Human Leadership – What It Is & Why It Matters


Remember that old Aesop’s Fable about the Sun and the Wind? They argued about which of them could make the man take off his coat. The harder the Wind blew, the tighter the man pulled his coat around him. When the Wind was out of breath, all the Sun had to do was to shine his light and warmth on the man and he took off his coat willingly.

This is one of the simplest and most powerful examples of human leadership, and the difference it can make. The point is that effective leadership is not about controlling, instructing, directing or micro-managing. People are motivated to do things when they are encouraged, empowered and aligned with the end goal. If your people and your teams know what you’re collectively working towards, and why, they won’t need much direction or intervention – they will take off their coats themselves!

The role of the leader is, above all, to understand how people are feeling and to create the right conditions for effective human behaviour. Just like the Sun shining its warmth on the man, you need to create the right conditions for the outcomes you want to see.

  • Start with why. As humans, we are creatures of meaning. It is our feelings and emotions that drive our behaviour, so our work needs to connect on an emotional level. Think about why you do what you do, and proactively engage your employees with the mission and purpose of your organisation. Clearly communicate the desired outcomes, and why they matter.
  • Listen to emotions and perspectives. The Wind in the story didn’t succeed in achieving his objectives because he didn’t pay any attention to how the man was feeling. All of his energy went into controlling the man’s behaviour, and this only made the man more resistant. The Sun understood that the man was perfectly capable of taking off his coat himself, and would be motivated to do so if the conditions were right – if he felt warm. This is why we at Inpulse place such a high priority on emotional analytics – effective leaders need to start by understanding how their people are actually feeling.
  • Equip and empower. When you are all aligned to the same purpose, you then need to ensure that everyone is equipped with the skills and resources they need to deliver what’s expected of them. Encourage input and collaboration so that everyone has a voice and a clear role to play. Show your people that their contribution is valued, and that you don’t need to micro-manage because you have belief and trust in them to deliver.
  • Invite feedback. Your people can see and feel the effects of your leadership – the Wind blowing around them or the heat of the Sun – but don’t assume that they understand the intentions behind your decisions. Seeking regular feedback helps you to understand how people are actually experiencing your leadership, and gives you the opportunity to address any gaps and misunderstandings. Your leadership will be more effective in achieving your goals if you communicate with clarity and transparency, and then gather feedback on a regular basis – pulse surveys are a quick and convenient way of doing this.

Ultimately, human leadership is being clear about what the expectations are, and why these outcomes matter, making sure people and teams are equipped with everything they need to deliver on those expectations, and then getting out of the way! Micro-managing and constant performance monitoring can give leaders a reassuring illusion of control, but employees are left feeling stressed, undervalued and unmotivated. Setting expectations rather than managing performance is a healthy way of re-framing the role of the leader, releasing and empowering your people to thrive and drive the success of your business.

Master Engagement Throughout the Employee Lifecycle