Leadership Trends are Looking More Human

by Jean Marie Johnson

While reviewing Forbes 14 “leadership trends” that will shape organizations in 2018, I was struck by the number of human elements that made the list. Where was the emphasis on advancing technology and digital strategies? In a word: nowhere. Sure, social media got its call out, but even there, it was about encouraging all employees to be brand ambassadors. That’s a human thing, no? And so too is becoming a “truly customer -centric business” when it means focusing on the experiences customers have when they “experience” your brand.

There’s a definite heartbeat that connects the 2018 leadership trends that’s hard to miss:  investing in human capital, focusing on individual growth, promoting continuous education, and embracing work-life blend.

It makes sense. With so much attention devoted to tapping the potential of technology to make the customer experience easier and more efficient, organizations risk losing the personal, human touch. Doing so puts both the employee experience and the customer experience in peril.  And that’s why the pendulum is shifting to achieve balance.

In my work, I am seeing clients balance their investment in technology with an investment in developing their service culture. Many of the trends identified by Forbes are the very seeds they are nurturing:

  • Encouraging people by engaging them and getting every voice into the service culture conversation. It’s a dialogue that everyone owns. After all, how else can you be an ambassador?
  • Investing in human capital by increasing connectivity. The emotional and familiar touch points that bring employees together is productive; Whether it’s a bowling league, a service project, or your classic company picnic, emotional touchpoints matter. They increase “likes” because people “like” and feel a part of the organization they work for.
There is one area of focus that is more “timeless” than “trend,” leading empathically and leading by example. “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” This ageless quote from essayist and philosopher, Ralph Emerson, can support those leaders who understand the nuances of communication. Doug Donnelly, managing director for Madison Park Advisors, commented recently in an interview, “Great leaders listen intently attempting to truly understand the other person’s perspective, have the ability to relate to the other person, and not only coach but educate. People trust these leaders’ advice because they understand it comes from a good place and that their leader is sincerely trying to help them. Finally, great leaders “nudge” those around them to look at things differently, put themselves in others’ shoes (see different perspectives), and create a safe place for self-reflection and self-evaluation.”

And that leads us to clients emphasizing the importance of empathic leaders. The enduring words of Bloomingdales CEO Michael Gould come to mind:  “I don’t know how you can be a great leader without warmth and humility… People have to trust you and know you always have their back, in the good times and the tougher times. I don’t think you can have too much warmth or too much empathy.”

Ironically, here’s what the hot, new trends have to teach us: attending to the human element is timeless. It’s  a way of leading that reinforces in the hearts and minds of employees that this is a place where they want to work, to contribute, and yes, to serve.
Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for over 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
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