Leadership effectiveness: The evolution of the “human” approach

By Sue Tumelty, founder and executive director of The HR Dept


Research by Gartner, an international consultancy, has identified “human leadership” as being the next evolution of leadership. They describe it as being made up of authenticity, empathy and adaptiveness. Employers will of course have heard the phrase “soft skills”. This captures well the “human” qualities that people bring to work and that Gartner is trumpeting.

Managing personalities

Leaders will know that a big part of the job is to manage a range of personalities with varying temperaments and qualities. One approach to becoming a more effective leader is mastering the introvert/extrovert spectrum and the traits that are associated with differing personality types.

It’s worth pointing out that most of us fall somewhere between either end of the spectrum. But if you do have team members who are consistently quiet (or quite the opposite), here are some ideas on how to bring out the best in everyone and become a more human centric leader.

Who works best with whom?

Psychometric testing is an online tool used by a lot of big firms. With a quick web search you can find plenty of tests for free, but these are not validated so it’s better to have a qualified tester manage the process. Such tests are not an exact science but they can be handy to help you understand what makes people tick, and why certain people work well together (or not).

A quiet place?

Whether introvert or extrovert, not everyone is comfortable having conversations that can be heard by everyone. So it can be thoughtful and effective to include workspaces that enable privacy. That said, it’s too much of a generalisation, for example, to suggest all introverts prefer working alone; some may appreciate a bit of workplace chit chat. Find out what team members are most comfortable with. Being introverted also means it takes more effort to do tasks where you are busily engaging with other people. Introverts can still do these tasks but may need to go for a run or take some quiet reflective time after work to reset.

Encourage feedback

Research has shown that in meetings of six or more, two people usually do over 60% of the talking. In bigger groups, the problem is worse. Introverts may choose to reflect on ideas before commenting, while extroverts may prefer to talk out loud to help them understand. This can lead to misunderstanding where, say, it is assumed that an introvert is not engaging with a discussion. It’s helpful therefore to share any agenda in advance so introverts have time to think about their input rather than having to improvise. Make it clear also that you recognise some people will want to have a think in their own time, and invite post-meeting feedback, perhaps via email.

What if you’re the introvert?

Perhaps you’re the one who’s introverted? First, you’re in good company. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are two leaders who are self-confessed introverts. Not only that, but further research from Harvard Business School suggests introverts can be very effective leaders.

There’s nothing to say you can’t make individual or small-group meetings a key part of your leadership style. And if you do need to talk in front of others, fully prepare your talking points and practice them out loud. Be honest with your team so your leadership style isn’t misconstrued as being unfriendly or aloof.

Finally, it’s a myth that the best leaders are loud and gregarious with “big” personalities. Introverted leaders may have a quiet strength that’s often very calming, inspiring, and likeable. It can also make others feel safe and comfortable in their own skin, encouraging them to be themselves just as you are.

Beyond the introvert/extrovert spectrum

On the note of how people communicate, it’s worth adding that certain neurodiversities have been shown to impact how people communicate. For example, people with ADHD tend to interrupt because they’re afraid of forgetting their point. Some people with autism might struggle to stay on point. It is a good thing to recognise that everyone’s different.

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