Cultivating Connection in Leadership: The Path to Humanizing Our Workplaces


Have you heard of “corporate short-termism?” 

It’s the idea that many organizational leaders today are overly focused on bottom-line results and efficiency here and now, while “human” factors—which are essential for sustainability—take a back-row seat.

That’s exactly the opposite of what we need as our world and business context becomes increasingly uncertain. Now, it’s more essential than ever that leaders can foster a sense of belonging and community in workplaces that are becoming increasingly fragmented. 

Why? Because organizations are human systems. To tap into our unique human strengths and function at their best, we need to evaluate and adapt our leadership styles to become more personal. 

A Human-Centric Approach

I recently read a report on the concept of “humanizing leadership,” the idea that leaders should start reintroducing the human element into how they lead. 

It’s about leading not just as decision-makers but as empathetic, authentic, and adaptive guides for their teams. 

In a world that craves connection, these leaders stand out by creating environments where their co-workers feel genuinely valued and understood.

But here’s the thing—as Gartner HR Research reveals, only a fraction of employees (29%) believe their leaders embody this human-centric approach. It’s a critical missing element in many organizations, so let’s take a closer look. 

The Three Pillars of Humanizing Leadership

According to the report I read, there are three critical components of humanizing leadership. Reintroducing that human element means practicing the following in your approach:

  1. Empathy: Humanizing leadership means showing genuine care and respect for others and appreciating that collective team success depends on the wellbeing of everyone involved.
  2. Authenticity: To build trust and drive ownership and engagement, leaders and teams need to show vulnerability and their “real” selves. This can only happen when they start practicing open, purpose-driven communication.
  3. Adaptability: This component is about identifying, acknowledging, and accommodating each team member’s unique needs and circumstances.

While many of us can relate to these components, the truth is that we’re often not as in tune with our leadership styles as we might think. To impactfully apply these principles in practice, we need a clear understanding of our current impact.

Strengthening Connections Through Influence and Interaction

So, how can we assess our impact, including how well we empathize, adapt, and lead with authenticity? 

It comes down to how well we influence others; how successfully we motivate them with our vision, create harmony, and support them through difficult periods.

These are all measured by the Sphere of Influence 360, which categorizes leadership behaviors into a comprehensive framework and emphasizes the need for a balanced approach.

Some specific Sphere of Influence (SOI) skills required for humanizing leadership are:

As a leader, assessing your influencing styles empowers you to adapt them to your team members’ needs. It’s all about understanding and applying the 12 influencing styles so you can become more self-aware and empathetic, thus creating an inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and connected.

Practical Tips for Becoming a More Humanized Leader

What’s the best way to transform all this humanized leadership theory into actionable strategies that build a connected culture of belonging? Here are a few tips

1. Develop a Conscious Leadership Approach

Practicing more humanized leadership starts with self-awareness. 

By taking steps to become more aware of your actions and how they impact others, you can more effectively align your actions with your goals. It’s how you can meet your team’s needs and make better progress toward your collective goals (as well as your own!)  

The Sphere of Influence 360 is a great tool for building self-awareness about your interpersonal influence. It works in several ways; by helping you:

  • Recognize your strengths and development points: What communication skills come naturally to you, and which can you work on?
  • Identify where you add unique value: How are you an asset to your team? How could you further leverage these strengths to improve performance and achieve your shared goals?
  • Reduce the risk of miscommunications and conflict: More insight into your influencing styles translates into more clarity, understanding, and impact. You’ll see fewer misunderstandings, fewer silos, and greater collaboration by stepping back to look at yourself first.

2. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

Humanizing leadership means being able to lead with EQ. On a day-to-day basis, this involves:

  • Supporting and Coaching others: Ensuring your team feels supported in their roles and personal growth. Key SOI skills here include Stimulating and Motivating Others, for example, by finding what gives them energy or encouraging them with the occasional “You can do this!” It also involves Providing Food For Thought, for instance, by asking the right questions to get them thinking.
  • Listening Actively: Creating an environment where team members feel genuinely heard. As well as listening actively, you can role model this behavior and encourage an emotionally intelligent culture by paraphrasing, summarizing, and listening to the message behind the message. This skill also encompasses Being Modest or practicing humility around your teammates.
  • Empathizing: Showing understanding and compassion in your interactions, making everyone feel seen and valued. Complimenting your co-workers is one SOI skill related to this, as is Showing Understanding when they need your support.
  • Building Strong Internal Relationships: Invest in building connections with your team and try to balance a task-oriented approach with a focus on cultivating strong interpersonal connections. Show interest and develop your ability to Involve People In Conversations, another SOI skill that helps you hear more from “the quiet ones” in a room. This is about discovering what makes people tick, creating opportunities for them to connect, and creating an environment where they are not afraid to engage in (healthy!) conflict

3. Foster Authenticity through Open Dialogue and Diverse Perspectives

Authentic communication means being able to encourage open, purpose-driven communication throughout your team or organization, where leaders and team members are not afraid to express themselves. 

A good example of this in practice is expressing your appreciation when brainstorming sessions reveal diverse viewpoints. 

Communicating in a “real” way can encourage varied thoughts and approaches within your team. Focus on inviting others’ contributions and collecting different viewpoints, as this will foster innovation, transparency, and trust. Invite People to Contribute is an example Connect style skill that helps you communicate authentically and drive more innovative solutions.

4. Embrace Adaptability With Your Leadership Styles

The Adapt style in the SOI is about meeting people halfway. It covers a range of skills, such as Making Concessions where necessary, being able to Cooperate, and understanding when it’s best to Agree

Adapting your leadership style to a given context allows you to shape your approach to the unique requirements of different situations and team members—a crucial capability for effective leadership. 

You can do this by:

  • Asking about, listening to, and clarifying their needs. This starts with reflecting on how they prefer to communicate. Do they need to be inspired, given a purpose, or assigned specific instructions? Do they prefer a good discussion or just a listening ear? Finding out their needs is the only way to see if you can cater to them.
  • Adopting a flexible leadership approach. Are you as adaptable as you could be with how you lead? Sometimes, it’s necessary to lead from the front (using styles like Inspire or Direct. Other times, stepping back and supporting your team is more effective (this is where the Listen or Adapt styles come in handy). If you want to be able to respond effectively to different situations and team needs, this adaptability is crucial.

Putting It All Together

Integrating these strategies into your leadership practice is how you can you align with the pillars of empathy, authenticity, and adaptability, creating a more humanized and effective leadership approach:

  • By cultivating self-awareness, you lead more consciously. You make stronger, more informed, and strategic decisions while improving your relationships and team dynamics. In turn, you’ll notice an improvement in key factors such as cross-functional alignment, efficiency, and adaptability.
  • Practicing emotionally intelligent leadership is the key to fostering a psychologically safe culture where ideas are freely shared, debated, and enthusiastically brought to life. You’ll drive innovation and ensure your organization retains a competitive edge.
  • Encouraging openness and authenticity is how you can build a culture of collective intelligence. As your team discovers and leverages their different strengths and skills, you’ll notice more synergistic results from your organization—from products and services to internal processes.
  • By learning to be more flexible, you’ll lead your teammates more effectively while also increasing your agility to market needs.  As our organizations become more global internally and in terms of our context, adaptable leaders are becoming ever more essential.

Humanizing leadership is more than just a trending topic—it recognizes a fundamental truth about working in human systems. Surviving and thriving requires more than focusing on “here, now, or next week;” it involves appreciating that we all need to survive and compete for the long haul. 

That means we need to be connected. As a leader, driving those human connections is how you can make a truly transformative impact.

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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