One of the most important emerging trends in human resources today is the clear need for more Human Leaders. Recent surveys by Gartner have pointed to this trend and show us that the profound shifts we are experiencing in the corporate environment are here to stay.

In part 1 of this series we explored some of the latest data that highlights the emergence and value of Human Leadership. But what is Human Leadership, exactly? And why is it so challenging to find Human Leaders? Beyond that, how does human leadership lead to positive ROI for businesses?

Here, we’ll take a look at what defines a Human Leader. Then we’ll unpack some of the key hurdles and roadblocks leaders face in becoming Human Leaders. Spoiler alert: these hurdles can be overcome with modern HR approaches and a strategically applied program of L&D training.

What is Human Leadership?

Simply put, Human Leadership is leadership that puts people first. This may seem simplistic, yet it stands in contrast to traditional and historical forms of leadership that prioritize performance, results and profitability. It is leadership that recognizes that better business outcomes are possible when employee wellbeing is centered and prioritized.

While there is currently no one fixed definition of Human Leadership, there are clearly defined traits and attributes associated with those who are called Human Leaders. According to Gartner, an index of nine key survey items are used to measure Human Leadership. Those scoring high on this index are identified as Human Leaders. The baselines determined in the Gartner study described Human Leaders as: those who exhibit high levels of authenticity, empathy and adaptability. These are defined as follows:


Acting with purpose and enabling true self-expression, for both the leader and their teams.


Human Leaders prioritize showing genuine care, respect and concern for employees’ well-being.


The ability to enable flexibility and support that fits team members’ unique needs.

As we saw in part 1, Human Leaders are able to have a significant positive impact on a variety of talent outcomes, including retention. It is worth noting that Gartner’s research process here was highly rigorous. They tested the extent of the effect of Human Leadership on talent outcomes through multivariate regression models that controlled for age, gender, region, industry, function and onsite/hybrid/remote status.

The overwhelming majority of HR leaders surveyed said that employees will continue to expect leaders to operate as Human Leaders going forward. In other words, the old ways are out and HR leaders must prioritize L&D programs that support the development of the Human Leaders we need.

The Current Leadership Landscape 

So we know what Human Leadership is and what traits are most prominent in this form of leadership. We also know that today, the majority of employees do not see their leaders as Human Leaders. So what exactly is stopping or preventing average leaders from becoming Human Leaders?

As Gartner sought to understand this more deeply, the research uncovered three key categories of executives and leaders today who are ineffective at becoming Human Leaders. They are identified as being one of the following:

  • Doubtful Achievers – 28%*
  • Fearful Believers – 21%*
  • Uncertain Strivers – 22% *

*percentages based on a survey of 1000 business leaders


These are leaders who struggle with the concepts of bringing emotions into the workplace. They see their role as focused on business growth and do not believe that Human Leadership is important to achieve business goals. 


This type of leader is mostly concerned with the challenges of opening up to empathy. They worry about making missteps and crossing boundaries unintentionally. They’re concerned about the vulnerability and risks that come along with Human Leadership. Almost one third of ineffective Human Leaders worry that mishandling sensitive issues could harm their reputation. 


These leaders feel unsure about how to approach Human Leadership effectively. While potentially more open to it, there is confusion about adequately meeting the diverse needs of employees.

Why Human Leadership Is Hard

Unsurprisingly the fact is, becoming a Human Leader is hard because – well, because leaders are human too. More and more is being asked of those in leadership roles today. The complexity of their jobs is increasing and they are expected to bring authenticity, empathy and adaptability to the teams they lead and manage – often without having training in these skills. Historically, leaders have been taught to keep their personal and professional lives very separate. This shift in leadership culture today will take time to become an established norm.

Some examples of the “humanness” of leaders can be seen in the following scenarios:

A doubtful achiever may say something like “The squishy stuff isn’t my job.I was hired for my technical expertise.” or “I can’t do my job if I can’t see my team working.”

A fearful believer may be thinking: “Will I say something that makes people feel like they don’t belong? Or contradicts company values and policies? Or gets us into legal trouble?”

An uncertain striver is often overwhelmed with the variety of human ways to approach employee problems. This can lead to “analysis paralysis” – inaction even when many alternatives exist.

It is relevant and necessary to recognize the humanity of those in leadership roles and acknowledge their legitimate fears and concerns. This is the baseline from which transformative approaches must be taken. Otherwise, we risk holding leaders to an impossible standard simply because of their role. This will slow any real progress in building true Human Leadership. In fact, acknowledging the human emotions of leaders is shown to almost double the number of Human Leaders in an organization.

Soft Skills For The Win

The Gartner research also pointed to specific approaches to help support and transform average leaders in becoming more Human Leaders. Essentially, traditional HR approaches are unlikely to yield the types of change needed to encourage Human Leadership. For each of the three types of ineffective human leaders a human approach to resolving their struggle was identified. >>> Gartner identified 3 Key Soft Skills as being critical in building more Human Leaders:

Doubtful Achievers needFearful Believers needUncertain Strivers need

Building a stronger skillset in the area of commitment will support the Doubtful Achiever in onboarding more Human Leadership qualities. Making the case for Human Leadership should come through trusted sources – other than HR. This can help alleviate doubts and build belief in the impact and effectiveness of Human Leadership approaches.

Becoming courageous to act in spite of fear helps the Fearful Believer to embody Human Leadership. Learning how to demonstrate positive behaviours even in challenging situations is key here. L&D programs that include this type of content will significantly improve outcomes for transforming Fearful Believers.

Increasing confidence is what is most needed for Uncertain Strivers to move past analysis paralysis. HR can support this leader by limiting scope and ambiguity in decision processes. An ideal solution would be to make training available that teaches and reinforces confidence building, through practice, reflection and repetition.

RELATED: How Human Leadership Leads To Business ROI: Part 1 

Business ROI Starts With Investing In People

In part 1, we looked at the empirical data pointing to the urgent need for Human Leadership. Here we’ve seen the current state of leadership and what makes it so hard to become a Human Leader. The good news is that the traits of a Human Leader can be learned and developed with the right training and support from HR. The traits that prevent Human Leadership can also be overcome with strategic learning and development. Gartner’s study showed that leaders who score highly as Human Leaders contribute significant business value by improving retention and increasing employee engagement. Investing in L&D and employee wellness is crucial in lasting, long-term business success.

The data shows:

  1. Human Leaders are needed and in demand more now than ever
  2. Today, Human Leaders are few and far between. There are skill gaps that must be overcome to develop more Human Leaders.
  3. Human Leadership brings significant business value (by focusing on employee wellbeing
  4. HR Leaders are focused on creating more Human Leaders for 2023 and beyond 

Build Towards Your Bottom Line

Verb’s human centered L&D platform exists to help companies develop effective human leaders equipped with the know-how to manage the modern workplace. From handling sensitive topics to improving communication skills, Verb’s rich, professionally curated content library covers the most relevant and necessary topics that leaders need now.

When you need to get your L&D program launched quickly, Verb’s 3-month Fast Track Program offers everything you need at an exceptional value. Schedule a demo to see how our flexible platform can work for your needs.

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