Human leadership: Changing times, changing leadership styles

The ripple impact of COVID on the workplace is far reaching and likely to be long lasting. From remote working to non-local recruitment and permanently virtual teams the impact has been largely felt in many industries. This change has brought organisations huge opportunities to diversify talent, increase productivity and creativity and further embrace the benefits of digitisation. But these benefits also bring new challenges for leaders. This new independent, autonomous remote working has empowered workforces who now expect a different leadership approach. Those organisations who try to stick to more traditional leadership styles may quickly find a disconnect, and quickly lose the battle for attracting and retaining talent.

It is commonplace for leaders to dial up and down their approach according to different situations; a leader may be more directive with a newly formed team or take a more coaching style with a direct report they are nurturing for a promotion. In this blog we’re looking beyond this situational switching of styles to unravel the attributes required in a human leadership approach, and how internal comms professionals can help demonstrate this change in leadership approach.

What is human leadership?

With human leadership, leaders lead with empathy, humility and authenticity. They are required to be more emotionally intelligent and self-aware, and as a result create a more psychologically safe environment for their teams to thrive in. They dial up their listening, and dial down their ‘tell’ approach, being patient, kind, and truly listening to the individuals around them. This almost role reversal in power may sound as though leaders have relinquished their status to enable the power to sit within their teams, but really the opposite is evident. Those leaders who open themselves up to this approach have experienced huge shifts in commitment, loyalty and employee effort. In essence, this style inspires workforces to follow their leaders with hearts and minds, and often to go the extra mile for their organisations.

While it sounds easy, it may not come naturally to all leaders, particularly in traditionally more male dominated industries where diversity often remains on the back foot. This new compassionate leadership style will take courage, vulnerability and trust. But when successfully adopted human leadership is repaid in creativity, honesty, and a more inclusive environment where teams can start to self-manage and overcome challenges together, helping leaders achieve more and go further.

Experienced leader and passionate campaigner for more human leadership, Terry St. Marie has developed eight key steps to taking a more human approach:

  1. Crossing the bridge from “I” to “We” -­ getting there as a team not as an individual
  2. Asking for trust and keeping promises –­ leading with integrity
  3. Being values led –­ making values the glue that holds the organisation/team together
  4. Building a culture of accountability – creating an environment based on fairness and shared responsibility
  5. Connecting to a higher purpose – creating a meaningful cause that’s bigger than individual goals or profit lines
  6. Creating a movement – a single leader in an organisation won’t bring about the change required, there’s a job to eradicate traditional old ways
  7. Finding and teaching more human leaders – championing the movement and creating a legacy
  8. Measuring, monitoring and managing with the right metrics – looking closely at how behaviour is measured in an organisation and potentially eradicating some of the more traditional KPI’s

The role of internal communications in human leadership

The pandemic taught us all many things and disrupted the way we work and balance our lives. For many it brought huge clarity to the meaning of their lives, as they questioned the work to live or live to work dilemma. While pay cheques may pay the bills, the growth in demand for organisations to be clear on their purpose, and the huge acceleration in demand for B Corporation status, demonstrates that employees need more than a pay cheque. Employees are now seeking meaningful work, a sense of belonging and the opportunity to contribute to something they believe in.

These changes have put pressure on organisations to be clear in their EVPs (employer value propositions) and employer brand, setting out organisational purpose and leadership approach, continuing to consistently demonstrate commitment with internal comms and employee engagement throughout an employee experience.

This is where internal communications teams can support. By profiling leaders beyond strategy and commercials, and bringing them to life in communications, showcasing their passions, hobbies, achievements outside of the job or even their fears, using channels like LinkedIn, Glassdoor and intranets you can keep them visible across all areas of the business. It’s critical to break down ivory towers and replace them with glass walls to leadership, increasing activities like town halls, roadshows, podcasts, email updates and virtual Q&A sessions. Internal comms teams should pay particular attention to language and imagery, aiming to capture this humanising leadership, dialling down on formality, and increasing honesty, respect, courtesy to create a more inclusive approach.

For many leaders and organisations this will be a long and challenging road, possibly falling back on old habits when faced with extreme pressure, but the future is inclusive, empathetic and collaborative.

Here at Something Big, we believe there’s never been a more important time for organisations to invest in their people. With an accelerating gig economy, rapidly changing workforce demographics and an increasingly competitive fight for talent, having a great reputation as an employer and a thriving culture are critical to attracting and retaining better talent than competitors. We help organisations attract and engage committed employees who go the extra mile by creating impactful and creative internal communications that resonate. Talk to us about how we can help.