The human aspects of leadership are becoming increasingly important for companies to succeed – but fewer than a third of them are actually doing it.

A Gartner survey of more than 230 HR leaders revealed that 90% believe that to succeed in today’s work environment, leaders must focus on the human aspects of leadership.

However, another Gartner survey of nearly 3 400 employees found that just 29% report that their leader is a human leader.

Gartner research has identified three components that make up human leadership:

* Authentic: Act with purpose and enable true self-expression, for both themselves and their teams.

* Empathetic: Show genuine care, respect and concern for employees’ well-being.

* Adaptive: Enable flexibility and support that fits team members’ unique needs.

“Organisations that are able to develop more human leaders will find that these leaders’ teams have less turnover, higher engagement scores and better well-being,” says Caitlin Duffy, director of research in the Gartner HR practice. “Although these qualities may have been important for good leadership in the past, today they are non-negotiable – particularly to compete in today’s new talent landscape.”

Gartner’s research found a 37-percentage point increase in the number of employees reporting high engagement who report to a human leader versus employees who do not consider their leader to be a human leader. This increase is significant – highly engaged employees improve their team’s performance by up to 27%.

Gartner has identified three best practices for HR to develop more human leaders:

Make the case for change by leveraging trusted sources

Fifty-seven percent of HR leaders believe that making the business case for human leadership is a high-priority investment for the next year. However, most business leaders don’t trust data and analysis provided by HR.

To gain leaders’ commitment to a more human leadership approach, HR should leverage trusted sources – peers and employees themselves – to make the business case to leaders. For example, HR can convene a dynamic group of impactful, well-respected leaders who believe in – and act on – human leadership.

These progressive leaders can work to set new leadership expectations for the organization that are both current and relevant to the realities of leaders’ roles, while providing ongoing support.

Teach leaders to exhibit positive behaviours despite fear

Gartner’s March 2022 leader survey found that nearly half of business leaders feel their actions as a leader are more scrutinized compared to three years ago. Nearly one-third of business leaders who are ineffective at human leadership worry mishandling sensitive issues could damage their reputation.

“HR typically provides leaders with development and training on navigating sensitive situations and creating a psychologically safe environment, but these efforts are missing the mark,” says Jérôme Mackowiak, director of advisory in the Gartner HR practice. “In today’s environment, discomfort is inevitable as leaders address topics that can never be made comfortable or safe.”

Rather than trying to eliminate fear, HR needs to give leaders the courage to act despite their fear by teaching them how to exhibit positive behaviors when they are afraid. As part of this, HR needs to help leaders develop deep self-awareness to understand how their fears impact them and enable them to take ownership of their behavior.

Lastly, leaders need more support for high-risk situations, such as “ask-me-anything” sessions with employees.

Support leaders’ judgment by limiting scope and ambiguity

Many leaders struggle with deciding what to do when faced with the complex situations and choices that come with human leadership. To solve this, 68% of HR leaders surveyed reported that their organisations provide scenario-based guides and training to help leaders take specific action on employee needs.

However, only 29% of HR leaders believe that employees receive support that fits their unique needs. Ultimately, guides only add more uncertainty to ambiguous scenarios.

“Today’s work environment illuminates a striking dichotomy – asking people to show up to work authentically and bring their whole self, while requiring leaders to deliver fair, equitable and scalable outcomes,” says Mackowiak.

Giving leaders tools to quickly determine which actions they can take that will have the highest impact reduces the scope of potential next steps. HR can also remove ambiguity from leader-employee interactions by helping leaders identify signs that their approach is ineffective so they can adapt in real time.

“Adopting these strategies to develop human leaders will enable organizations to increase the number of human leaders from 29% to 48%,” says Duffy. “To create more human leaders, HR can help them use their emotions to propel them forward.”