Human-centered Leadership

Strong people management skills matter more than ever. Getting the best out of employees, stimulating growth and engagement is becoming increasingly important. Effective leaders are strong in harnessing and encouraging the potential, talents and energy of others.

The importance of good leadership is evident. Of all the factors in the work environment, the direct supervisor has the greatest impact on productivity, job satisfaction and engagement. But unfortunately, a lot of research shows that the influence of the manager is more often negative than it is positive.

Good managers can increase motivation, engagement, performance, productivity, and job satisfaction. On the other hand, poor leadership can cause a demotivating working environment, disengagement, stress and burnouts.  

It is time to break through traditional ways of leadership, motivation and development. How can we ensure that people flourish more so that they perform better and with more pleasure? Many organizations say that people are the most important capital and that they put people at the center, but in practice we sometimes see too little of that.

Leadership is still mainly result- and task-oriented, while various studies show that more people-oriented and development-oriented leadership
leads to more involvement, loyalty, enthousiasm and engagement. There must be a better balance, the one does not exclude the other, but reinforces eachother.

"See your employees as your most important stakeholder because they will take good care of your customers and they will then take good care of the shareholders.“ (Source: Human Capital Trends Bersin by Deloitte).

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” (Richard Branson)

People- and talent-oriented leadership

These times call for organizations where people are central, and managers are becoming more and more responsible for the development of people.

Good leaders and managers are not only task-oriented but also people-oriented, they have an eye for the uniqueness of people and focus on the strengths of the team members. They help their employees to further develop their strengths and make them productive. Recognizing and unlocking potential provides more positive energy and leads to better performance, intrinsic motivation and pleasure at work.

Employees increasingly need recognition, attention, connection, meaning and they want to use their talents. They do not want to check off a list of acquired competencies and receive a report mark after a performance interview. This is not conducive to engagement, intrinsic motivation, and ownership.

Finding and achieving the right balance between a ‘hard business’ approach focused on results, efficiency, profitability and control, and a ‘soft, people-oriented’ approach, which involves facilitating, developing and stimulating the strength, self-reliance, commitment and involvement of people, requires a new kind of leadership.

‘New leadership’ puts people first and is talent-oriented leadership; the focus is on the strengths and intrinsic motivation of employees and on providing the right support to help people flourish and excel.

A leader is someone who takes responsibility for seeking the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential (Brene Brown, Dare to Lead).

Unlock potential

Within organizations, there is still too much untapped potential and talent. Some leaders make full use of their talents and allow others to flourish, while others pay no attention to this at all and thus leave potential untapped.

Most organizations under-utilize the potential of employees. Not being able to use your potential, your natural talents often turns out to be a cause for stress, burnouts or bore-outs. Burnout comes not only from working too much or too hard, but also from standing still and not developing personally. Many professionals are unable to fully exploit their potential at work, causing talent, productivity and energy to be lost.

The best leaders get the best out of themselves and their people. Research shows that many people attach great value to ‘growth, self-development’ but they do not yet get enough opportunity and support for this. You have to be able to unlock potential, you have to become good at ‘strengths spotting’ and give people the opportunity to flourish. The more attention there is within organizations for diversity and the unique talents of employees, the more positive the effect is on the motivation, loyalty, wellbeing, and employability.

If you ask people who is the best manager they have ever had, you often get the answer that he or she knew how to get the best out of that person. Nearly 7 in 10 employees who experience their manager focusing on their strengths are more engaged.

Performance, job satisfaction and commitment

Leadership plays a crucial role in increasing performance, job satisfaction and employee engagement. More than ever, leaders need to be a role model and be able to inspire, motivate and connect. Self-organizing teams, for example, also appear to have a great need for and benefit from a good manager.

“In order to move these professionals to a common goal, a clear vision and course is desperately  needed. Judging by CBS figures from the last decade, the average number of managers in organizations is steadily decreasing, but the leaders who remain are becoming more important than ever. It’s just a different kind of leadership that they need to show: more connecting, less controlling. More focused on the people, less on the processes.” (source: MT)

I have experienced in practice within many different organizations how leadership – good or bad – can make the difference. During exit interviews with great performers,  driven professionals, the reason for leaving often turned out to be the manager. Research also shows that high staff turnover is largely due to poor leadership.

“Employees don’t resign because of the job itself, but because of their supervisor.” (source: AD)


“Your team doesn’t need from you some vague willingness to “do whatever it takes.” It needs you to understand your strengths and weaknesses in vivid detail and then take it upon yourself to figure out how to navigate towards the strengths and away from the weaknesses.” – Marcus Buckingham

✅ Do you regularly look to the future together with the team members with a focus on possibilities? ‘Feedforward’ often works better than feedback (regarding the past), where the focus is mostly on what went wrong.

✅ Do your team members work well together? Do they reinforce each other? Is there mutual trust? What do they want from you as a manager so that they come into their own and enjoy going to work?

✅ What expectations do you have of your team as a manager?

✅ Do you know what motivates or frustrates your team members? Where do they get energy from, where do they lose energy?

✅ How do you measure progress? “Take a good look at your performance process and go for simplification and strengths-based assessment and coaching. The days of traditional reviews and forced ranking are over; performance management is now a tool for higher employee engagement.” (Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte University Press)

✅ What are limitations to make the vision come true (internal and external obstacles), to what extent do you have influence on this?

✅ What is the purpose of your (virtual) team meetings? For example, sharing knowledge, support, sharing responsibility, stimulating creativity, solving problems, discussing and evaluating (customer) cases, brainstorming, inspiring, fun, celebrating successes. Try alternating the purpose of your team meetings.

✅ Do you know what your unique leadership strength is? Effective leadership starts with yourself.

✅Let people grow in what they are good at, when you unlock their potential and strengths, they deliver the best performance. As far as possible, let them do tasks that they have the most affinity with, get energy from. Do you recognize, acknowledge, and develop the strengths of your team members? Do you have an eye for the complementary strengths in your team and do you also use them?

Use the strengths of yourself and others (Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive).

What is your leadership style?

There is no recipe for good leadership, good leadership is not learned from a book or by reading 1000+ books. As interesting, instructive and inspiring as some books are (I also like to read a lot), all those different theories, models, styles and opinions can make you confused and uncertain. It is therefore important to find your own ‘voice’, your own style that works well for you, the people around you and the organization.

The best managers are not strong in everything, they are not very all-round and do not have the same qualities and competencies, there is no blueprint for good leadership.

Being a leader is about much more than your experience, knowledge, status, title and management skills. Good leadership starts with you, it starts with self-knowledge, knowing your strengths, weaknesses and pitfalls, strong personal leadership.

Which distinctive strengths and values form the basis of your leadership?  Discovering where your strength lies (and not), knowing your talents and performance risks, using your unique strong leadership qualities and using the diversity in your team for optimal performance, leads to more success for yourself and the organization.

Personal Leadership

“More than ever, your professional success as a leader depends on your personal leadership.” (Prof.dr. Jan de Vuijst, executive coach and professor of TIAS).

It is important that you are aware of your own values, assumptions, pitfalls, strengths and weaknesses, your vision and expectations.

It starts with self-awareness, finding the strength within yourself. As a next step you will further develop this power and bring it in line with who you really are, in this way the self-confidence grows, and you become more authentic. This creates more resilience and trust because you stay close to yourself, you do not have to play a role and the inner world and the outside world are congruent. It has been proven that you are more effective, happier, and more successful if you do things that really fit your qualities, values and motives.

By leading from authenticity and continuing to work on your own growth and development, you encourage others to do the same. Good managers are a role model, have self-knowledge and regularly reflect on their leadership and have gathered a team of people with their own unique and complementary strengths around them.

According to Stephen Covey, personal leadership is mainly about having faith in one’s own abilities, responsibility, honesty, and cooperation. ‘According to Covey, the 8th quality of effective (personal) leadership is the ability of people to live according to their full potential (their ‘inner voice’). To find your inner voice, you need to know what you have a talent for.

Strong leadership now requires more attention to, for example, emotional intelligence, recognizing talents and coaching skills.

Are you already making optimal use of your own potential and leadership qualities? And are they also seen and appreciated by others? Do you use them effectively and productively? Do you also recognize and use the full potential, the complementary strengths of your team? Do you feel authentic and powerful in your job? Or do you feel you can do better, and would you like to get more out of your leadership? Invest in further developing and strengthening an authentic, powerful, and positive leadership style.

Strengths coach. Certified to use StrengthScope psychometric profiling as a tool for leadership development, strengthening (self)leadership, enhancing wellbeing, performance and employee engagement.
About The Author

Kitty Schaap

CoAchieve | Versterk leiderschap en talent vanuit een Strengths-based aanpak. Voor leidinggevenden, HR-professionals, organisaties.

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