By definition, leaders are individuals who direct or command a group or organization, while managers are responsible for controlling or administering organizations or groups. But these definitions do no accurately highlight the contrast between the two roles. I believe the real difference lies in the approach individuals take to motivating teams to achieve their objectives.

When it comes to looking after a team, one approach is to focus solely on the task at hand, prioritising completion of the job over the feelings of those carrying out the task. Another is an authoritative and political leadership style, indicating an inherent need to be in control, which risks alienating staff. While these approaches may bring success in terms of business achievements, each neglects workforce welfare as well as the importance and benefits of motivating the team.

To make the transition from leader to great leader is to embody the humanistic leadership style. In essence, this means placing people first and seeing employees as partners rather than workers. This creates strong internal cultures and collaborative environments where leaders communicate with their team and share their vision while inviting feedback. Such cultures eliminate internal competition, allowing for professional development without pressure, ultimately leading to a heightened sense of job satisfaction.

In his initial years with Apple, Steve Jobs was criticised in the media for his unconventional management style. It resulted in him losing the support of his employees and their trust in his future vision for the company, and ultimately led to his dismissal from Apple. However, during his second stint at the company, Jobs made important changes to evolve into a great leader by adopting several humanistic approaches, such as developing patience and sensitivity to the physical limits of staff; helping employees in unexpected ways; providing care and advice for their sick family members; and adapting feedback so as to constructive rather than offensive. Now, he is often heralded as one of the most successful and visionary leaders of all time.

A key attribute of a humanistic leader is understanding your own values, beliefs and behaviours, resulting in an authentic and natural leadership style. This in turn feeds into coaching, another crucial element of the approach. By coaching staff, you are positioning yourself as a role model and stepping away from process-led management. By demonstrating skills staff need to progress, you garner greater respect from a team, who become naturally inclined to discuss issues before they become problems, creating a happier, motivated and productive workforce.

Ricardo Semler, CEO of Semco partners in Brazil, is a great example of a humanistic leader. Under his guidance, the one-billion-dollar-a-year company has grown in revenue by 600 per cent in the past decade, thriving during the worst recession in the country’s history. Throughout this significant growth, Semler claims that he has not made a single decision in the company, a direct consequence of the coaching and collaborative culture he has instilled in the organization. At Semco, he leads a radical form of democracy, encouraging questions whilst trusting and enabling people to work in the ways that suit them best.

Great leadership relies on the alignment of your own style and strategy with the culture of the company you are leading. Beyond this, however, a great leader instils in staff the qualities they need to progress so that they themselves can transform into the leaders their company needs. The humanistic leadership approach is crucial for the success of a business, emphasising that firms are more than merely the work they do; they are an environment for employees to thrive and work to the best of the ability.

Craig Nathanson


Get latest news, events and updates on

Joyful work and humanistic leadership from Dr Craig Nathanson:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons