Sustainable Leadership Starts with Humanity

May 18, 2023

by Alec Osiecki


Humanity in leadership plays a crucial role in organizational sustainability and employee resilience. Leaders that prioritize and exhibit humane qualities such as trust, empathy, and compassion create an environment that fosters more sustainable practices by supporting the well-being of others.

In these modern times, investing in employee well-being is no longer a luxury but a must. Leaders now recognize that their employees' physical/mental health and overall well-being directly impact their organization's performance. Deloitte’s research shows that many organizations have even expanded the scope of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives beyond diversity and inclusion initiatives to also include employee well-being. In addition to working towards a more sustainable future, Mckinsey & Co. research shows ESG initiatives also create value for organizations in five essential business areas.

Although there is often push-back to ESG and employee well-being investment, usually over their cost and concern over ROI, McLean & Company’s research shows these long-term strategies have serious financial benefits. Specifically, organizations with healthy and engaged employees have less employee turnover and burnout with heightened productivity. Accordingly, it is crucial for leaders to recognize the significance of work relationships and team dynamics in promoting the well-being of both employees and their organizations.

Consequently, human resource leaders are promoting a new style of sustainable leadership that aims to prioritize employee well-being. This style emphasizes developing organizational sustainability through the cultivation of agile and resilient employees. Developing leaders' character strengths is highly needed, as leaders with strong character see investment in ESG and employee well-being as a vital strategy for building more sustainable futures for organizations and societies. 

By upholding more ethical and empathetic practices, leaders can positively affect employee engagement, and talent attraction/retention within their organizations. According to Korn Ferry’s research, attracting, retaining, and developing talent is crucial these days and for the future of organizational sustainability. Projecting that by 2030, there will be a global talent crisis with a shortage of over 85.2 million skilled workers, where the demand surpasses the available supply. Therefore, organizations that aren’t fostering more humane leaders who prioritize their employees’ and society's well-being risk losing out in the coming talent battle that will determine which organizations survive and which perish.   

Here are some ways humanity in leadership contributes to organizational sustainability and worker resilience:

Organizational Sustainability:

1. Employee Engagement: Leaders who treat their employees with humanity build trust and foster a positive work culture. This encourages employee engagement, motivation, and loyalty, increasing productivity and reducing turnover rates. Engaged employees are more likely to be invested in the organization's long-term success and contribute to its sustainability.

2. Talent Attraction and Retention: Organizations with empathetic leaders are perceived as desirable places to work, attracting top talent. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to stay with the organization, reducing recruitment and training costs and ensuring continuity and stability.

3. Ethical Practices: Leaders who prioritize humanity consider the ethical implications of their decisions on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, and the environment. By promoting ethical behavior, organizations contribute to sustainability by minimizing negative impacts, complying with regulations, and creating a positive reputation.

Worker Resilience:

1. Psychological Safety: When leaders care about their employees, they create an environment of psychological safety, where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and innovative ideas. This fosters creativity, collaboration, and learning, enhancing worker resilience to face challenging situations.

2. Work-Life Balance: Leaders who prioritize employee well-being recognize the importance of work-life balance and support their employees in achieving it. They encourage flexible working arrangements, provide support for personal time off, and promote a healthy work culture. This helps employees manage stress, avoid burnout, and build resilience.

3. Personal Development: Leaders who invest in the growth and development of their employees enhance worker resilience and adaptability by providing opportunities for learning, skill-building, and career advancement. This enables employees to navigate changes, embrace new challenges, and bounce back from setbacks faster.

In conclusion, humanity in leadership positively impacts organizational sustainability by promoting ethical practices that foster employee engagement and attract and retain talent. Sustainable leaders contribute to worker resilience by creating psychologically safe work environments, supporting healthy work-life balance, and facilitating personal growth and development. By prioritizing these aspects, leaders can build sustainable organizations that thrive long-term through the cultivation of agile workers that together can reach a peak state of generativity.