How to overcome the biggest barrier in being more human-centred?

March 2017, by Jerald Lam

Nobody really argues with the notion of being a human-centred leader. After all, it’s the kind of leadership you buy into – leadership where you are recognised not just for your efforts and performance, but also for your dreams, your fears, and your inherent worth as a human being. Yes, that’s the kind of leadership you want. And yes, that’s the kind of leader you aspire to be.

Yet, you struggle with being a human-centred leader. You know in your heart you’ve got some way to go in embodying the notion of being ‘human-centred’. There’s the unkind word you regret the moment it leaves you lips; The piece of information you keep hidden to help you gain an unfair advantage. The complicit assent you give to your subordinate despite him/her making a bad choice because you don’t do well with conflict. Over time, you begin to reflect on whether you can really be a human-centred leader for others. Despite your best efforts, you can’t help but wonder … Why is it so hard to be a human-centred leader who genuinely cares for others?

The secret lies in how you frame the gap between your ideal state and current reality. Are you a problem to be solved? Or are you an artist who works creatively to reduce creative tension?

When you see yourself as a problem to be solved, you put yourself in a balancing loop. This means you keep going back to square one. Let me illustrate with Figure 1 below. As you become more aware of how ‘inhuman’ you are, you experience a fear … the fear that others may leave you or reject you because of your human foibles. This fear then drives you to take action. You try to be kinder. You try to be more generous. You try to keep your disparaging opinions to yourself.

Over time, you start to make progress. Here, complacency starts to kick in … and you become less focused on how human or inhuman you are. Other priorities take over and wham! Out comes the unkind word again. This sends you (temporarily) into a state of guilt, where you spend hours on end beating yourself up for being broken. As you keep oscillating between these states, a sense of hopelessness comes over you and your heart becomes more and more jaded.

Instead of seeing yourself as a ‘problem’, you can try to have an ongoing vision of who you want to be. This way, you will never be complacent, and you won’t spend time beating yourself up. The focus is not on who you are today. The focus is on the kind of human-centred leader you want to be in the future. Instead of fear, it is love that guides your actions. Love for your vision of who you will be in the future. Love for the kind of impact you will make on those you work with. Love for the kind of world you will build. And, yes … it takes time to fall in love with that vision. But it is well worth the waiting and reflection. Because your vision will give you passion. And your passion will help you become more human-centred in your behavior, one step at a time. Some steps might take you forward. Others might take you backward, but your love for the vision keeps you focused on the vision, not on how terrible you are. You can see an example of this in Figure 2.

That’s how you become more and more human-centred as a leader.


If would like to learn more about how to develop human-centred leaders in your organisation or how to become a human-centred leader yourself, drop Jerald an email at