25 November 2021

Human-centered leadership in the future of work

Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world on its head and altered the core of life as we know it and how business is conducted. In uncertain and highly stressful times, employees turn to leaders to help them gain clarity and a grounded optimism for a better future. Therefore, leaders play an even bigger role in today’s fragile world where disruption and change have become the norm. 

The pandemic has hit the world very differently, but career concerns, economic loss, isolation and loneliness have taken their toll on millions of employees. If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that wellbeing as a whole has taken a front seat this year across C-suite ‘rooms’. Apart from physical wellbeing, companies are starting to look at especially emotional and social wellbeing as the need for closer connection is felt deeply after forced isolations and social distancing. Another emerging trend shows itself in the increasing –albeit, slowly– attention towards financial wellbeing, which is not surprising as coronavirus crisis is causing financial stress and concerns related to paying monthly bills such as utilities, rent or a mortgage.

Amid dramatic changes which render every area of our lives even more volatile, the human connection between an employee and their leaders are crucial for driving employee engagement and fostering a culture of wellbeing. So, what makes a good leader under today’s circumstances? Which new capabilities should leaders cultivate and how should they adjust their skillsets to a future full of unpredictability? The questions themselves bear the answer: It begins with putting people at the core. No surprise, then, that Big Reset groups (400-plus senior HR leaders participating the survey led by Josh Bersin Academy) cite human-centered leadership as one of the biggest issues. What these senior HR leaders see key to the new type of leadership for post pandemic world is also reflected in the collaborative study of Stanford University &  Sesil Pir Consulting which shares valuable insights into the leadership behaviours and core human attributes. As Sesil Pir spoke to us during the first week of the LOOP talks, it is high time for each person in the organization to bring their full humanity, creativity, value and contribution into the work. Leadership is no longer just power or status—we need a human-centered approach and business management models to awaken hidden potential surrounding us. 

Ahead are the four key human-centred leadership skills that we believe to be crucial for a post-pandemic world. Integrating these into your leadership role will be vital to set the trajectory for success. 

Leading with empathy

It is critically important to lead with empathy. Leaders should prioritize empathic communication especially in times of a crisis because it derails people mentally, emotionally and physically. Therefore, having an awareness of how others feeling becomes even more important. Mastering the skill of empathy is not easy but when you take the needs of others into consideration and keep an eye on the stressors that cause negative emotions on you and your team will be help lowering stress and overcoming challenges around the wellbeing and engagement of your team. According to a Gartner analysis, managers who display high levels of empathy have three times the impact on their employees’ performance than those who display low levels of empathy. Employees at organizations with high levels of empathy-based management are more than twice as likely to agree that their work environment is inclusive. 

If you notice someone else suffering, show your intent to take supportive action; however, do not forget that you can never fully understand what they’re experiencing, so adopt a beginner’s mind without biases and judgements and hear the specific needs of that individual. 

Empathy also can be a unique motivator of innovation. When leaders create safe and inclusive environments and model behaviours that encourage individuality and value all voices, this will help many feel more comfortable while experimenting and taking risks without fear of negative consequences.

Communicating transparently and consistently

Providing regular and clear communication is important for fostering the feeling of trust and belonging among employees. Clarity in words and actions shows them they can count on their company to provide information they need to plan their lives around. Transparency is non-negotiable if you really want to help your employees adjust and cope emotionally during a crisis like Covid-19. Address your team’s concerns directly and be direct and honest when delivering difficult news. It is also important to communicate with them regularly and consistently. Be sure to recognise and celebrate any progress and achievement even if it is minor. 

‘Purpose’ is emerging as a north star setting the course of both the individual and the organisation to the future; therefore, do not neglect to embed it and accompanying values into all communications across the organization. A sense of strong and authentic purpose is critical in helping navigate high levels of uncertainty and protecting employee wellbeing. A research by McKinsey shows that respondents who indicate they are “living their purpose” at work had four times higher engagement and five times higher well-being. So, as an agile, empathetic and forward-looking leader you can begin the hard work of defining or reconsidering your organization’s purpose now and help people to explore the ways how they can feel connected to organisational purpose and put themselves in the bigger picture. 

Meeting the change when it arrives: adaptability 

Great leadership includes successfully moving from a place of comfort to embrace the unfamiliar and disruption. Dealing with uncertainty and reversing complexity is all possible by mastering adaptability, a key skill during a global crisis like Covid-19. Leaders who can move with an adaptable mindset notice the changing reality in the outside world more easily, can make quicker and informed decisions, and tune in to themselves to observe how they are responding emotionally and physically. Practicing well-being is a great way to invest in the skill of adaptability to be prepared for fast-paced future. Because when people feel exhausted and stressed-out, they tend to overthink what is not available to them, close themselves learning, and view changes as impediments to thriving rather than opportunities. Therefore, counter to what leaders may think, caring about one’s own well-being is not selfish. Rather, a sense of holistic wellbeing is necessary to build solid decision-making skills in the face of dramatic changes. 

Promoting self-care and wellbeing at work

Harvard Business Review led a survey among more than 1,500 respondents from 46 countries, the majority of whom were at or above supervisor level to get a picture of how leaders feel themselves amid difficulties brought on by the pandemic. Accordingly, eighty-five percent of them said their well-being had declined, while 56 percent said their job demands had increased. Moreover, 62 percent who were struggling to manage their workloads said they had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months. An alarming table, indeed. So how can leaders respond to this burnout epidemic and model self-care and support their teams without compromising from their own needs? 

  • Promoting the most update wellbeing resources and benefits provided by the company and reminding people of these resources regularly to increase the participation and reap the benefits of using them. 
  • Defining boundaries regarding work hours and personal liabilities, and adhering to these boundaries for the sake of their own wellbeing. 
  • Using paid time off and sick leave when needed. This will encourage employees to do the same when they are sick or need to recharge. 
  • Understanding the nature of holistic wellbeing thoroughly and learning the ways how to promote it across the company. 

Employee wellbeing is a multi-faceted issue which requires getting knowledgeable about.  Leaders may find themselves at a loss regarding how they will relate to wellbeing and learn to view their employees as whole persons with their own unique needs, struggles and expectations. To overcome this difficulty, leaders should consider having a relationship with expert employee wellbeing consultants. The initiative taken by Zebra Tech illustrates the importance of wellbeing literacy across a whole organisation. Within “Managing Your Energy” program, the company offers sessions during which leaders learn how to recognize symptoms of burnout. These sessions are helpful in raising awareness around the topic and equipping leaders with skills for early intervention and prevention. 

Leadership in unchartered waters is an enormous responsibility, but it can also be seen as a great opportunity. The pandemic is still here with us and we do not really yet know what’s waiting us in the coming year and beyond. However, even after the pandemic ends, the transformed ways of living and working will stay behind. So, leaders who can inspire trust, empathy and compassion will be the ones who can provide organisational flexibility and future stability. This will surely increase employee engagement and loyalty but also function as a driving force to attract the right talent and skills for years to come while improving the company brand’s reputation. Today, our economy turns around intangible assets, and companies which put people at the heart will win. By investing in measures that emphasize well-being, taking on the organisational purpose consistently, remaining flexible and adaptable, and remembering to be empathetic and transparent, leaders will empower their teams and companies by helping them better equipped to meet the challenges ahead. 



inc.com - 7 keys to effective leadership in our new normal

forbes.com - Redefining leadership in the age of new normal

willistowerswatson.com - Pandemic ve remote work challenges & the importance of wellbeing

mckinsey.com - how leaders can seize the moment

ey.com – how leaders can protect employee wellbeing during covid-19

mckinsey.com Solving the adaptability paradox for the long term 

fastcompany.com – this is the most essential skill leaders need to work through the covid-19 crisis

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