ASA 001: Human Centered Leadership – The Cure for Times of Change

Human Centered Leadership will make you successful in virtual VUCA environment. Want to know how?

Monika Chutnik
Human Centered Leadership – The Cure for Times of Change

Hi! I am Monika Chutnik, and I help leaders learn how to lead their international and virtual teams. Together with my team in ETTA Leadership & Culture, we make the change happen by means of training, coaching, or facilitation.

This podcast, A Step Ahead, has been created for all who want to grow in such an international, remote environment – who want to grow as leaders, as HR, as change agents, and simply as humans. I will be delighted to help you make progress at work and in life.

In the first episode I’m talking to Kinga Jaśkowiak, an experienced career journey coach, development enabler, and talent manager in Learning and Development at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Kinga, whose professional role is Strategic Skills and Enablement Partner, is sharing her thoughts and giving us leaders an urgent call for action into Human Centric Leadership.

In the conversation, we refer to:

  • What is Human Centered Leadership and how to do it in a team?
  • What’s the right way to lead people?
  • What are the five top skills of human centered leader?
  • What are the benefits of human centered leadership?
  • Why is listening such an important part of human centered leadership?

What I take from this conversation is: ✔have the courage to listen and ✔give yourself the opportunity to listen.

Five top characteristics of a human centered leader are:

  • emotional intelligence,
  • empathy,
  • humility,
  • vulnerability
  • active listening.

What a good leader should aim to achieve is the mastery in creating opportunities to share, decompress and grow.

What are your thoughts here? Please feel welcome to share here at the bottom of the page 👇, or on the podcast profile on LinkedIn.

If you want to stay in touch, sign up for the newsletter and follow A Step Ahead Podcast in your favourite streaming service.


Good reads and videos to learn more:

  • Article How Eastern philosophy can change the way you think
  • Playbook Big Reset
  • Article What is Human Centered Leadership
  • Article How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
  • Video Brené Brown on Empathy
  • Video Communication Skills: Empathetic Listening
  • Article What is active listening
  • Article Dare to Lead Proves the Power of Vulnerability


Human Centered… seems natural to us humans 


Listening, asking questions and treating your team members and yourself as a complete human person proves to be the right thing to do. So simple and at the same time, not easy at all, especially for leaders – who might have a tendency to talk more than to listen. That’s something contrary to what we have learned in the past. So let’s start now. Let me encourage you:

imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.

So let’s go for it and develop the Human Centered approach in your leadership practice!

If you’re a LinkedIn user, you might want to find the channel A Step Ahead by Monika Chutnik and to get informed about the newest content and podcasts that that I’m creating.



Why bother with the topic of Human Centric Leadership?


The pandemic, the great resignation or in some cases realisation, and in case of Europe the recent war in Ukraine, broke the need to turn into the human centred leadership instead of what we used to call “resources” or “people management”.

And this topic has become both urgent and important. And it requires training many new skill muscles immediately because our people need us to assist them in this new reality now. They can’t wait.


What is Human Centred Leadership?


The definition of human centred leadership is pretty simple and straightforward. It’s just putting people first while supporting a business, while supporting your customers, leading an organisation or a company.

Why there’s so much buzz about it if the whole idea of people leadership is to deal with and lead people?


The traditional people leadership has used to be mainly about performance, profitability, deadlines, metrics, resolves, as opposed to human centred leadership. And that is why there’s such a huge need for turning into the human centred leadership direction, to promote the leadership that makes success happen “thanks to people, not despite them” as Josh Burson, the HR guru and celebrity says.

The human is in the focus of the leadership activities. The leadership is becoming much more personal.

Why does it matter, especially in the virtual environment?


It is important because in the virtual environment we miss many hints that we get when it comes to interacting with people that we can see. In many cases, if the cameras are not used in the meetings, we can’t see body language. It’s hard for us to sense the emotions, the actual mental state of the person. So it is important to schedule some quality time with your employees, to discuss all of these elements that we find missing when we are not in direct touch with the people.


Is Human Centred Leadership really something new? 


Putting people first was discussed in many corporate organisations for many years.  Why is it different now when we talk about this human centred leadership?

Nowadays, we try to not only support and assist our employees with this human centred leadership. We also try to prepare and equip our people leaders, so they can start assisting their employees. Based on the rule: put your mask with the oxygen first on your mouth before you assist the others. So we try to teach people leaders how to build their emotional intelligence, how to start with themselves, how to start discovering and managing their own emotions, before they can start assisting others, before they can start helping their employees manage their own emotions and mental states.

When we look at the terminology that is being used nowadays in bigger companies we no longer call people “employees” or “workers”, we call them “team members” or “colleagues”. Similar in case of people managers, we rarely call managers nowadays “managers”. We call them “management coaches” or “leadership coaches”. So there is definitely a shift.


How does Human Centered Leadership work in practice? 


The human centred leader is definitely working on developing a couple of aspects of their, a couple of scales. One of them is their emotional intelligence, which covers the whole scope of understanding your own emotions, managing them. And then helping others in dealing and managing their emotions, supporting them, through your empathy, so the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This belongs to emotional intelligence and is indispensable nowadays.

How can a leader support your team if they themselves resist or suffer from panic attacks after a change occurs?

First you need to take care of yourself in terms of how you’re dealing with many changes that are happening nowadays. And then you can assist your employees to understand how they feel, what is their perspective, what the current reality is, and helping them to deal with it.

Then the ability that you definitely need to be effective with your empathy is listening actively. It’s still underestimated. But it’s a great virtue of a human centred leader.

We’ve been so far mentoring a lot, sharing our wisdom, sharing our knowledge with others, for way too long. This is the era of coaching, listening actively, asking, challenging people to find answers, to come up with their own solutions by asking them the right questions. And that’s what we should be doing as human centred leaders.

Another thing that is very important for a human centred leader is the vulnerability, the ability to show that you also make mistakes, that you’re a human being. Without the price of emotions that happen to you. That you have some good and bad days, that you are one of them, you’re similar to your colleagues.

Remember that leader who models vulnerability creates an environment of psychological safety and mutual trust.

That’s why it’s so important to have vulnerability as one of the tools in your human centred leadership toolbox.

Last but not least thing on the list important for a human centred leader is humility. So the ability of being humble, acknowledging in front of first yourself and then others that you are not perfect, and that you have the ability to not to focus only on yourself, but also on others, helping others first.


Let’s sum up the five top skills of Human Centered Leader:

  • emotional intelligence
  • empathy
  • humility
  • vulnerability
  • active listening


How does a Human Centered Leader behave?


Recently there was a research quoted in Harvard Business Review. What was investigated was: which kind of a skill is mostly valid on the C level (CEO, CFO, etc). Would you believe that it was listening?

It seems that even on the highest level of organisation, what people really appreciate in their leaders the most is the ability to listen.

That’s quite amazing. And now when we think about the most successful leaders that we know, not only in business, but also internationally, these are the people who know how to listen to their team. And other thing is actually combined with this emotional intelligence and asking questions.

How do you feel? What does it make you think? How does it impact you? These questions bring amazing depth of the conversation and a speed up in the relationship.

Don’t be scared of asking questions about how other people feel and what they feel because they really help you get to the very heart of it.

What about silence?


One more thing to add here is:

don’t be afraid of silence because silence brings also space to share your emotions, feelings and ideas.

People are usually afraid of silence, but it creates this opportunity for both, the person who leads and the person who participates in the conversation. It allows the relationship building happening in the background, but also it’s just like a breath, it fills you in with some thoughts, with some realisations that you can then share.

What you might do as a leader is just to address the topic of silence directly. And you can either steer the moments of silence yourself, or you can just address it and tell your people “it’s okay to be silent for a moment” or “please take a moment to think it over”. It’s perfectly fine to do so.


What is important in a team belonging? 


When it comes to personal belonging and building trust, human centred leadership supports it tremendously because you try to understand other people’s position, you try to take their lands in various situations, you can simply wind or trust, thanks to being open to a different perspectives.

This is interesting that so far we’ve been looking at diversity only through the gender, and race lenses, which are obviously extremely important, but there is much more into diversity, that the human centred leaders focus on.

There is definitely cultural difference, personality difference that should be included, there are a lot of factors that make us different from others, including our unique perspective that we bring into the world, both the business and personal one.

So, it is important to start including these perspectives, and empathy, emotional intelligence, active listening. They all allow us as the leaders to hear these differences and to have the chance to get to know, to understand them much, much better.


What can leaders do to create the connection with team members?


Definitely having regular conversations, like one on ones with your employees, is one of the ways in which you can enable the sharing and allow this opportunity, this trust building to happen.

During them, you should focus rather than on performance, on checking the status of some projects, on the person and on under unique needs, both personal and professional. It’s better to start with the personal ones, because they are the base, fundamentals for the professional ones.

If all of the personal needs are met, then you can move to the professional ones, because if one of them is neglected, then it immediately will impact the professional life.

Please be also sensitive to people not being open and saying “no” to such a proposal, and then talking about the professional life in terms of career development. Focus on the individual’s aspirations, their plans – it may be a great way to build a strong relationship with them.

So again, focus on putting people first is what you want to involve, what you want to engage in.


How to encourage people to share their feelings?


The most simple and the most powerful way of inviting people to share is sharing yourself first.

When you really become the personal leader, you also show some of your own doubts or how some situations impact you.

You need to somehow touch the sensitive part first, let it appear in the contact and just accept the fact that that exists. You don’t need to solve the situation of the world, but you just need to admit that it’s true. And then you can think about learning, performance and all the other things that we traditionally require in the work life. That’s one of the striking examples from our recent experience as a company.

Acknowledging that the situation is difficult for everybody is the key here. It opens people’s mouths and hearts, and they now are much more likely to start sharing what they feel, what they are facing right now. Many human centred leaders do: whenever they have their team meetings, they open the space once again at the beginning of the meeting to people. To share what kind of needs they may have at the moment, what kind of emotions or internal struggles they are going through.

That’s a great way of dealing with such uneasy turbulent situations: to acknowledging that it’s difficult, that we are facing a challenge or a true change right now. Then allowing and giving people space to say what and how they feel with it.


What else could a leader do to introduce the Human Centric Leadership in practice?


You can approach the problem of a high level of stress and give people an opportunity to vent that not in a bad way, but rather to do it through talking. Or you can start organising some sessions in which you can put people into small groups in which they can simply chat. It’s not about having very insightful conversations, but rather having an opportunity to share freely, what they think, what they feel. And to find on the other side of the phone or PC a person who listens to them, who acknowledges some of their feelings and fears.

Having a conversation, or enabling others to have a conversation, is in fact the job of a leader.

Without the conversation, no leadership happens.


What does Hewlett Packard Enterprise do in area of HCL as a company?


  1. Encourage people leaders to have individual one on ones with people who report to them, and during these meetings, check on how they are doing in general. Then also to have really robust career conversations with their individual employees.
  2. Equip them with some tools that can enable the development.
  3. Acknowledge that the leadership should also have another, individual level. It’s called personal leadership.


All of the leaders (just like in case of emotional intelligence) need to first take care of themselves and to focus on personal leadership. Focus on a self-building, self-awareness, self-understanding, before they’re asked to assist others. That’s one way of helping the employees.

The other way of putting the human centred leadership into practice is including some of the activities in meetings that allow people to share thoughts. The company moves towards very interactive sessions in which people can share their perspective freely in a way they prefer.


How the company communicate the Human Centred Leadership as a way to do a leadership?


During the last couple of months, that communication has become much more personal, rather than very official and professional. It starts with openings that are appealing to people’s feelings and it’s rather an informal way of designing the communication. In the past, it used to be more formal. Now it involves some sharing personal thoughts and feelings with others and showing the vulnerability.

In many cases, leaders allow some interaction through this very official communication. They are interested in your opinion, ask for the feedback in whatever form works for them and for our employees.

This is really turning into the direction of the human centred leadership – making things personal and appealing, referring to people’s emotions first before getting down into business.


What can leaders do to turn into the direction of Human Centric Leadership?


First, listen more actively and deeply. That would be like the first golden rule. Active listening nowadays is like the top one.

Second, be there for your people and listen to them, because thanks to that listening, you will be able to understand their perspective much, much better. Thanks to it, you’ll be able to create this stronger relationship with them. You’ll be able to respond to their needs in a much more precise way.



Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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