10 Ways to Lead Like a Human

This is a guest post by Andy Swann. Andy is the author of The Human Workplace: People-Centred Organizational Development.  He is the founder of Simple Better Human, a creative organization development consultancy.


Lead Like a Human

There’s a lot of talk about the move from management to true leadership, as well as the need to be human in the face of data and the impending rise of the robots. It’s easy to get lost in it all and hard to really understand why any of it matters.

The truth is that when people thrive, our organizations thrive too, so the sole function of leadership should be to enable people to be their best and do their best work. Leaders today are the creators and custodians of platforms for human success.

Here are 10 ways every leader can contribute to the platform, enable people to thrive, drive organizational success and get more from their own role. These are inspired by research which has encountered leaders across organizations of all shapes and sizes, with common factors in success shining through.



Things move fast in modern business, and the people who have the greatest insight are those closest to the customer. Insight is the evidence that should drive strategy, and the faster we can access it and use it, the more plugged-in our organization is to what the world needs from it. Take time every day to talk to your people, find out how they are doing, and what issues they face. Then offer support and congratulate them on their success. In workplace change, one of the major factors that contributes to things going wrong—which happens in 70% of cases (McKinsey, 2015)—is the feeling that management isn’t listening. Give people a voice!




Your job as a leader is to ensure you have the right people, in the right places, doing the right things. If your recruitment process is right, then the people are right – there’s no need to micromanage every task. Trusting the individual to find their own best way to succeed, within the most basic parameters that they need to operate in, not only empowers them, but allows them to do their best work. It also reduces the workload of the leader – instead of box-ticking, you can be out there involved with your people and collecting valuable insight.




Just because you have some seniority doesn’t mean you know everything. In fact, it probably means you know least, because you’re detached from the point of delivery. Not only do you need insight from your people to help drive your decisions, you need to be constantly finding ways to better build the platform for those people to thrive. Services, solutions, approaches, ideas – you need to be a sponge soaking it all up. You also need to be looking to the future and looking for what’s coming next, to make sure you’re ready.



Being open with the knowledge and experience you have, as well as honest with the good and bad, shows a level of respect for your people and can foster an adult relationship. Sharing is a two-way thing, which strengthens connections and allows collaboration to emerge as a standard process. Broadcasting pre-approved snippets of information is not only an insult to your people, but it restricts them from playing a full part in the success of a business.



Beyond learning for professional purposes, a curious mind enables leaders to really deep-dive into everything. Always be asking questions—why, how, what—and endeavor to find the answers. Trying things is the basis of design thinking and allows you to constantly strive for improvement. Things won’t always work out, but that’s how we learn, and we can iterate. If we don’t try, we’ll never know!




The power of thanks is extraordinary. Recognition platform Globoforce conducted research with IBM that showed the impact of a simple ‘thank you’ lasted much longer than the financial injection of an annual bonus. After implementing peer-to-peer recognition, Hershey saw a 23% increase over three years in employee satisfaction, with an employee being recognized internally ever seven minutes. Think how you feel when someone says, “Good job,” and pass that feeling around.



The world is not linear. No matter what data we gather, or what methods we use, sometimes things happen that we just aren’t ready for. It’s responding to things that counts. Continuing to do what we’ve always done in the name of process, rather than analyzing the facts and adapting behavior accordingly, is a risk. As a plugged-in leader, you should have everything you need at your fingertips to get out there and make strong decisions. There’s no room for burying your head in the sand. This is about setting an example.



One of the most human things we can do is understand what others are facing. Humans are more than a job title. Home issues, wellness and other factors can influence performance at work. A leader who understands this and shows empathy can help their people to perform at their best. There’s a lot of flexibility in the way many of us can work today, so use it to support people in doing their best work.




More than anything else, get out there and lead by being the best you possibly can be. Show your people what they can be by living it yourself. Be well, be happy, be content, be productive. By ensuring you’re living and breathing all the other human leadership traits here, you’ll be able to foster a following. If organizations are platforms, they are essentially communities, too (think Twitter, or Facebook). Give people a reason to follow and to congregate, then bring them with you for an amazing ride together.


Inspire Performance

Just by being human, leaders can inspire great performance. It’s a myth to assume that the way we are in ‘business mode’ should be any different from the way we are at home. Success in human relationships is the same any way you look at it. You wouldn’t give your spouse domestic KPIs, so why do it at work? Leading like a human is as simple as it sounds. Be open, honest and engaged – the rest will take care of itself.


For more information, see The Human Workplace: People-Centred Organizational Development.



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