My name is Leilani Carbonell, I'm the Senior Manager of Customer Success at Tipalti, where we help businesses modernize their financial operations to scale and reach their full potential.

In this article, I’ll talk about people-centered leadership and why it’s the best leadership approach.

Here are our main talking points:

  • Why is people-centered leadership so important?
  • People-centered leadership
  • Leading vs. managing

Let’s get into it.👇

Why is people-centered leadership so important?


According to Microsoft's Work Trend Index, 41% of the global workforce is considering a job change.

In the US, $1.5 billion a year is spent looking for replacement workers. The impact of this is delays to customer products or services and loss of profit.

Globally, only 21% of employees are engaged in the workplace. In the United States, a third of employees are engaged in work.

Engagement is important. When your employees are not engaged, they're not happy with their job, and not satisfied with their work environment, which means they're looking around.

Globally, 33% of employees say they're thriving in their overall well-being. For the rest of the three-quarters of the population, stress is at an all-time high, even post-pandemic.

These statistics speak to why people-centered leadership is important and hopefully, take some action on it.

We have to do better, the solution: People-centered leadership

We have to do better, those numbers may be jarring but the good news is we can do better through ‘people-centric leadership’.

Whole child approach

I’m a former teacher. I taught elementary and middle school and as a teacher, I learned about the concepts of the ‘whole child approach’. The whole child approach ensures that each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged and comes from the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

As a teacher, I needed to ensure that all of my students were healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged so that they could succeed in the classroom. They would grow, learn, and hopefully by the end of their career as a student, go off to either job force or college to become productive citizens.

If we flipped this, replaced the word ‘child’ with ‘human’, ‘employee’ or ‘person’ and think about the people who we work with, who are on our teams, who we are responsible for in the workplace, and make that approach a ‘whole person’ approach.

Whole person approach

The whole person approach ensures that each employee is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

How employees feel and thrive at work, because everything is connected, translates to their home life.

If you have happier employees, then the more successful and productive your company will be and it translates into their personal life too.

Whole human approach

I love this Brene Brown quote because it talks about (highlighted in blue) creating a positive culture and that’s essential to creating a thriving workplace environment, through the people-centered leadership approach.

The characteristics of people-centered leadership

These four bullet points encapsulate the most important characteristics of people-centered leadership:

  • Know and care for your people: It’s critically important that a people-centric leader knows who their team is. When you have a large organization, it's not possible to know every single person and all of their likes, but you can know your immediate team. Meet the team that reports directly to you, know who they are, their birthdays or anniversaries, what excites them, and show you care for them.
  • Showing humility and empathy: As a leader, having a growth mindset, being humble, and showing that humility among your team is key. Don’t forget about empathy. Look through the lens of the people that you work with, the people who report to you, have that care for them, and be empathetic.
  • Creating an environment of psychological safety and mutual trust: You need to show that you're being vulnerable and model that so that you're creating a space for employees to also be vulnerable. I'm not saying pour your heart out, but we don't need to be afraid to be human and we don't need to be afraid to shield those emotions. People are bringing things with them to work so having that space to be vulnerable and trust is part of what keeps your employees engaged in a culture of positivity and a trusting environment.
  • Recognize and reward your people: Recognize those achievements and successes they've accomplished, and reward them for that. The reward doesn’t always have to be monetary value. There are other ways of rewarding them like recognition and appreciation, that show your team they're valued.

Leading vs. managing

Anybody can be a leader. There's a leader in individual contributors and a leader in managers.

Leadership focuses on people, they influence and motivate, ask ‘what’ and ‘why’, and foster ideas.

Management focuses on system and structure, supervises and controls, asks ‘how’ and ‘when’, and assigns tasks.

If you approach those areas of management from a people-centric leadership field and it doesn't feel micromanaging, it has a different effect on people. When you're being empathetic, vulnerable, and providing a psychologically safe space and a trusting environment, it doesn't mean you can't do the management tasks but it's just the way you approach how you manage.

Thriving is the end goal. You want the people you work with and the people who are in your team to thrive as opposed to them just reaching their KPIs.

Of course, as a business, we do want to reach those business goals, but if your employees are healthy and feel safe, they're going to be better employees and they're going to reach those goals because their needs are met.

As managers and as leaders, let's focus on being better at all of these things. Let's coach rather than supervise. Let's do more listening rather than talking.

Michelle Obama: An example of people-centered leadership

Michelle Obama is somebody who screams those characteristics of what a people-centric leader is. She’s authentic and relatable, an effective communicator, and speaks with conviction. All of these qualities make up a people-centered leader and areas to strive for.

“Success isn't about how much money you make; it's about the difference you make in people's lives”. Money is good, but when you stop and think about the team you're working with, it's an honor and a big responsibility to make a difference in their lives. If you're really stressed on your work day and you bring that stuff home, how does that affect your spouse, your children, or loved ones?

To sum up

If we lead with all of those different characteristics, being vulnerable, building a safe environment, building trust, and being authentic, the better we are in terms of making the workplace environment, more enjoyable, more of a place where people can be fulfilled and thrive.

Hopefully, when they go home, they're feeling that joy as well. At the same time, they're going to be happier at work, which means have more productive results.