Human-centric leadership makes a difference

Photo courtesy of Next Step
While social distancing has put limitations on employee interaction and team building, there are opportunities for colleagues to interact in outdoor settings.

Next Step, Silicon Valley & Oslo

Leadership during periods of uncertainty and change is never easy. Today the task is even more daunting because of “pandemic fatigue,” the distance of working from home, new digital tools, and employees’ fear of illness and personal economic impact. 

Traditional management techniques, such as setting challenging goals, tying incentives to results, and measuring key performance indicators, can lead to resistance or burnout, as employees struggle to meet expectations. 

Today’s environment requires a new “human-centric” leadership approach. By shifting the focus from results to people, future-ready leaders are experiencing increased engagement as employees define new solutions, create opportunities, and achieve short-term objectives. 

Human-centric leadership is one in which the manager understands and addresses each employee’s feelings, needs and goals—prior to consideration of the company objectives—strengthens commitment and long-term results. It is built on: 

Building Trust

By showing employees you care, are willing to listen and are committed to working with them through the upcoming months, you begin to build trust.

Asking questions of how people are feeling and, when appropriate, inquiring about their family deepens the relationship. By also sharing a bit of yourself and your own concerns, challenges and human vulnerabilities, you can build a bond to support the relationship through good and bad times ahead.

Embracing Diversity

Whether your team is comprised of people from different cultures, generations, or genders, or are of similar demographics, each person has different motivations, work styles, and needs. By getting to know each person through open one-to-one meetings (video or, if possible, in person), you strengthen your relationship, while gaining insight into their motivations. 

You can then leverage this knowledge to manage each person differently. Some may want more frequent, shorter one-to-one meetings, want to meet outside for a walk to break up video chats, or be challenged to learn something new. Based on each person’s motivations, you can also define short- and long-term incentives (extra day of vacation, gift card for favorite online store, access to company cabin) to recognize and reward achievements. 

Empowering Success 

Great leaders set a clear vision and the overall direction of the company and then enable and support their team members to define and execute the activities, tasks, and decisions needed to achieve the desired result. When employees are working from home, sometimes with limited regular check-ins, empowerment is critical, albeit difficult.

Global leaders, including Amazon, Google, and Ritz Carlton attribute their success to employees who go beyond “the day job” to innovate, define new solutions, deliver outstanding customer experiences, and move the company forward. The keys to successful empowerment are:

Assigning people to teams and initiatives that align with the employee’s personal goals and motivators.

Setting clear direction of what needs to be achieved, allowing the employees to then determine how to reach the goal.

Allowing the team the time, space, and creativity to explore, experiment, and then move forward toward agreed upon milestones—without restrictive time pressures or reporting demands.

Acknowledge that failures can and often will occur.

Leverage one-to-one meetings as coaching opportunities, not status check progress reports.

Photo courtesy of Next Step
Today’s environment requires a new “human-centric” leadership approach, as employees define new solutions, create opportunities, and achieve short-term objectives.

Team Building 

As humans, we all have a desire to belong to a community and team. While social distancing requirements make previous team development activities difficult, there are alternatives for getting people together. Some of the techniques used by human-centric leaders include:

Weekly video lunches; happy hours; quiz time or drum circles (using kitchen utensils)

Walk-and-talk sessions outdoors instead of video one-to-ones

Group picnics

Best recipe, garden, or cool picture contests

Buddy system for check-ins and support

Wondering what is right for your team?  Just ask a few people what would make them feel connected and supported, and give a bit of levity to the workweek.

Human-centric success

With COVID-19, the time has come for human-centric leadership. The pandemic has disrupted all aspects of business, creating many opportunities for innovation as societies, companies, and people to define the new future. By building trust with your employees, embracing diversity of goals and motivations, empowering success and building a committed team, human-centric leaders are ready for success now and in the future. 

Jennifer Vessels is founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based Next Step, leader of Executive Growth Alliance, and a speaker. She can be reached at +47 902 30 982 in Oslo, (650) 218-0902 in the United States, or The website is

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 4, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.