Humanising Leadership


An approach to leadership with heartfulness and openness

I was first introduced to the term “humanising leadership” by my husband Cato Johansen.

Since 2008 Cato has been working with participants from all over the world delivering Leadership Development programs at INSEAD. These include in-company programmes for global corporations, MAP – the Management Acceleration Programme, PLDP – the Personal Leadership Development Programme – part of the MBA programme and ICC – the INSEAD Coaching Certificate programme – which launched in 2018.

At INSEAD, Cato works under Gianpiero Petriglieri an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour; an expert on leadership and learning in the workplace and considered to be one of the top 50 management thinkers in the world.

This is all rather lucky for me!

Over the years Cato has passed on numerous books and articles, plus we have worked together on occasions, including designing and running two cohorts of the GTA / Southampton University MBA – Effective Leadership modules.

Humanising Leadership is a concept that Gianpiero wrote about in his 2015 article together Can Business Schools Humanise Leadership? with his wife Jennifer Petriglieri also an Associate Professor at INSEAD. They argue that standard leadership development creates executives “bereft of socially responsible values”.


Dehumanization of leadership. This process involves a narrowing of our understanding of leadership to a goal-focused activity that can be broken down into a set of skills, on the one hand, or an expansion of it into a virtue, a kind of resolute equanimity unaffected by the pulls of incentives and the push of emotions, on the other.


They argue that reducing leadership to a set of skills acquired to serve corporate goals and corporate greed, removes leaders from the people they are there to lead and also separates them from their own humanity.

Humanizing leadership entails. Rather than offering universal answers to questions about the nature and function of leadership, we suggest that it may be more useful to raise questions that help aspiring leaders to examine the meaning of leadership in their own lives and contexts and to work with a broader range of emotional and social experiences while leading and following.

That’s all a bit scholarly for me, (well they are Associate Professors at the equivalent of Harvard in Europe!) So what does this mean in terms of my approach to leadership.

What “Humanising Leadership” means to me, is meeting real people where they are, helping them stay connected to their hearts and values, and open to what is actually happening so they can make sense of it. So that they can show up as their whole selves to lead, support and motivate other real people to achieve meaningful actions towards a collective purpose.

How we Humanise Leadership

Safe Space

Firstly, for me humanising leadership requires the creation of a safe enough space for people to be real and explore their own experiences.

A place where they are able to be their whole selves with each other, not just their best selves. For people to be able to show and for others to see the bits of themselves they don’t usually show in a workplace setting or on a leadership course. The human, emotional messy bits – we all have, as well as our beauty and brilliance.

Safety develops over time as people share their experiences, without the need to present a certain image.


Building self-awareness is a pre-requisite for growth as a leader. Learning to be able to swiftly shift over into self-reflective mode in the middle of the action. Being able to respond rather than react to emotional triggers takes time and practice building our ability to self-manage and achieve greater emotional intelligence.


Learning to be in the present moment. Only if we are present to what is happening in this very moment can we sense what is happening and needs to happen, so we can consciously choose the best course of action to follow. Incorporating mindfulness practices into everyday leadership interactions is the key to 21st Century leadership.


Most of us who are good at getting things done and have been promoted into leadership positions on the strength of this ability are often pretty poor listeners, valuing action over words. But learning to really listen to others without interrupting is a huge and important leadership skills. We need to learn to shift from listening for confirming data and shifting to swift decisions, to listening for more subtle disconfirming data, listening with empathy and listening systemically to what is wanting to happen next.


Learning to listen helps us to open up to new ideas, insights and experiences. Helping us to discover parts of ourselves we haven’t much explored. Helping us to understand instinctive defenses, which give rise to our inner voices of judgement, cynicism and fear. Allowing us to learn to explore our experiences with an open mind, an open heart and an open will.


Talking about heartfulness in the work place may not be particularly fashionable, but our workplaces are calling out for more kindness, more tolerance, more humanity and less fear driven, impersonal dictats.

The Humanising Leadership principles underpin everything else, from there we explore all manner of different aspects of leadership, recent modules have included: –

If you would be interested in discussing how this approach can support you in your work, please contact

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