How Will You Be Remembered?

The Three Purposes of Human-Centred Leadership (Part 2)

Published 3rd December 2020

Leadership Development Trainer, Public Speaking Coach, and Podcast Producer

Published 3rd December 2020

At the end of the day, how would you want to be remembered? As one CEO put it, “When I leave, nobody will remember the numbers I achieved.”

He had mentioned a difficult time in his organisation, something that impacted the entire staff. The company needed to restrategise and move quickly, so the CEO did something rather surprising: his first move was to block out time to be with his team. He imagined how the change would affect the overall morale, and tried to put himself in his team’s shoes. He spent a few hours explaining the decision to each business unit. He even went against HR policy for a deserving employee, knowing that he would have to justify that move to HQ. At the end of the day, he said, “People will recall how we survived those moments together, and that’s the treasure.”

In Roland Bardy's book, Rethinking Leadership: A Human Centered Approach to Management Ethics, he writes that “when managers interact with people morally, they automatically move away from just applying compliance towards what is the essential essence of leadership: human orientation.” 

Focusing on people does not mean taking your eyes off the numbers. Rather, it’s about recognising that people, and only people, will drive results. It’s a flow, not an either-or: people are the precursor to organisational success.

In fact, research has shown that higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement lead to higher customer loyalty, productivity, profitability, and lower turnover[1]

In the first article of this series on Human-Centred Leadership, we described ways to create a “holding space”, where the team feel safe and supported to bring their human-ness to work. In this second article, we ask: how can we be more intentional in that invitation? As the CEO story above shows, being people-focused is going beyond tactic, tapping into something deeper, something at the heart of being human: purpose.

The Three Purposes

Purpose is the 'why' and the values that inform that 'why'. It gives meaning to the work you and your employees do, which is at the core of what engages them—not ping pong tables or free coffee. Within resilient teams, there are three purposes at play: the organisational purpose, your purpose as a leader and your team members' individual purpose. These three purposes have to fit together in such a way that they keep each other alive – it is a virtuous cycle. Only then can purpose keep your team from breaking when things get tough.

Your organisational purpose and values have likely been determined. As for your own and your team’s, there are three basic questions to bring these forces to life:

  • Why are you here? Why are you still here?

  • What do you know for sure about doing good work?

  • How do you bring your values to work every day?

These are deep questions, but they are not sensitive.

Human-centred leadership is not about knowing each others’ deepest fears and secrets, it is simply recognising the ways that we all bring our human values into work.

The Three Purposes
Fig. 1 The purposes of the organisation, of your team members and yourself as a leader keep one another alive in a virtuous cycle when they are aligned. Begin by asking yourself and your team these three questions. 

How to Start Aligning the Three Purposes

The first step is to have a discussion with your direct team about these three questions, and let them know that you genuinely care about what they think and feel. Block off time to do this with the whole team. Send the questions in advance as some people may need more time to think. Share your own reflections, and let everyone speak. The only criterion for success in this discussion is the amount of listening that occurred. To paraphrase an old quote: listen to each other into existence.

As the process unfolds, notice how similar values start to emerge. This will help you identify what the common purpose of your team is. Then, using the third question, make sure to connect that purpose to the organisation. Towards the end, drive the point home: “It sounds like everyone here believes in these shared values. Even with all the uncertainties and with us not working physically together, I appreciate that we still have a shared team purpose that connects us together. Can we continue to keep these values alive?” This moves the conversation from the present to the future.

You might notice that the act of sharing personal values has a calming effect on people. This recalling process is often called “values affirmation”, which exercise psychologists believe can help the body calm down in stressful situations.

How? Core values are a potent source of self-worth, and this exercise “boost self-resources, that is, the psychological resources that people have to cope with threats” and reinforces “a more expansive view of the self, less focused on and consumed by the threat.”[2]

Over time, awareness of core values will lead to what is called “protective / facilitative factors”: elements needed to maintain healthy resilience. To maintain the process, HBR suggests having a resilience inventory dashboard, and peer coaching that focuses on how each person can deal with existing and future challenges. We will delve into coaching and mentoring in the next part of this series.

At HCLI, we often say that you manage systems and lead people. When leaders focus on the human dimension of operations, it will unlock organisational resilience in the long term. 

^[1] Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268-279.

^[2] Sherman, D.K. (2013), Self‐Affirmation: Understanding the Effects. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7: 834-845. doi:10.1111/spc3.12072

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