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The Power of Human Leadership

10 C’s to Powering a People-first Culture

“Your talk really hit home; I am at a point where I can feel myself disengaging in my role because I know my Manager only cares about results and doesn’t care about me. You were right when you said it’s the little moments, the smallest of touchpoints, that can have the biggest impact on us.”

I had just wrapped up a keynote on the Power of Human Leadership at a conference I was speaking at, and members of the audience were starting to gather around me to ask questions and share their stories.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

Randall leaned in and began to share his story. “My mother was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. My siblings don’t live nearby, and it’s been all on me, which is fine. I want to be there for her. She had to have a pretty big operation just over a month ago, and I asked my manager if I could have the day off to be with her at the hospital. He said yes, which I appreciated. The thing is, he has never asked me, since that day, how the surgery went, how my mother is doing…how I’m doing with it all. It’s clear to me now that he only cares about my results and not me as a person, which has made me care less about the company, and I can feel myself becoming less engaged in the work. He talks a good game about people and the importance of our people to the company. But everyone knows that at the end of the day, all he cares about is the bottom line.”

I have heard many stories like Randall’s. I’ve watched good and bad leaders change people’s lives in ways they don’t even realize, including my own. Many leaders underestimate the power of each touchpoint with their people and how much their words, actions and behaviours matter in moments, big or small. Had Randall’s Manager taken 2 minutes to check in on how his mother was doing or how he was doing, it would have made all the difference. I don’t believe that Randall’s Manager doesn’t care about him. I do believe he isn’t prioritizing taking the time to show he cares.

I left Randall with an important question to reflect on: “What has this experience taught you about the leader you want to be or become?”

The reality is that everything that is happening in the world, in our home life, our family’s lives, and our mental wellness, doesn’t exist separately from the workplace. World and life events affect our employees every day, and we need to be present enough to acknowledge and care for our people. It requires us to build strong human skills or what I like to call “power skills.” Leadership is an incredible responsibility, and we often underestimate our impact on each person’s life. What we say and do will always feel personal to the people we lead.

Human leaders continuously challenge their assumptions and beliefs and adopt a “people-first mindset.” They believe the purpose of business is to serve and care – for their people, customers, colleagues, community, and shareholders. They have discovered that by putting people first, profit will come. Driving high-performance becomes a partnership of joint accountability versus a top-down directive. The values and purpose of the organization are genuinely believed in and lived out every day.

Here are 10 C’s to Powering a People-first Culture:

1. Clarity
Why do you choose leadership? Why do you want to lead? What type of leader do you want to be or become? Gaining clarity in your responses to these questions will help you align what you believe with what you do, and how you do it. Leadership is a choice, and in order to make that choice, you need to be clear on your purpose and the type of leader you want to be for your people and your organization. Success requires starting from a place of meaning and staying anchored in your values. It also requires bringing greater awareness to your mindsets, beliefs and assumptions about leadership and exploring how some of your practices may be disengaging the workforce. Our beliefs and assumptions subconsciously become the basis of how we show up and our impact.

2. Consciousness
Leadership starts with you. Leading from within starts with demonstrating a high-level of self-awareness and integrity and taking accountability and responsibility for your actions and impact on others. It’s about being intentional about how you show up – think, act, communicate and react – and how you want people to experience you. This allows you to be deliberate about the actions and behaviours that align with the leader you want to be and recalibrate based on the situation and feedback you receive.

3. Connection
People want authenticity more than perfection. Leaders who lead authentically invite others to do the same. This deepens connection and a sense of community on the team. When there is a lack of coherence between what you say and how you act, there is a lack of connection. This leads to an erosion of trust. Building connection requires leading with empathy and compassion – the use of storytelling can be very powerful here.

4. Cultivate
The most high-performing teams have leaders who cultivate inclusion and belonging through a high-level of psychological safety. The biggest differentiator in performance is when people feel they can be themselves at work – and don’t feel they have to change or hide a part of who they are to fit in. Leaders who enable a voice-rich culture create an environment where employees feel they can speak up, share their opinions, and ideas, and admit to mistakes without fear of retaliation. They encourage healthy debate and demonstrate that a better answer lies in the tension of diverse opinions. This leads to greater creativity and innovation.

5. Courage
Navigating the pandemic over the past year has demonstrated that courage is key to effective leadership. It can include showing up when you don’t have all the answers, engaging in an uncomfortable conversation, or having to make a decision with limited information. Courage also includes admitting when you “don’t know” or don’t have the answer. Employees want leaders who make decisions decisively, inclusively and with the best interest of employees in mind. At the core of courage are vulnerability and humility. One of the most powerful things a leader can do is admit when they’ve made a mistake and apologize for that mistake. When we open ourselves up to vulnerability, we open ourselves up to courage and creativity.

6. Communication
Trust is built on transparency and openness. Communicate frequently and consistently. This means sharing information where you can and asking for feedback. Communication is not just about delivering your message; it’s also about listening. People feel valued when they feel seen and heard. You have to really listen; you have to really hear people, and you have to act.

7. Collaboration
Collaboration starts with a strong alignment on your team’s purpose – why do you do what you do? What do you believe as a team/company? How do you believe you can be most impactful? Empowering and equipping your team with the tools to be successful and empowering them to take action. Driving high-performance becomes a partnership of joint accountability that requires you to hold people (and yourself) accountable. It also requires building strong relationships and role modelling how you effectively navigate relationships with your colleagues and other stakeholders. According to social learning theory, these behaviours become socialized, and employees take their cues from their leaders on how to act and react in different situations – leading to “trickle-down” behaviours.

8. Care
Caring is giving people permission to be human and prioritizing and supporting their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. A culture of care positively impacts employee engagement, affects absenteeism, retention, productivity, and customer loyalty, and impacts your bottom line. Your customers and employees want the same thing from you. People want to feel cared about whether they’re looking to buy a good or service or looking for a good place to work. It means creating an environment where people feel valued and appreciated.

9. Currency
Energy is your most important currency in life and work. As a leader, you always have to show up, on good and bad days, and that can be extremely difficult. In order to be able to lead effectively, we need to be mindful of the energy we bring to different interactions. Our energy creates a ripple effect on the team that either fuels connection or fuels disconnection. Actively managing your energy, being intentional about where you place your attention, and making time to rest and recharge helps build resilience.

10. Challenge
Challenge is about flexibility. The ability to demonstrate critical thinking, lead with curiosity, be agile, adapt and envision a better way, versus protecting the status quo. Leaders high in a challenge approach situations with a growth mindset and continually look for opportunities to learn and grow. Consider, how do you turn mistakes into opportunities?

People are craving connection. We are seeing a global shift in what is expected of a leader and a rising emphasis on the need for human skills – authenticity, empathy, vulnerability, humility, collaboration, and inclusion. It takes courage.

I founded Humanicity Consulting Group out of my passion to help organizations elevate their impact by building purpose-driven, deeply human, high-performing and resilient leaders and cultures where both their people and business can thrive. I intentionally chose the name Humanicity (Human is. si. tee) because it combines “human” and “authenticity,” two core elements of effective leadership.

In today’s world of work, human-centric work environments are what drive high-performance, innovation, inclusion and creativity. How are you tapping into your human leadership?

Originally published in Thrive Global June 2021