What is humanistic leadership?

Humanistic leadership is placing people over profit.  This means placing people at the center of any organization. The humanistic leader places people and their development first knowing that those who experience joyful work will be more dedicated, loyal, happier, and more productive in their work. From a business perspective, this is the best path to higher revenues. Happier people lead to better products and services. When people enjoy their work, internal and external customers are treated better.  Instead of using outdated and ineffective behaviorism methods of reward and punishment the humanistic leader enables motivation at work through teaching people how to motivate themselves, how to align their abilities and their deepest interests. Humanistic leadership takes an investment in people. There are no shortcuts.

What is self-awareness?

Being self-aware means to know one’s self deeply.  A self-aware person can answer these questions: Who am I and why do I behave the way I do? What is my purpose and where do I want to make a contribution in the world? What are my values and how do I know if I am following my values daily or not following them? What motivates me and why? What can I do to have more internal motivators than external ones? When one is externally motivated there is a good chance that they will be disappointed when someone doesn’t come along and say a good job, I like you, or there is a reward. But with internal motivation, there is a 100% opportunity for generating happiness and motivation since this comes from inside a person.

Being self-aware means having a healthy perspective of one’s self and knowing how to reframe personal beliefs which are no longer useful. Being self-aware is having the ability to look at new possibilities for one’s life. Being self-aware means having a deep understanding of one’s role in the world and how to carry this out. Being self-aware means learning despite life’s normal challenges to have a good attitude about one’s self and others. Being self-aware means aligning one’s life and work around one’s passions seeking to design a life which takes advantage of one’s deepest interests and motivations. Being self-aware means having positive relationships, being emotionally strong and having a healthy relationship with money and how it is earned and spent. Ultimately being self-aware means giving oneself permission to live the life which makes you happy and able to make a positive difference for yourself and those you care about.

What is the relationship between humanistic leadership and self-awareness?

The self-aware leader is able to deeply listen to others, show empathy, place people and their development first while making decisions which balance the needs of the organization and the individual. The leader who is self-aware is a deep thinker who understands how their actions and decisions will affect others and their daily lives. The self-aware leader is a role model for healthy communication, inclusion and appreciation for others. The self-aware leader gains result with people not through people.

Examples of humanistic leaders

There are many examples of humanistic leaders and the results of their humanistic approaches in leadership show whether it is in taking leading positions in business or in our society.

Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, the online shoe company in Las Vegas wrote the book, Happiness. Tony places people first. Employee development is the core focus at Zappos with a focus on family values, self-actualization and a culture which encourages and enables healthy work and relationships. When Tony purchased the vacant lot next to Zappos the intent which he did was to build tiny houses for his employees who needed low-income housing.

Jim Sinegal, CEO at Costco, the second largest retailer behind Walmart places people first. They were one of the only companies to give wage increases while other major retailers were cutting back. He makes it a point to visit all 500 stores annually to meet and talk to the people who work there. At Costco, even part-time staff receive full healthcare benefits. Jim who makes a 350K annual salary is a third of the pay which the average CEO in America receives. He answers his own phone, is open to all staff who want to drop in and talk and works at a small table with folding (probably Costco chairs).

Chris Mann, founder of Guayaki and the popular Yerba Mate drink integrates social justice with the intent to sustain and restore 200 acres of the rainforest while supporting the indigenous communities in Brazil and Argentina.

Jack Ma, CEO of the Alibaba group and the largest online retailer in China places people first. The company encourages its people to pursue their dreams and goals while working there. His actions show that he believes in people.

Rose Marcario, CEO at Patagonia, clothes maker in California is an environmental activist. One percent of all their sales go to environmental organizations. The company is socially conscious and focuses on ethical business practices. There are no performance ratings at Patagonia as people are encouraged to work in ways which fit them best.

Gary Erickson, founder of Cliff Bar in Berkley, California states in their company values that people, the community and the planet are the most important factors. Gary refused to sell his company JUST to make more profit.

Ellen Degeneres, celebrity and winner of the people’s choice humanitarian award started the Dian Fossey Gorilla fund with the aim to protect the local environment while providing health care, clean water, school gardens and hygiene education.

Reed Hastings, CEO at Netflix, the online entertainment company located in the Silicon Valley of California doesn’t measure people by how many hours they work or where they work. The company placed over 100M in education and development funds believing that people development is the path to profit.

Marc Benioff, CEO at Sales Force is leading a major campaign in San Francisco to provide housing for all homeless people and has invested over 1 million dollars of his own money to start this effort. He believes that companies can do more then JUST make money, they can serve others. He states that the business of the business world is to improve the state of the world. Even more impressive is the 100-million-dollar gift that he and his wife Lynne gave to build a new children’s hospital in the city.

The next steps to becoming a self-aware humanistic leader

Figure out what you are most concerned about and strive to make a difference in those areas. From the criteria discussed in this article begin to think deeply about you, knowing and following what is most important. Start to place the people in your life in the center enabling them to be self-aware and internally motivated. Strive to balance people and profit placing people and their interests always first. Think collectively vs. JUST individually. This will be a good start. Don’t underestimate the personal power and positive influence which you can have with others. Start today.


The self-aware humanistic leader takes collective action to make the world a better place.  This is no longer JUST a nice idea. Our ecosystems are on the verge of collapse unless we collectively take action now. A business today must be sustainable to thrive and survive. Humanistic leadership IS the path to sustainability. On a personal level, reach out and help in your local community, care for others, put people first, live with a smaller footprint, be a role model for your family and friends. Become more self-aware. This is the best which you can do, AND it might even help save the planet as a result!

Dr Craig Nathanson