Written by Dan Hughes, Director of International R&D
In our series of blogs about Talogy’s international research study on leadership, we’ve explored a range of important topics:
- 6 ways leaders need to address changing employee expectations
- Lessons learned from the pandemic (part 1) – leadership strengths
- Lessons learned from the pandemic (part 2) – leadership development areas
- Five toxic leadership behaviors which harm the employee experience
- Top leadership challenges for the next five years
These research findings provide insights into how expectations of leaders have shifted because of the pandemic, the impact of toxic leadership behaviors on the employee experience, and key challenges that leaders are likely to face in the coming years. To wrap up this series, we’ll explore what people-centered leadership is and why it is one of the top skills for leaders to put into practice based on the evolving demands and expectations of the modern workforce.
People-centered leadership in practice
Overall, the results across the various research themes in our study emphasize the need for leaders to adopt a more people-centered, or employee-centered leadership approach moving forward. At the same time of course, leaders must balance this with the necessity of delivering organizational success and, where required, driving business transformation. However, a key insight from our research was that employees and leaders reported that the leadership behaviors that drive organizational results are the same behaviors that create a positive employee experience.
Our research highlighted six key behaviors that leaders need to focus on to provide more people-centric leadership. These six behaviors each directly meet a core need employees have at work.
- Inspiring, motivating, and engaging people
Many employees are looking for organizations that have an inspiring purpose and vision that they can personally engage with through their work. People-centered leaders focus on creating this meaning and purpose for employees – giving them a ‘why’ to their work and providing a clear line of sight between what they do and the overall goals of the organization.Scientific research indicates that meaningful work is strongly associated with employees having higher work engagement, commitment, and job satisfaction.
- Empowering people to deliver With many teams now functioning in a hybrid or remote workplace, it is more important than ever that leaders empower their employees by putting their trust in them to find the best way to achieve organizational goals. People-centered leaders recognize the complex problems employees are facing today can no longer be solved by the ‘heroic leader’ that always has all the answers.From an employee perspective, this is also important because autonomy is a fundamental psychological need. Research suggests that leaders who adopt an empowering leadership style are more likely to have positive, motivated employees who perform better.
- Fostering collaboration, trust, and respectFor organizations that have moved to a hybrid or remote working model, leaders face a challenge in terms of building and maintaining collaboration. People-centered leaders work to find the most effective ways to foster team spirit, connection, and inclusion between team members working remotely. This is important because feeling a sense of relatedness is another basic psychological need that helps encourage intrinsic motivation at work.Beyond this, employee-centered leadership requires managers and executive leaders to think carefully about which activities may benefit from being worked on in-person versus in a remote setting.
- Demonstrating authentic leadership characteristics
Now more than ever, there is increased focus and expectations around a leader’s character and values. Being open, authentic, and honest, as well as demonstrating a clear moral compass are essential ingredients to build trust, loyalty, and commitment in the workplace. Leaders who behave unethically – such as lying or treating people unfairly – lose credibility quickly with their employees.A leader’s own integrity and behavior is also important for setting standards within the organization and building an ethical culture. Therefore, people-centered leaders need to be accountable for setting the right example for employees to follow.
- Coaching and developing peopleTo address the challenge of retaining talent, people-centered leaders proactively look for opportunities to help employees grow and develop within their organization. People are more likely to feel intrinsically motivated when their role provides them with an opportunity to build their competence and mastery – a third basic psychological need.Additionally, effective coaching from leaders should also increase individual and team performance. Leaders should provide regular, constructive guidance and feedback to help individuals build on their personal strengths and improve their development areas.
- Showing empathy and compassion
The pandemic accelerated the focus on well-being in the workplace and leaders have a critical role to play in supporting positive well-being for their employees. The most effective people-centered leaders during the pandemic recognized the emotional stress and anxiety that individuals and teams were under and responded by showing genuine care and concern towards their challenges.
Leading with empathy and compassion is important because, according to a report from the UK Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development, stress remains one of the leading causes of absence at work, and management style has been identified as one of the most common causes of stress by employees.
The impact of people-centric leadership in the workplace
Based on our research, these six attributes lie at the heart of effective employee-centered leadership, according to both employees and leaders themselves. Each of the six attributes supports a core need which employees have in their work: to have purpose and meaning, autonomy, connectedness, trust, opportunity to develop, and genuine concern for their well-being. For many leaders, this will require them to reflect, adjust, and evolve their approach to be successful in the future.
Leaders who can demonstrate these qualities consistently will be well prepared to provide a more people-centered leadership approach moving forward. In turn, this will enable leaders to navigate the key challenges they are likely to face in the future and help them achieve sustainable success both for the organization and their employees.
To read our full research report about ‘Leading in the future world of work,’ download a copy here.