People-Centered Leaders Will Put Organizations Back Together

By Jonathan Bates

Developing Yourself as a People-Centered Leader Series #1

Is it just me, or does it seem like the wheels are coming off the bus in some organizations these days?

Here’s what I’m seeing…

Yet another mass firing by email.

More threats to return to office full-time or have your job offshored.

Greater crises with disrupted supply chains, inadequate staffing and angry customers.

And, frustration with rising costs and a giant bunch of fear that the economy is headed into trouble.

Doesn’t make for a healthy, thriving organization does it? You know, one that wins with performance, productivity and profitability?

And what’s the common denominator? It’s what is happening to the human beings in these organizations. In popular parlance, people are your most important asset, but they aren’t machines. So, let’s stop treating them like they are. They require care, consideration and nurturing to keep them at their best.

Even if things in your organization aren’t so extreme, your human beings are still experiencing these effects for themselves or others they know.

So, who is going to help these human beings in organizations move forward positively with energy, resilience and commitment? It’s the people-centered leaders that will make that difference.


Stephen Covey espoused the idea of each of us possessing an “emotional bank account” that consists of emotional deposits and emotional withdrawals. Positive experiences of all kinds (including the workplace) add to the balance.

Negative experiences empty the account. To have focus, energy, effectiveness, and drive, you need to have “money in the bank.” Given the challenges, abundant savings are required these days.

People-centered leaders put deposits into the emotional bank accounts of their people. They also mitigate situations that might cause drastic withdrawals that could occur as the result of words and deeds inside their organization.

The greater the emotional bank balance for your people, the more creative, flexible, dedicated and engaged they will be in driving business results.

“Overdrawn” accounts generate regression, not only for the employee themselves, but others around them as well. Think tanking morale and sketchy performance.

People-centered leaders keep their teams on track and moving forward.

BTW, how is your emotional bank account these days?


Simply put, people-centered leaders prioritize the human component of “human capital” and create working environments where the people in them thrive and achieve their potential. The organization wins when the power and potential of individuals and teams are unleashed by an artful people-centered leader.

In my opinion, you aren’t born a people-centered leader. You become one – carefully crafted through hard work and intentional focus.


In 15 years of coaching executives, I’ve found four characteristics that distinguish people-centered leaders…

  • Knowing themselves
  • Being real
  • Understanding others
  • Doing good work together

By embracing and developing these four characteristics, people-centered leaders achieve extraordinary influence and create profound impact. They do this with and through their people and create satisfaction and engagement all around in the process.


This is the tough part because it requires a great deal of effort and inevitable discomfort as more becomes revealed. No wonder so many leaders skimp on this step or avoid it altogether.

In some ways, I don’t blame them. It is real work to prioritize the time to examine yourself, dive deep into your thinking and habits to find what truly works for you and what doesn’t. And, because we all have areas we cannot see on our own, we have to engage others in learning about ourselves, whether that be a coach, trusted advisor, learning group, training or therapist.

Not for the “faint of heart” but necessary to become a people-centered leader.

Why? Surely you have observed an executive in action who might be kindly described as “lacking self-awareness.” They charge forward believing that their way is the only way. They act without thinking of others. They leave wreckage and victims in their path. Ultimately, they evaporate business results and even crash their organization. And, they think its everyone else’s fault.

I don’t think you want to be that kind of leader. If you were, you wouldn’t have read this far.


Have you ever watched an interview show, opinion roundtable or political discussion with the sound off? You can pretty much tell who is genuine with what they are saying and who is gaslighting just by looking at them. People can tell when you are full of… (insert unpleasant substance here).

You (and I) don’t trust people we think aren’t honest or authentic. In fact, sometimes we even try to work against them.

People-centered leaders are effective because, in fact, their people trust them. People want to follow their lead because of that authenticity. That’s how these leaders accomplish great things.

It takes a lot of courage to be real with people as a leader. Sometimes you have to say things people don’t want to hear. Sometimes you have to tell them their ‘baby’ is a little ugly (albeit nicely and respectfully). And, sometimes you have to stand up for what is right including telling truth to power.

You have to build a certain amount of confidence and fortitude to do this. You also have to work to rid yourself of that imposter feeling you don’t tell anyone about (or, at least, be open about it).


If only everyone were like you, everything would be great, right? Of course, that doesn’t work.

It’s the uniqueness of people that makes work (and life) interesting and shifts results from ordinary to extraordinary.

So, if everyone isn’t you, that means you have to work at reaching out, learning about other people, having curiosity, appreciating them for who they are, and combining their best talents with others to create success.

People-centered leaders possess what I call “The Secrets Skills of People-Centered Leaders” that allow them to learn, explore, build relationships, and bring out the best in their people. More about these in a future article.

By embarking on a path of practicing these skills and stretching yourself, you can view each person as an individual, reduce misunderstandings, create synergy, get work done, and enjoy it all in the process.


There are really two parts to this characteristic – “good work” and “together.”

People have asked me why I don’t say “great work” because, after all, aren’t we striving for superlatives? Yet, the choice of “good work” is by design. Yes, we want to create quality work and the most effective outcomes.

It’s also a double play on words. Because doing what is good for people, good for the organization, and even good for the world are all an important part as well.

People are motivated by getting behind objectives that make a positive difference. Few are motivated solely by hitting a number. Doing “good work” is also about doing good work.

Of course, doing the work “together” is essential as well. Without collaboration, teamwork, and combined talents, extraordinary results have a slim chance of occurring, let alone being sustainably high-performing.

People-centered leaders know that their teams are living entities with a heartbeat of their own. These leaders work to build strong teams that can collaborate, trust, change and deal with conflict as a matter of course.

The focus on team development is what helps teams perform whether co-located, hybrid or virtual, working in the same or different timezones, with a culture that is local or multinational.

People-centered leaders continue to build their skills in team development and incorporate resources outside the team when needed to keep it working at its peak.


Putting these characteristics together and continuing to hone them is what people-centered leaders do. Great results come from great people empowered by great leaders.

Are you ready to accept the challenge of leading with distinction as a people-centered leader?