By Anthony Howard

Humanise the book

Humanise. Why Human-Centred Leadership is the key to the 21st Century is the fruit of thousands of hours of consultation, conversation and contemplation. It emerged from a search for ‘tomorrow’, a search for the future and in particular for the weak signals that indicated where history was heading. This search evolved into a search for leadership, for the men and women who could light the way ahead with the torch lit by people such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. That search turned into an enquiry about the foundations of moral leadership that you can implement in your own life, and then the application of that foundation into positions of high leadership.

All that searching merged into a concept I called Human-Centred Leadership, which puts people first and integrates the moral and technical dimensions of leadership.

Human-centred leadership puts people first.

The starting point for being a human-centred leader is doing just that: putting people first. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as the realities of leadership begin to bite.

I recall discussing the impact of the global financial crisis with the CEO of a major listed firm. He explained how revenues had shrunk and they frantically set about cutting costs. Laying off a large swathe of employees would have strengthened the balance sheet. However the CEO argued before the Board to retain those people, and take a hit to the bottom line, for two reasons. Firstly he believed there was significant wisdom and experience in those people, which he did not want to lose. Secondly, he did not want to put people in the invidious position of having to find work in the midst of a severe and potentially protracted economic downturn. This was a brave decision (which the Board kept under constant review) and is the kind of decision human-centred leaders make. They start with looking after people.

Putting people first extends not just to those around you, but to everyone you or your organisation touches. This crosses boundaries of space and time, into subsequent generations. A people first leader could not in good conscience, for example, do something that caused a problem for someone in the future.

Human-centred leadership integrates the technical and moral dimensions

Because our world is so focused on results there is an overwhelming tendency to consider, and reward, the technical aspects of leadership. The technical dimension encompasses strategic agility, operational excellence, stakeholder management, commercial acumen, financial insight, and extends across team building, emotional intelligence and relational competence. In other words, ‘technical’ leadership includes all those skills and competencies that you need to do well in order to lead in business, government and society. You need to be good at these in order to become, and remain, an effective leader.

However, we have largely lost sight of the moral dimension of leadership.

"Leadership is fundamentally a moral undertaking because it involves people, and their hopes, dreams and aspirations."

Humanise talks about the ancient Greek concept of morality as those actions which lead you toward becoming the best version of yourself, rather than binary distinctions between right and wrong. In this sense, therefore, "moral leadership involves leading people in the right way, to do what is good, to become the best version of themselves — and in particular creating the environment in which that can happen."

Both aspects are essential. Good technical leaders who lack a moral compass can achieve spectacular results — and are often feted by markets — while doing great damage to people. Great moral leaders who lack technical capability can rouse and inspire, yet fail to deliver results and sometimes destroy what they set out to lead — and so also damaging people.

Human-centred leaders have technical and moral competence, and obtain results by helping people grow and flourish, so they can freely choose to deliver exceptional results. Results-centred leaders need command and control models of leadership to keep everything and everyone moving in the right direction. Human- centred leaders create environments in which people can flourish, and trust them to head in the right direction in accord with purpose and principles.

Human-centred leaders build a technical edifice on a moral foundation, and so become great leaders in business, government and society.

Integration is the key, building on a foundation of moral and technical competence, and putting people first in every decision you make. Perhaps consider your decision-making processes and whether you are putting people first, and how effectively you have integrated the technical with the moral. (and if you are really not sure, feel free to get in touch).