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The four Cs of humane leadership


Our working practices have changed drastically and, as we enter a new era of work informed by everything we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s time to embrace a more humane form of leadership based on people, purpose and collaboration.

22nd Apr 2021

In 2021 KPMG’s UK CEO handed in his resignation after he told staff to "stop moaning" about the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on people's lives and to stop "playing the victim card”. He was immediately required to step down. In another story, it was reported that Arcadia Group’s demise, including the recent acquisition of its signature brands by ASOS was largely caused by its CEO’s widely reported management style, with stories of alleged hierarchical leadership, bullying, vanity, greed and stubbornness, that created an environment of deep-seated employee disengagement.

The behaviour of a leaders has a large ripple effect, felt first by employees and then more widely. 

These and many other similar stories prove that the old leadership style based on command and control and a lack of compassion is not fit for purpose anymore. These days humane leadership is not just a buzzword, and leaders can no longer tell employees to ‘buck up and just get on with it’.

According to research by Ricoh, 50% of managers are struggling with employee wellbeing and mental health, likely caused by a combination of remote working challenges as well as external anxieties cause by Covid-19. The behaviour of a leadership team has a ripple effect, felt first by the employee population and then more widely.  

People, purpose and collaboration

Bricks-and-mortar offices were managers’ kingdoms, but today’s working environment has changed, and so should our management styles. Humane leadership, where leaders can show empathy and compassion to people around them, is what is needed now. Leadership cannot be about a formal position in an organisation, it should be about service to humanity.  

In my book 'The Management Shift' I highlight how few businesses have a clear model of leadership that improves organisational performance on a sustainable basis. This need has now been augmented due to the global pandemic. The new world of work that is emerging from this pandemic requires a model of leadership based on people, purpose, and collaboration. This will not only speed up recovery, but also create happier, healthier, and more purposeful workplaces that do well financially and are able to attract and keep talent.  

Humane leadership will become one of the key competitive advantages for any organisation that implements this leadership approach. If we prioritise fair treatment, clear communication and employee welfare, we can build a healthy culture that becomes a powerful commercial asset. If we prioritise cost cutting, neglect of individuals and short-term targets, then commitment will dip, potentially imperilling any recovery. Fear can cause paralysis.  

The four Cs of humane leadership

Based on research conducted over many years, I have developed a new model for leadership (the 8Cs of quantum leadership) that captures the key competencies leaders need to embody now. Among these are four crucial attributes:  

1. Clarity

Clarity not only needs to be conveyed in clear messaging, but also in values and purpose. Leaders should ask ‘where is the organisation going?’; ‘what is the higher purpose of this organisation?’; and ‘how can we serve the world’? It is important to be aware of the bigger picture and finding meaning in the chaos. Where does the organisation fit in this new world and what strategies will enable it to succeed? Every leader should look at how they can make their organisation a force for good in society.

2. Candour

Few things damage workforce enthusiasm more surely than being kept in the dark or misled about future prospects by a business’s leaders. It is critical to be honest and clear in communication, and to chart a clear way forward, while avoiding information overload. Candour will create pyschological safety, which will have positive impact on performance, engagement, and profit.

3. Calmness

Moving away from fear and worry is crucial. Calmness transcends in ripples and can impact emotional intelligence as well as social intelligence that impacts people around leaders. Research by Goleman and Boyatzis showed that when leaders express emotional/social intelligence they affect the brain chemistry of the people around them. This has been shown to work both face-to-face and when working remotely. Our mirror neuron brain cells pick up the emotions and moods of the people around us and emulate them.

4. Compassion

At a time of heightened workforce fears, it is essential that leaders seek to damp down rather than accentuate anxiety. This does not in any way prevent business leaders from taking tough decisions. Showing compassion is not only the responsible thing to do, it also helps build a bank of commitment and energy for the future.

Embracing and practicing these four Cs will help leaders to create the foundations for recovery. The behaviour of a leaders has a large ripple effect, felt first by employees and then more widely. This can be demonstrated both through employee engagement surveys and at a neuroscientific level.

Organisations need to ensure humane leadership is central to everything they do. This will set the path to recovery and enable leaders to seize the opportunity to create an inspirational and engaging culture within the organisation.

Interested in this topic? Read L&D’s keyword for the next decade: human.

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