leadership development

What leadership style puts people first? Choose Yours

People-centric leadership boosts retention, profitability, and innovation. Mentorship is a symbiotic tool to help cultivate a people-first culture.

Kinjal Dagli

Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Together

Published on 

December 13, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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There has been a fundamental shift in the relationship between employers and employees. Talent is more mobile than ever, and workers want to know their needs will be prioritized.

For many organizations, this will require a shift in leadership style. A leadership styles comparison shows what leadership style puts people first, from autocratic to servant. We then examine how organizations can adopt a people-first style that is right for them.

What are leadership styles?

Different leaders manage and motivate their teams differently. Their behaviours, characteristics, and approach to situations define their leadership style. Leadership styles often reflect the personalities, values, and experiences of the leader. However, accomplished leaders can adapt their styles to their context.

Overview of leadership styles

An organization’s leadership style is a reflection of its culture. And organizational culture influences all employee behaviour, from team engagement to retention. It’s true that "the fish rots from the head,” but every leadership style has pros and cons. The following leadership styles comparison provides examples of common styles and their applications.

  1. Autocratic

Autocratic leaders are unilateral decision-makers. They set objectives, allocate roles, and issue instructions without seeking input. They see no value in mentoring or participation. As a result, autocratic teams exhibit high turnover. However, this “command and control” leadership style can succeed when there’s no time for consultation. Leaders must make swift decisions independently on the battlefield or at the operating table. 

  1. Democratic

Democratic leaders seek input and allow decisions to be determined by the majority view. However, they still exert control by deciding who participates in decisions. And by offering mentoring and guidance. Democratic leadership results in high employee empowerment, productivity, and creativity. It works best in high-skill organizations. But, if time is limited or roles are fuzzy, delayed decisions can be detrimental.

  1. Transformational

Transformational leaders inspire others along a journey of change. They can paint a vision of the future and persuade others to adopt it as their purpose. Achieving it will push people to do more than they believe they can. Transformational leadership works for organizations undergoing change or requiring innovation. It's less successful in non-agile businesses structured in silos. 

  1. Transactional

Transactional leadership leverages systems of reward and punishment. Rewards are often monetary but can also involve praise or promotion. Transactional leaders improve the efficiency of existing processes. But, they are not creative or visionary. So, they're inappropriate for organizations needing change or without established rules and procedures.

But what leadership style puts people first?

What does people-first leadership mean?

People-first means leaders’ actions are governed by the interests of the people they serve. Such leaders understand that it’s people that make organizations successful. They know that if they look after the people, they’ll look after the organization.  

There are six essential attributes to a people-first culture; 

  • Empathy: Team members feel cared for, and their concerns and aspirations are heard and attended to. 
  • Employee empowerment: Team members are provided autonomy and encouraged to innovate. They feel confident in their abilities.
  • Communication: Information is shared continuously across multiple channels. Team members receive regular feedback.
  • Development: Investment in the growth and mentoring of team members is prioritized.
  • Collaboration: Maintaining a collaborative and inclusive environment is regarded as essential.
  • Recognition and appreciation: Team members are acknowledged and appreciated.

Types of people-first leadership

A people-first approach isn’t limited to a single leadership style. Even autocrats can act for the “greater good” like a loving parent who always knows best. However, competent employees will become frustrated and move on. As a result, we don’t have many examples of successful “benevolent dictators” in the business world.

Transformational leaders can make for strongly people-centric leadership. They are in tune with each individual’s strengths and skills and know how to maximize them. Richard Branson built the Virgin Group by hiring people who were different from him but shared his vision. Employee empowerment is paramount at Virgin.

But what leadership style puts people first? Perhaps the style most often associated with people-centric leadership is servant leadership. Servant leadership is paradoxical because leaders view themselves as serving those they lead. They see their jobs as empowering their teams to succeed. 

Cheryl Bachelder, ex-CEO of Popeye's Louisiana Chicken, epitomizes a servant leader. She literally wrote the book on it, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. Over a decade, Bachelder turned a failing food franchise into a thriving business, eventually bought by Burger King. On her appointment, she ceased treating franchisees and employees as necessary irritants. Instead, she empowered them with clear goals and dedicated herself to providing them with the resources to meet them.

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Benefits of people-first leadership

People-first leadership, such as servant leadership, is more than just a nice idea. Studies repeatedly prove its benefits. If you’re asking yourself what leadership style puts people first, it should include;

  1. Enhanced employee satisfaction

Psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci developed the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of motivation. Until then, it was commonly believed people were exclusively motivated by reward. SDT proved we require autonomy, competence, and relatedness to thrive.

  1. Improved team cohesion

A study investigated the relationship between communication, trust, and collaboration in virtual teams. It found organizational trust and communication positively impacted team engagement and performance. It concluded that when business leaders fail to understand this relationship, they undermine teams' full potential. 

  1. Increased employee retention

LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2022 focuses on post-pandemic changes to workplace culture. It reports that 63% of professionals seek work-life balance in an employer—further, 40% list colleagues and culture as a priority. And where employees feel happy and cared for, they are much more likely to recommend working for the company. 

  1. Positive leadership impact

People-centric leadership does not have to be at the expense of organizational goals. A Gallup survey shows engaged employees generate more than one-fifth higher profitability.  

  1. Enhanced productivity and innovation

A study published in Harvard Business Review examined how employees behaved under empowering leaders. These leaders delegated authority, sought input, and encouraged autonomous decision-making. Results showed employees were more likely to innovate, assist colleagues, and volunteer. 

Challenges and solutions for implementing people-first leadership

When looking at what leadership style puts people first, know any shift requires careful management. Changing from traditional organization-driven leadership to people-first leadership is no different. Following are some examples of potential roadblocks and how to address them.

1. Alignment with organizational goals

Employee and organizational goals can be aligned with planning. For example, training programs can map individual career growth with company goals. Employees acquire the skills to achieve corporate goals while progressing within the organization. Wellness initiatives keep employees fit to engage productively in achieving organizational goals. Such initiatives should be continuously evaluated, and employees should receive feedback.

2. Managing resistance to change

Change can evoke fear of the unknown or discomfort with a departure from familiar practices. Manage the resistance to what leadership style puts people first with;

  • Transparent communication to address concerns and solicit feedback
  • Involving employees in the process
  • Celebrating quick wins

3. Consistency across diverse teams

Teams can have different cultures, work styles, and expectations. Applying people-first leadership consistently across them can be challenging. Tailor leadership approaches to diverse groups by:

  • Learning about the nuances in communication and behaviour of different cultures
  • Being willing to adjust to the needs and preferences of the team
  • Communicating expectations in whatever way is necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page

4. Preventing burnout

Ironically, both leaders and team members in people-first cultures still run the risk of burnout. They can place the organization and their colleagues above personal well-being. Prevent burnout by;

  • Promoting a culture that values work-life balance
  • Providing training on stress management, resilience, and emotional intelligence
  • Setting realistic goals and monitoring workloads

5. Measuring success and adaptability

Quantifying the success of people-first leadership can be challenging due to the subjective nature of well-being. A rapidly evolving business environment makes it doubly so. Consider adaptive strategies and key performance indicators (KPIs) such as;

  • Regularly assessing and adjusting team engagement and employee empowerment initiatives. Use KPIs from pulse surveys, feedback scores, and event participation.
  • Track employee turnover, tenure, and referrals. Conduct exit and stay interviews to learn why employees leave or remain. Adjust leadership practices accordingly.
  • Monitor diversity metrics and perform belonging surveys. Adapt DEI&B initiatives such as mentorship programs and recruitment practices accordingly.

The impact of mentorship on shaping people-first leaders

Once you’ve decided what leadership style puts people first, mentorship can play a critical role. The two are symbiotic and self-perpetuating. You express your appreciation for their contribution by appointing someone as a mentor. You formally condone their behavior as something you wish to see emulated. For mentees, it is a formal acknowledgment that they are worthy of investment. 

The mentor-mentee relationship is based on and promotes mutual respect. And it goes beyond traditional leadership training. Mentorship provides personalized guidance, fosters trust and encourages open communication. The mentor exhibits visible servant leadership. Thus, they catalyze the cultivation of a positive and growth-oriented workplace culture.

Leverage mentoring programs to create a people-first culture

Now that you’ve found what leadership style puts people first, Together’s mentoring platform is the perfect next step. We can help you cultivate and enhance people-centric leadership in your organization with the help of a mentoring program.

Our pairing algorithm create perfect matches and facilitate communication between all parties. Share our resources to boost development and track progress with our powerful reporting features.

At Together, we support your overall employee growth within a positive organizational culture.

Reach out to schedule a demo and learn more about our suite of tools and resources.

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