The value of humane leadership

by Brett Henebery06 Feb 2017
When it comes to managers engaging employees in the workplace, it can sometimes be hard to break through the ‘leader and learner’ preconceptions and connect with them on a more even, humane level.

One L&D professional knows the value of this all too well, having developed frameworks in her previous roles that have seen vast improvements not only in workplace culture, but in the happiness and well-being of individual staff.

Sarah Rodgers, principal at Iolite Consulting, is a coach, trainer and facilitator with an extensive background in organisation capability development, cultural transformation and corporate leadership.

Rodgers’ varied corporate career spans 25 years. In July 2011, she joined the executive team at Sydney Airport, where she developed a new L&D framework to drive improved outcomes.

She said one of the things she is passionate about is trying to bring “a sense of humaneness and being human” into leadership, pointing out that many people tend to be promoted because they’re good at something technical, but not necessarily good at leading or managing a team.

Speaking with L&D Professional, she reflected on how through practicing “humane leadership” during her time in leadership roles, she and her team were able to cut through many of the issues that hindered learners’ professional growth.

“The leader of an organisation is critical in terms of establishing the behavioural norms and cultural aspirations,” she said.

Rodgers pointed out that Australia hasn’t invested in leadership until quite recently – something she says must change.

“What you get as a result of this is people who view leadership as a task – but to me, it’s a part of being. It’s not a task or a process, it’s an approach, and part of how you operate,” she explained.

“It’s not what you do, it’s how you go about it. You might be someone who is open and supportive, and all of these things make you more humane and more accessible.”

Rodgers pointed out that if people look at leadership as “more than just a box to tick”, they will get more out of their role.

“In a leadership role, your job is to tap into your learners’ strengths and help them become even more successful than they thought was possible,” she said.

“It’s not what you achieve – it’s how you achieve it. I think that’s the true measure of a leader – and we need to contribute towards better leaders.”

Rodgers referred to an example of how paying close attention to the needs of team leaders can have a powerful trickle-down effect in organisations. 

“If I coached a manager who had five people in his team, and they each had five people in their team, he may become more in touch with how he reacts in certain situation and more savvy about how he communicates his expectations,” she said.

“Now consider this: he may have underperforming staff members and finds a way to empathically tell them what to do next time to be more successful. So he and those 30 people in his team are happier and are doing better work.”

Rodgers added that when each of those learners goes home, their wives or partners will no longer be suffering because their spouse had a bad day at work.

“So potentially, you have 60 people who are happier – and imagine if they have kids. It’s a fantastic ripple effect.”

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