Embracing Human-Focused Leadership

4-minute read

two women talking at a meetingIf there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last year, it’s how much we need to remember we’re human, with individual  human needs and a need for balance. Last week, we had a chance to co-facilitate a discussion on “Human-Focused Leadership” at the 2021 National Workplace Summit, a Conferences for Women event. The session included more than 100 participants, all looking to share and learn from fellow leaders about the best way to manage others and lead from the front, particularly in the current environment of remote working many are going through. 

Below are some of the most insightful ideas gleaned from the networking session. If these topics are of interest to you, we encourage you to join us at Workhuman Live Online on May 18th or May 20th for live sessions and breakouts digging into what it means to make work more human for people around the world. 

Practical Ideas 

Several participants commented on the importance of simply connecting with team members  on a personal level. We discussed strategies for creating and maintaining this connection and agreed that personal vulnerability is a necessary aspect . When leaders are vulnerable with their teams, it creates a space where others feel like they can do the same and these mutual vulnerabilities foster connection. Connection breeds trust, and trust breeds belonging, commitment, and engagement. 

Set people at ease, especially in 1:1 or career development discussions.
Kick off with simple questions designed for connection such as “best of/worst of” (a favorite of Meisha-ann’s) or “two roses and a thorn,” both of which encourage people to share what’s going well or what they’re grateful for plus something that impacted them negatively, whether personal or professional. Both approaches give permission to share negative experiences or outcomes in a supportive way. 

Understand the personal headspace of those you’re meeting with.
Understanding where people are coming from and what they need out of a meeting with you. Start and end each meeting with a Check-in/Check-out to assess “headspace” and potential distractors. In one-on-one meetings or touch-bases, ask, “What do you need from me as a manager?” Then listen and respond accordingly. 

Leave space for silence.
Whether in a formal meeting or a casual chat, leave space for silence to indicate you are closely listening, not simply waiting for others to finish speaking in order to share your own thoughts. Truly listening to others and hearing their perspective or concerns is a powerful way to show you care. 

Themes 

Vulnerability and authenticity matter.
People need a level of psychological safety to fully engage with their manager, peers and colleagues. Being open, vulnerable, and authentic lets people know where they stand with you. Workhuman’s latest research study shows significant differences in psychological safety between men and women and between women and minorities. The same study showed that frequent recognition and manager check-ins increase psychological safety. Take the time to connect with all the members of your team, even those that may require a little more effort because of potential differences. 

Casual connections build trust.
Hallway chats, spending a few minutes in Zoom meetings “just catching up,” introducing a method to share a photo of a weekend activity, scheduling a regular meeting to connect (with no direct work reason) – all help to build relationships. One idea is a bi-weekly meeting with a theme where all participants choose a Zoom background of their favorite “thing” related to that idea. For example, “what’s your favorite vacation spot?” 

Validate others.
Being noticed, seen, and validated is foundational to being human. Leaders who conscientiously remember specifics about their team members and follow up later communicate clearly how much they care about the needs of their people. One of the most powerful ways to validate others and communicate “I see you. You are valuable” is to recognize them for their actions. Specific, authentic recognition tells someone their work is important and their contributions are valued by yourself and others. As a bonus, Workhuman’s research shows that frequent recognition decreases stress. Especially now, when many are living through the most stressful time of their lives, it is important to reinforce an individual’s value as a human and their contributions to the organization.  

Our discussion group was far too short to uncover and share all the brilliant ways in which leaders across industries are already focusing on their humans. We’d love to hear your ideas in comments here. And don’t forget to join us at Workhuman Live Online next week! 

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