Leadership is never easy – especially during periods of uncertainty and change.  The challenge today is exacerbated by employees’ ‘pandemic fatigue’, lack of face to face interactions and rapidly evolving customer needs.

Leaders can no longer rely on traditional management techniques such as setting challenging goals, measuring by KPIs and overseeing work activities.   Success in 2020 requires new ‘humane’ approaches which recognize and address employees’ fears, frustrations and needs.

By shifting the management focus from profit, productivity and output to a Human Centric Leadership style,  future-ready organizations are creating an open innovation culture with a loyal, engaged workforce.

Human-centric leadership starts with understanding each employee’s feelings, needs and goals.  By focusing first on the person instead of the task to be done, the manager is demonstrating empathy and desire to create a real win/win situation.

From Next Step’s work with Global 500 organizations during 2020, the organizations that are best poised for post-COVID-19 growth are those in which human-centric leadership demonstrates:


During rapid change, employees need to feel safe. Leaders who demonstrate that they care, are willing to listen and committed to providing support, lay a foundation of trust.

It can start with asking team members how they are feeling; inquiring (appropriately) about their family depending upon the relationship. Being transparent, balancing confidence with vulnerability then creates a culture of trust and a safe haven for employees.


While manager who braces diversity are known to recruit, develop and integrate employees from different cultures, generations and genders, human-centric leaders go a step further. They recognize that everyone is genuinely unique. By getting to know each employee individually through in-depth open one to ones and adapting their management style to meet each person ‘where he or she is’, leaders build relationships,  and long commitment to innovation as everyone is ‘heard’.


While committed employees ‘do their job’, empowered team members go beyond ‘their daily duties’ to define new solutions, deliver outstanding customer experiences and move the company forward through uncertainty.  Empowerment ultimately comes from inside  – the employee is the motivator and fueled to achieve the company objectives.  This is achieved through aligning employees’ roles and tasks with their personal goals and motivators.

Human-centric leaders build on this base principle for empowerment through also:

  • Setting the clear direction of what needs to be achieved then giving employees the space to determine how they will reach the goal.
  • Encouraging and rewarding creativity, experimentation and failure as well as success.
  • Coaching – using 1/1s to ask questions, identify areas in which additional support or resources are needed and listening to employees plans for success.

Team Building:

As humans we each desire to belong and to engage with others in a community. Human-centric leaders leverage technology to create opportunities for distant team members to connect, share, collaborate and support one another even when historical team development activities and in-person meetings are not possible.

Some of the techniques human-centric leaders have successfully used in past months:

  • Weekly video lunches; happy hours; quiz hours; yoga classes
  • Team activities such as drum circles (using kitchen utensils) or a name that tune contests
  • Open office time – a couple hours/week when the manager is available on video for anyone who wants to talk
  • Where feasible and safe, having “Walk and Talk” sessions outdoors instead of video 1/1s or occasional group picnics or other outdoor meetings to celebrate milestones

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

The time has come for human-centric leadership

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