There are many definitions for different types of leadership, such as, transformational or transactional, autocratic or democratic, task oriented or service oriented leadership. Others defined leadership as situational or just plain management. I have found most of these terms to be too limited and too narrow to cover the complex act of leading others. I have developed a humanistic leadership model or HLM. The aim of humanistic leadership is to place people over profit in order to make business more sustainable. This does not mean that profit is not important. To thrive and survive every business needs profit, but with a humanistic leadership approach business and people thrive. With the constant threats of environmental change and geopolitical conflict, we need humanistic leadership more than ever in order to enable a sustainable and more peaceful world.

The HLM Model

humanistic leadership model

Humanistic leadership starts with self-awareness

To lead others well, one must be able to lead oneself first.

What does it mean to be self-aware? This is a lifelong process. To be self-aware it means being able to answer the question: “Who am I?”. This is a question that most people do not ask themselves. However, this is the most important question to answer. Self-aware leaders should also ask themselves: “ What is most important and why?” In connection to this, understanding one’s values and which goals are aligned with these values are the key. Otherwise, people will spend most of their day on activities that have nothing to do with their most important values.

A self-aware person should also reflect on one’s daily behavior to ensure that it always aligns with his or her most important values. Another attribute of self-awareness is to have a healthy perspective of oneself and others.

Become a system’s thinker

I have observed that many self-aware leaders are also system’s thinkers. To be a system’s thinker means being able to think through one’s actions and potential outcomes. This includes understanding how your actions affect others. Being a system’s thinker means to be able to understand that each action can result in unintended consequences which may affect many other people.

Humanistic system’s thinkers think of the big picture.

David Katz, founder of Plastic Bank, has the mission for his company to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean and poverty in the world through recycling projects.

The fourth king of Bhutan continues the pledge of national happiness for the people of Bhutan as the country’s gross national product. The country’s constitution shows system’s thinking as environmental protection is a written law to ensure that 60% of the land is forested.

The Chinese government has a national plan to move over 250 million people from the farm lands to the big cities to enable economic growth.

Norway has a national strategy to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Humanistic leadership

Humanistic leadership is about trusting others, being ethical, having compassion, and participating as a collective whole. A humanistic leadership system has a clear and aligned vison, mission, values, and expected behaviors. There should be a transparent communication and collaboration vs. internal competition among its members. In a humanistic leadership system, the organizational culture is caring,supportive and people feel appreciated and included. The humanistic leader understands at a deep level that the most important business indicator is the level of joy and meaning which people have in their work. When this is in place, all other indicators of business success will go up.

The key tenants of humanistic leadership are placing the needs of people over profit, to have empathy and respect for others.

When the 2017 fires of Northern California hit, Airbnb offered free rooms to those without homes.

Tony Hsieh, the visionary leader at Zappos, a shoe company stated that enabling people to find passionate work is the best route to delivering happiness to its customers.

Square Space,a web development company lets its workers take as much vacation as needed treating people as owners vs. commodities.They have an 18-week paid parental leave policy believing that when a child is born, these are the most important times for family bonding.

Patagonia, a clothing product company closed the company for a day encouraging customers NOT to buy their products to save global resources. They view family, environment and community first. 1% of all their revenues go to non-profits.

Quicken Loans is revitalizing Detroit by paying its workers subsides to live there and has spent over 2 billion to buy and renovate properties.

The Container Store pays into a fund which is available for its staff when they have unexpected medical emergencies.

The founder of Tom’s shoes has restored eyesight in over 400,000 people in 13 countries through eyewear donations and eye treatment in addition to donating 35 million shoes and safe drinking water to five countries.

Love your melon, an apparel brand supports children battling cancer by donating 50% of its profits to non-profit partners.

All these leaders have a compelling business vision for their business which focuses on positive influence on its people and society.

The skills of humanistic leadership

The skills of humanistic leadership are leading, managing and coaching. The humanistic leader should have all these skills.

Leading is about having a clear business vision and being able to explain this vision to people in a way that inspires them to come to work. Leading is selling tickets for the journey in a passionate and facilitative way.

Managing is the opposite of leading. It requires stability, structure, discipline, and consistency. But it also takes into consideration the individual person.Management requires consistent processes, good time management, and the transparent act of setting and measuring goals in a collaborative way.

Coaching is about helping people on a daily basis to get them where they need to go. A strong leader is able to listen, focus on people and their needs while enabling motivation. Coaching enables collaboration vs. competition. The best coaches enable people to develop in their own ways, not rating and ranking them against others, instead treating them in unique ways and allowing for self-orientation and independence in their work.

Humanistic leaders will invest different aspects of leadership each day but leading, managing, and coaching must all come from the same person. The best way to see if there is humanistic leadership in place is to see if the followers can lead themselves.


Humanistic leaders are aware of the behavioral style which fits them best and gets the best results out of people.

Some people prefer a more autocratic and task-oriented style of leading, others prefer a more democratic and collaborative style. Some may utilize a more task-oriented and structured approach, where others are more comfortable leading in a service oriented style. Some leaders just prefer to lead through their personal values and principles,where others lead in political ways serving their interests first.

In my observations leading others in a collaborative and democratic way tend to get the best results from people at work.

Personality traits

While personality is wired at birth and difficult to change, behavior can be changed. For example, an introverted leader can decide to be more outgoing and sociable even though it could be difficult for this person but he or she can modify the behavior to connect more directly with followers. In my observations, there are specific personality traits which humanistic leaders have.

For example, it is important to have a high level of conscientiousness as this enables deeper thinking, better organization, and discipline. A humanistic leader also should be open, have integrity and make others feel appreciated and included. Finally, I have observed that having interpersonal sensitivity is important to understand others and this becomes easier when a person is self-aware.

A better way

The humanistic leadership model (HLM)is needed to better lead others at a personal, societal, and organizational level. Becoming a humanistic leader is not optional but mandatory if we aim for sustainability at all levels now and into the future.

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