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Whole-person leadership: Lead your employees as people

Since early 2020, business leaders and their employees have been carefully navigating uncharted waters together. They have both been challenged to adapt to a changing business landscape, but don’t always perceive the employee experience in the same way.

Heather R. Younger

Heather R. Younger

Whole-person leadership

During the pandemic, HR technology has enabled the recruitment and onboarding of new team members, but many of those individuals are yet to meet their colleagues and managers in person. Zoom calls have enabled us to maintain face-to-face communications in many cases, but an overreliance on technology can feel dehumanizing to candidates and loyal, long-serving employees. We need a more caring approach to leadership in order to bridge the gap.

Leaders must think about the employee experience in the same way they do the customer experience. In order to create win-win scenarios, they must become truly inclusive leaders, and listen to the diverse voices inside their organizations and take time to understand what’s important to them in order to unlock valuable insights that will inform future successes.

Bridge the gap between office and home

As the world reopens, competitive advantages will need to be leveraged in order for organizations to bounce back quickly. Creative problem-solving, innovative thinking, and seamless collaboration across teams will help them authentically communicate in a voice as diverse as their audience. All of this requires a different approach to leadership in the new world of work.

Before the pandemic, leaders focused on how their employees performed in the office. It took a global pandemic to break the disconnect between work and home life and give people permission to bring their authentic selves to work. Video conferencing calls have allowed us to witness how our colleagues interact with family, pets, or an inconvenient parcel delivery during an important meeting. In this way, we are now better able to empathize with each other and build trust within our teams.

Leaders now need to embrace this opportunity to lead the whole person in order to help both their teams and organizations achieve more.

Why managers need to lead the whole person

Employees look to leaders for guidance to help them overcome challenges. A caring leader understands that they will get more from their team by building relationships with those they lead. But to do this, they also know that they need to look beyond performance reviews and life inside the workplace. To lead the whole person, leaders must consider the mind, body, spirit, and emotions of those they lead.

By investing the time to see the world through your employees’ eyes, rewards can be unlocked via increased performance across your organization. But before you can lead the whole person, you need to build a safe space where every employee can feel comfortable sharing their fears, questions, and concerns without judgment.

There are many ways in which you can build a culture of listening. You can empower teams to create open forums like roundtables or coffee hours to connect at a deeper level with their people.

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Whole-person leadership in the hiring process

It doesn’t matter if you are working in a B2C or B2B environment. We are all in the people-to-people business. Every organization must be as diverse as its audience to thrive and survive in an increasingly competitive environment. These changes also demand a different approach to recruitment.

The ROI of a diverse workforce that ensures everyone feels included and a sense of belonging will transform your culture and pave the way for your future success. By contrast, departmental silos and HR technology that feels dehumanizing to prospective candidates looking to join your team will stop any progress in its tracks.

Whole-person leadership is also critical in the hiring process, especially when recruiting new managers. If we fail to communicate trust and authenticity and set those expectations as we advance, leaders won’t like the reflection of themselves that they see. The bottom line is that employees that aren’t growing feel unappreciated and don’t feel safe or mimic the poor behavior of a bad leader will quickly result in low morale and a toxic culture.

Phil Cohen, founder and president of Cohen Architectural Woodworking, addressed the leader’s responsibility to lead the whole person with me: “We have to be cognizant that people present with their own unique lenses based upon their background. We take that in when we bring them in as an employee. They don’t just leave that at the door.”

The understanding that there’s a gap in perception between how the employer perceives the employee experience it offers compared to the employee feedback they receive is just the first of many stages of your journey of continuous improvement. Leading the whole person is not a scalable concept. It is building individual relationships with our people and paying close attention to the details of their lives.

We can now work from anywhere and everywhere. How we define the workplace has completely changed in just one year. From the recruitment and onboarding process to managing the entire employee experience, it’s time for a caring leadership style to bridge the gap and empower managers to lead the whole person.

Heather R. Younger — author of The Art of Caring Leadership — is an international speaker, consultant, adjunct organizational leadership professor, and facilitator who has earned her reputation as “The Employee Whisperer.” As a champion for positive change in workplaces, communities, and our world at large, Heather founded Employee Fanatix, a leading employee engagement and leadership development consulting and training firm, to inspire others by teaching the kind of caring leadership that drives real business results.


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