A human-centred approach to leadership for a hybrid model of working

As the pandemic disruption of the workforce slowly evolves around the world it has become clear that the hybrid model is here to stay.

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A human-centred approach to leadership  for a hybrid model of working

As the pandemic disruption of the workforce slowly evolves around the world it has become clear that the hybrid model is here to stay as discussed in my previous blog the great remote work experiment.  

There is an urgent need to focus on the leadership required to support this model to enable growth and resilience. A need for a human-centred approach to leadership.

A high profile example of the negative consequence when senior leadership makes decisions about hybrid working without talking to their employees is Apple. On June 2, 2021, Tim Cook emailed all Apple's employees, asking them to return to the office in early September. He stated that Apple staff were required to be present in the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  

This has resulted in strong push back from employees who have conducted their own surveys to sense the response and have written a letter with suggested changes that allow more flexibility Apple executives responded clearly stating their stance will not be changing. In the meantime, other technology companies are seeing an opportunity to approach disengaged employees in an attempt to attract them with their own more flexible practices. An article in June in the Wall Street Journal says that the ability to work remotely has become “the new signing bonus”.

Other tech companies like Google adapted their original plan to have employees return to the office for at least 3 days a week. They have moved to a more flexible model.

The push for flexibility is adding to the wave of resignations in the U.S. and is motivating many employers to re-evaluate their work-from-home policies. Wall Street Journal

3 areas for leaders to focus on to support a human-centred approach


There is much to be said for just noticing. Paying attention to your own preferences, personal styles and making the unconscious conscious. Social intelligence is now critical in leadership and starts with a high level of self-awareness. For example, notice the unconscious biases that may influence where and with who you focus your attention and how you make decisions.

When we have awareness, we have a choice.


Kropp, Cambon and Clark also say that empathy requires high levels of trust, care and acceptance in teams. This is a big shift for many leaders who may have learned to lead with a performance and task focus. It requires enough sense of self awareness and self-management to help understand in a way that deepens trust.

Gartner research says that employees in organisations with high levels of empathy-based leadership are more than twice as likely to agree that their work environment is inclusive.


During times of rapid change and uncertainty it is easy for a leader to feel the need to take control and rely on old approaches and solutions when the best option is most likely the need to tap into the diverse thinking of the team and across teams.

“The answer to a challenge is rarely with a leader, but it’s the role of the leader to create the space for the team to come up with the answer!” This was a key insight from a recent discussion on 21st century leadership hosted by Novartis with Adam Grant and leaders from Novartis and Swiss universities.

Novartis have flipped the pyramid with a servant leadership approach driving an increased psychological safety and empowering individuals and teams across the organisation to contribute their thinking to solutions.

This can be a considerable shift in approach for leaders used to a command- and- control approach.

Supporting leaders to transition leadership styles for a pandemic and beyond

Shifting leader’s mindsets and behaviours at scale across an organisation is complex and will not be accomplished through off-the-shelf solutions. A human-centred design approach is required to develop human-centred leaders involving many different stakeholders contributing insights and needs leading to designed solutions that weave in a variety of elements. These enable connections, experimentation with new ideas and practices, reflection and challenge leading to changes over time. Developing soft skills or human skills requires time to practice and reflect, safety to make mistakes and peers to learn from and with. Learning is supported by a flexible suite of tools and delivery methods.  

“Unfortunately, only 52% of 31 learning and development leaders polled in May 2020 report that they’re increasing their focus on soft skills.” Cropp, Cambon & Clark HBR April 2020

Traditional, established leadership behaviours are increasingly outdated and the pull for leaders to go back to the way things were — using the same levers and behaviours to inspire and engage — is strong, but ultimately not fit for purpose. Instead, hybrid working requires leaders adapt their style of leadership to balance rational behaviours with emotional needs, make data-driven decisions, and cater to different segments of the workforce, creating an employee experience that is compelling regardless of where people work.

At Capability Group, we are passionate about our purpose, connecting people and changing lives through learning.

We know that changing lives through learning is more likely to happen through the delivery of bespoke programmes that start with a human-centred design approach aiming to deliver more relevant and impactful solutions. We also know that change can happen one conversation, one action at a time.

For more information on how to encourage a human-centred leadership approach through times of change and ambiguity, check out our leadership solutions

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