Human-Centered Leadership with Anthony Howard

September 2016, by Hanna Kim

We recently had an opportunity to chat with Anthony Howard, global CEO mentor and coach and expert in human-centred leadership (he is the author of Humanise: Why Human-Centred Leadership is the Key to the 21st Century), and we asked the “CEO Whisperer” for his views on why being human-centred matters for leaders and what leaders can do to start encouraging their organizations to think differently.

Q: Your book Humanise is about human-centered leadership and why it is the key to 21st century leadership. What does human-centered leadership mean for you and how does it address the leadership crisis we are facing today?


A: Human-centred leadership is leadership that puts people first and that integrates the moral and technical dimensions of leadership. Leadership starts with a relationship between two or more people, and as such, should be human-centred — putting people first — rather than profit or outcome driven.

Putting people first means understanding all of the people you are touching as a leader, and understanding the impact that you are having on them. Are you, for example, enhancing or diminishing their life? Are you helping them become a better person, so that they can be the best version of themselves? This gives leadership a moral dimension, as it focuses on what is good and right, while building on the technical aspects of leadership, such as strategic capability, exercising influence, and enrolling people in a vision for the future.

Q: You have mentioned before how leaders need to act in ways that encourage their organizations to think differently. Can you please share any examples of what leaders can do to encourage different ways of thinking?

A: One of the biggest challenges confronting leaders today is that they have little time to think. This means that you tend to be reactive, trusting your intuition to get it right in any given moment. This may work some of the time, but it is unlikely to work all of the time.

Thinking differently means developing the ability to ask a different set of questions, and in particular, to find a way to challenge your own assumptions and biases. This is best done with someone outside of your immediate sphere of influence. Despite your best intentions, for example, it can be difficult for followers to truly challenge leaders. Asking about the people impacted by your actions is an effective way to constantly challenge your thinking.

Another practice is to make a habit of writing down the decision you are making, the reason why, and the expected outcome in, say, 12 months’ time. Then review your decision in 12 months: did it work out as you expected? Ask yourself what you learned about your own decision-making, and hence, your thinking.

Q: How did you earn the nickname, “CEO Whisperer?”

A: This emphasis on thinking is the background to why people call me the ‘CEO Whisperer’. I was explaining to a group of people at a conference in the US some years ago about the tendency of CEOs to speak freely and deeply, in response to my probing question. One of the people in the group immediately spoke up and said, “You are a CEO whisperer,” and the term stuck. It seems to describe the work I do with senior leaders, providing someone with whom they can talk about important matters without any risk of judgement or disclosure, with an unwavering focus on their success.

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Anthony Howard is passionate about building a more human world, one leader at time. As a mentor and coach, he helps  leaders navigate complex, demanding environments so that they can perform and lead at their best. He is a CEO, entrepreneur, thought-leader, philosopher, and author who has made a life out of asking good questions.

Follow Anthony Howard on LinkedIn
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