A Playbook For the Human Side of Leadership

When I played rugby, being named team captain was a great honor. It meant I had the respect and trust of the team, could lead it to victory and perform under pressure.

Rugby’s notoriously rough but the lessons I learned from the pitch offer important insight for leaders. Great team captains, like great CEOs, embody a leadership style that focuses on their players — their needs, their performance and their ability to win together. It’s one of the best examples I know of human-centered leadership — a style of leading and coaching by empowering others to bring their best game.

In my conversations with CEOs and leaders around the county, most assume they’re doing a pretty good job. But when the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) results come in, not all employees agree. When faced with this disconnect, how do leaders close the gap?

Inspirational leadership is much harder than it sounds. But whether you’re coaching a team or building a business, your ability to connect with every person you work with, in the way that works best for them, will strengthen your ability to shift from thinking about what your employees do, to why they are driven to do it.

If managing people is the toughest part of your job, consider changing your approach. Here are eight ways to develop the skills and mindset to become a wiser, more compassionate leader of humans:

1. Address basic needs.
Care as much about your employees’ needs for autonomy, excellence and purpose as you do about the purpose and excellence of your business. Build a workplace and work culture that offers a win-win proposition, where the success of your growth strategy is proportionate to your investment in improving your employees’ work experience.

2. Make everyone feel heard.
Listen to what employees really want and make sure they feel heard and respected. Repair the trust of employees who are disengaged or feel undervalued, and show appreciation for employees who give their best.

3. Invite ideas. Not all ideas have tangible value, but in today’s innovation-economy, your team’s ability to generate ideas and rethink obstacles will directly impact sales and improve customer experience — and give you a team invested in and accountable to results.

4. Model trust. If you want your employees to bring their best selves to work, they need to feel safe. Modeling humility and vulnerability, and choosing transparency over control, will create an environment of trust, where growing from mistakes and moving forward is more important than being right.

5. Prioritize alignment. Expecting everyone in your organization to be in agreement is unrealistic. Instead, strive to find alignment and compromise on key points so everyone feels they have a role in implementing your vision.

6. Celebrate individuality. The individuality and diversity of your team is a plus. When employees are respected and acknowledged for their uniqueness, and your workplace is relentlessly inclusive, it creates a stronger sense of belonging and reinforces what it means to pull together as one.

7. Value and purpose matters. People are motivated when they feel valued in their work and can have a positive impact. Strive to incorporate context and empathy around work performance, and help employees realize they can and do make a difference.

8. Don’t forget to have fun. Fun is the shortest distance between productivity and positivity between colleagues, and essential to team spirit — that feeling of camaraderie, mutual trust and pride that inspires everyone to come together as one. If company team-building events have been on the back-burner, it’s time to bring them back.

With quiet quitting and employee disengagement trending topics, leaving old leadership approaches behind could be more than a strategic imperative. Becoming more human-centric could re-energize your company for years to come.