Human-First Leadership Matters More Than Ever

Human-First Leadership Matters More Than Ever

Apr 19, 2020

Human-First Leadership Matters More Than Ever

by: Jennifer Simpson


Leading from the heart and in a way that connects to others and what matters to them is not a new idea, but it has felt especially important over the last few weeks.  I’ve been a proponent of human-first leadership for a long time and especially resonate with the notion outlined in this 2017 Forbes magazine piece that empathy isn’t a “soft” skill but rather a crucial leadership attribute.

Listening well and deeply and being attuned to what matters to your customers, partners, and team is important all the time because it helps ensure that what you are doing is hitting the mark.  It means that you can count on having the best information available to you because people trust you with the truth.  Poor listening and lack of empathy for others generally results in others either withholding crucial information from you, or worse, telling you what they think you want to hear instead of what they know to be true.  That is the death knell of leadership because decisions made on faulty or incomplete information comes at real cost.

While empathy and good listening aren’t skills unique to women leaders, they are a skillset that tends to be praised more often and valued more openly with girls than with boys. Today, as we face one of our greatest collective crises, countries with women leaders seem to be having an out-sized measure of success in containing the spread of COVID-19, in reassuring their populations and in generating public trust.

A recent article in the Atlantic recently declared, “New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader On The Planet“ and highlighted the ways in which Jacinda Arden has been both decisive and relatable through the crisis.  She moved quickly to put relatively strict social distance measures in place, but also stayed visible by hosting Facebook Live chats (sometimes wearing a sweatshirt), sharing aspects of her life with the public (like having just put her toddler to bed, or having a stray toy visible in the background), and offering reassurances that while everyone was experiencing challenges the country would get through it together.

At Integrated Work, “Human First” is core to our philosophy and we have leaned fully into it  as a way of being and leading over the last few weeks.  Here are a few examples we find are working for us in ways that are also good for our business:

  • We went to work-from-home on March 13 before mandatory orders were declared and staff were encouraged to make choices that were best for their health and that of their families
  • We’ve provided additional flexibility for time off and shifted work hours to accommodate the fact that several team members also have minor “co-workers” (aka kids) whose care they are responsible for
  • We’ve implemented daily “stand-up” videoconferences to stay connected, check-in with how everyone is doing, and make real-time adjustments to priorities
  • We’re making even more time to share more about our lives beyond work as the lines blur between home and business, so we have a shared understanding of the things that compete for our energy and attention
  • We’ve provided stipends to team members to set up their home offices for greater comfort and quality of work, so the space isn’t a distraction for them or for clients

As a leader, I know how fortunate we are at Integrated Work to have the flexibility to easily shift to work-from-home with minimal disruption and to have been able to take advantage of some stimulus resources to help us weather the storm.  I also know that our most precious resource is the health and well-being of our team.  The circumstances of this crisis are not evenly distributed and giving each person a degree of flexibility to take good care of themselves and their loved ones both physically and emotionally makes us stronger together and better able to do great work.  I’ve always believed that empathetic leadership was the right thing to do and this crisis is only reinforcing that it isn’t just “nice”—it’s also one of the keys to our success.