Lead as if People Matter by Mary Schaefer

They are more than human resources. They are human beings who happen to be employees. What does it take to lead in a way that naturally appeals to what makes us human, and incorporate that into our work? Some thoughts.

  • Show appreciation in simple ways.
  • Learn how work is meaningful to individuals.
  • Articulate how they belong in your organization. Help them see how their work supports its mission.

You might be surprised at the outcome. These factors like appreciation, meaning, and belonging are proven to increase the bottom line. You will tap into that deep well of human potential and create a competitive advantage for your team and your organization.

Here are five tips for taking your leadership of human beings further:

  1. Make decisions as if people matter.
    Business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your computers or lab equipment don’t care if you make financial goals. Leverage the resources that do care (i.e., employees) by addressing basic human needs at work.
    Remember what it’s like to be an employee. Even if you are supervising others, you are an employee too. Communicate that you consider employees’ needs and concerns in your thought process when announcing decisions or making changes.
  2. Do what you say you are going to do.
    If you say you are going to do something, large or small, do it. Employees are watching. They want to trust you. Give them a reason. When you are following up on something you promised, say something like, “I’m doing this thing because of our talk last week.” This lets them know you are listening and taking action as if their ideas and concerns are important – because they are.
  3. Talk to people like you are a human being yourself.
    People can see through stalling and spin. If you can’t discuss a matter, say so. Anticipate questions from an employee's point of view, and practice. You may have to work with your response to ensure it is authentic and sincere. Don’t shortchange this. Check yourself.
  4. Make sure they understand what you're saying.
    The meaning of the communication is the response it elicits. Reread that sentence and think about it for a moment. Our communication is a waste if it doesn’t elicit the desired effect.
    Asking “Do you understand?” or “Are there any questions?” is fruitless. Who wants to look like they aren’t keeping up by saying no?
    Instead, ask them how they interpret what you are saying, or what they are going to do based on what you said.
  5. Get over yourself. Be open to what works.
    Leading includes changing our behaviour so others follow. We wouldn’t put water in our car when it needs fuel and then expect it to perform. Why would we ignore the very human needs of those we work with?

Let’s review. Human needs include appreciation, belonging, contribution and meaning. Using this knowledge doesn’t require that we be something we’re not. Make the adjustments that will work for you and for those who look to you for leadership so your business, organization, and all within, grow and thrive.

A version of this post originally titled “Seven Ways to Be a New Leader to Your Employees” ran on the Lead Change Group site May 25, 2011.


Mary Schaefer is a coach, trainer, consultant, and speaker whose work is focused on making the most of what human resources can contribute to an organization through their energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. Mary’s mission is to create work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive.

Click here to see Mary’s talk at TEDx Wilmington (DE, USA) titled, “Putting the Human Back Into Human Resources.”

Mary is a former HR manager, holds a Master’s degree in HR and is a certified HR professional.

Mary Schaefer