to the human-centered leader, success happens with people, not despite them. Therefore, regardless of whether the result was achieved or not, we seek to recognize and thank for the efforts and the positive behaviors. Taking a couple of minutes each day or making this a part of the Sprint Review would be a great start into this.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Kudo Cards

Traditional leadership is all about performance, profitability, deadlines, projects, status reports, and results. Human-centered leadership, on the other hand, puts people first and makes success happen with people, not despite them.

Josh Bersin

To become a human-centered leader, promote learning and develop competencies

In a constantly changing environment it is very important to promote learning within work teams, providing resources and spaces for them to do so. As a starting point, it is very important to define what competencies we need as a team to get ahead and evaluate the level each person has to generate a learning plan for each one.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Team Competency Matrix

In the same way, it is important to encourage the self-reflection of people in each situation so they can learn, regardless of whether it was a success or a failure. What will always move us forward is what we learn from the situation. And if mistakes were made, how can we avoid that mistake next time.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Yay! Questions

To become a human-centered leader, establish a feedback culture

How can we be better if we don’t know how we are doing? For this reason, it is essential to introduce feedback into people’s daily lives, transforming destructive feedback, which most people are afraid of, into constructive feedback that is enjoyed and generates possibilities.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Feedback Wrap

To become a human-centered leader, promote an experimentation mindset

As Albert Einstein said, “If we want different results, we have to do different things.” That is why the leader focused on people will seek to encourage in them a mentality of experimentation, in which they dare to try different things. For this, it is important to generate an environment in which people feel safe to try something new and feel protected in case the experiment does not turn out as expected.

➜ Management 3.0 Practice: Celebration Grid

Fostering human-centered leadership with Management 3.0
Fostering human-centered leadership with Management 3.0

What does it take to create a human-centered organization?

Here are a few tips to get started:

1: Focus on creating better human experiences:

The better someone feels about going to work every day, the happier they’ll be in their jobs and the more productive they’ll be. By creating human experiences, such as spaces where employees can talk, and share ideas and grievances as well as through making moments that help people bond, makes people feel more invested in the company.

2: Build resilience:

Work with employees on building resilience at work and in their personal lives. Help people manage their emotional well-being and let colleagues know that it’s crucial to the company that people have the appropriate coping mechanisms to self-regulate. The stronger a workforce is emotional, the more dedicated they’ll be to the job, which in turn helps productivity.

3: Offer flexibility:

Now more than ever, employees are looking for flexibility. In this post-pandemic world, companies that people will flock to are those that understand that people don’t want to go back to the ‘9-5’ sitting in an office. Put people first by showing them that there’s flexibility within the job and that you care about their emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

Organizations are made of people. Without them, we could not fulfill any objective: 

Quarterly objectives: Achieved by people.
Revenues goals: Achieved by people.
Number of sales: Achieved by people.

Human-centered leaders put people first. They work to generate a positive environment that can maximize the possibilities.

According to Gallup’s research, 75% of job resignations are related to direct superiors. However, when there are good leaders (hand in hand with a good organization), people seek to stay in organizations.

Happy, motivated people, with a clear and shared purpose, generate better results and make things happen.

So… Let’s lead effectively! Let’s be human-centered!

Will you put people first and become a human-centered leader?

I thank Alondra Cardenas, Cynthia Rosas, Diana Puerto, Gonzalo Iuillera, Magda Aguilar, María Cristina Oliveros, María Florencia Rubio, Martha Navarro, Serge Páezand Verónica Juárez, for their support in reviewing this article.

Header photo: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


One thought on "Put People First: Human-centered Leadership"

  • María Cristina Oliveros Maestre says:

    It was an honor for me to be considered by Guillermo Lechuga for the review of this article, where he reflects the knowledge, experience and his humanity in every word. Thank you for bringing leaders with another perspective to Latin America, I consider myself an advocate that the person prevails over the professional title.

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