Human leadership improves talent outcomes, says Gartner

Nine in 10 HR leaders believe that to succeed today, leaders must exhibit human leadership skills such as authenticity, empathy, flexibility – Gartner

Research suggests that human leadership improves talent outcomes, and yet just 29% of employees believe their boss shows human leadership.

A Gartner survey of more than 230 HR leaders found that 90% believe that to succeed in today’s work environment, leaders must focus on the human aspects of leadership.

Yet, another recent Gartner survey of nearly 3,400 employees found that just 29% report that their leader is a human leader – a disconnect that shows leadership to be currently ineffective.

The case for human leadership is concrete, especially in this post-pandemic era. Research shows oganisations that can develop more human leaders will find these leaders’ teams to have less turnover, higher engagement scores and better wellbeing, reveals the Gartner HR practice.

Gartner points to the following three components as making up human leadership:

  • Authentic – Act with purpose and enable true self-expression, for both themselves and their teams.
  • Empathetic – Show genuine care, respect and concern for employees’ well-being
  • Adaptive – Enable flexibility and support that fits team members’ unique needs

And having these skills as a leader is more imperative today than it has ever been. “Although these qualities may have been important for good leadership in the past, today they are non-negotiable – particularly to compete in today’s new talent landscape,” says Caitlin Duffy, director of research at Gartner HR practice.

Gartner’s research found a 37%-point increase in the number of employees reporting high engagement who report to a human leader versus employees who do not consider their leader to be a human leader – a significant increase that shows highly engaged employees improve their team’s performance by up to 27%.

So, how can HR departments help to develop more human leaders. Gartner points to these three best practices:

1. Leverage trusted sources like peers, employees to make the business case to leaders

While 57% of HR leaders believe that making the business case for human leadership is a high-priority investment for the next year, most business leaders don’t trust data and analysis provided by HR. To gain leaders’ commitment to a more human leadership approach, HR should leverage trusted sources – peers and employees themselves – to make the business case to leaders. Convene a dynamic group of impactful, well-respected leaders who believe in, and act on, human leadership, and these progressive leaders can work to set new leadership expectations for the organisation that are both current and relevant to the realities of leaders’ roles, while providing ongoing support.

2. Teach leaders to exhibit positive behaviours despite fear

Gartner’s March 2022 leader survey found that nearly half of business leaders feel their actions as a leader are more scrutinised compared to three years ago. Nearly one-third of business leaders who are ineffective at human leadership worry mishandling sensitive issues could damage their reputation. “HR typically provides leaders with development and training on navigating sensitive situations and creating a psychologically safe environment, but these efforts are missing the mark,” says Jerome Mackowiak, director of advisory, Gartner HR practice. “In today’s environment, discomfort is inevitable as leaders address topics that can never be made comfortable or safe.”

3. Support leaders’ judgment by limiting scope and ambiguity

Many leaders struggle with deciding what to do when faced with the complex situations that come with human leadership. To solve this, 68% of HR leaders surveyed reported that their organisations provide scenario-based guides and training to help leaders take specific action on employee needs. Yet, just 29% of HR leaders believe that employees receive support that fits their unique needs. Ultimately, guides only add more uncertainty to ambiguous scenarios. “Today’s work environment illuminates a striking dichotomy – asking people to show up to work authentically and bring their whole self, while requiring leaders to deliver fair, equitable and scalable outcomes,” says Mackowiak. Giving leaders tools to quickly determine which actions they can take that will have the highest impact reduces the scope of potential next steps. HR can also remove ambiguity from leader-employee interactions by helping leaders identify signs that their approach is ineffective so they can adapt in real time.

“Adopting these strategies to develop human leaders will enable organisations to increase the number of human leaders from 29% to 48%,” says Duffy. “To create more human leaders, HR can help them use their emotions to propel them forward.”


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