Lead With Being Human

by | Feb 22, 2023 | Hummingbird Blog

As I reflect on my leadership journey, I must admit initially I wasn’t looking for it. Eventually, I pursued it with dreams of changing the world only to get to the top and see the view didn’t take my breath away. Sometimes, the experience chipped away at my soul because of the bureaucracy, politics, balancing between the visible and invisible policies and procedures, systemic racism, colorism, organizational gaslighting, so forth and so on. A part of me died at times. My mental health and well-being were negatively impacted.

I began to wonder, “Is this it?” Whatever “it” was vastly contradicted the interviews, onboarding, and numerous mandatory training.

I realized quickly showing up fully was not welcomed and frowned upon. Nevertheless, hope sparks when I see leaders such as Brian empowering employees to make well-being a priority. Why? Because he makes well-being a priority. Yet, many organizations suffer because their employees are suffering. There is a strong correlation between how leaders show up and how their employees show up.

The weight of well-being in the workplace cannot be given as a directive as I’ve seen many organizations do. Well-being must be practiced, modeled, supported, and prioritized first by leadership if it’s going to last. Brian’s post, Leaders Need to Care about Well-being in the Workplace, discusses the necessity to invest in their employees’ well-being and presents a call to action to make leaders accountable for the health of their organizations.

Unfortunately, the state of humanity is in disarray. We’ve been continuously bombarded with plagues, controversy, travesty, blatant attacks, doom, and gloom on one part of humanity while protecting other parts. On top of this, many of us must walk into workplaces where we’re expected to shake off who we are, stuff what we’re dealing with, and walk through the sliding glass doors or login to Zoom, WebEx, and Teams online meetings as someone completely different.

This reminds me of Star Trek’s transporter because often going to work is like being transported to another planet. Beam me up, Scotty! No, thank you. That’s a hard pass for me and for many others starving to be seen, valued, and heard. Too many workplaces are hazardous to our health, but how can we change this? Let me share a concept to consider that integrates well-being and human-centered leadership.

Normally, I’m an advocate for emotional intelligence, but I learned another relative concept in graduate school called workplace spirituality. This concept has nothing to do with religion. Although under development with numerous definitions, Rathee & Rajain’s article (2020) provided several definitions of workplace spirituality worth mentioning:

  1. Cavanagh (1999): “the desire to find ultimate purpose in life, and to live accordingly.”
  2. Mitroff & Denton (1999): “Workplace spirituality involves the effort to find one’s ultimate purpose in life, to develop a strong connection to co-workers and other people associated with work, and to have consistency (or alignment) between one’s core beliefs and the values of their organization.”
  3. Ashmos and Duchon (2000): “recognition of an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community.”

When I think about leading with being human, I think about these definitions. Workplace spirituality involves focusing on inner life, meaningful work, sense of community, alignment with organizational values, and sense of contributing to society. The impact on organizations is promising and proven to positively affect:

  • organizational and team performance;
  • commitment and loyalty; and,
  • job attitudes, involvement, and satisfaction.

The concept closely relates to what it means to be human in the first place: “belonging to, relating to, or of the nature of, people or humankind; having the qualities of a person or the limitations of people; humane; not invidiously superior; genial, kind” (Schwarz, 2015). Being human is important to success and it starts with leadership. Absolutely, leaders need to care about well-being, and it starts with their own because unwell leaders breed unwell employees and results in an unwell organization. The litmus test of how well an organization is thriving or not is its leadership team. Leaders can’t expect their employees to show up fully if they don’t.

Essentially, leaders need to show up as humans. They can no longer be far removed from the employees they are supposed to serve. When leaders make well-being a priority, organizations will exceed far beyond numbers and profit. Honesty, trust, belongingness, authenticity, vulnerability, and empathy will not be just trendy words to showcase on promotional materials.

The soul of the organization will speak louder than any marketing plan because the employees will be the best advertisement.

They will embody the mission, vision, and values since they will have permission to be who they are and will show up fully. Resilience will happen organically and holistically, not because of mandatory training. Human-centered leadership is key to leading with being human and encouraging a well-being-conscious organization that thrives because their people are thriving personally and professionally.



Ashmos, D.P. & Duchon, D. (2000). Spirituality at work: A conceptualization and measure. Journal of Management Inquiry9(2), 134–145. https://doi.org/10.1177/105649260092008

Cavanagh, G.F. (1999). Spirituality for managers: context and critique. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(3), 186-199. https://doi.org/10.1108/09534819910273793

Human. (2015). In C. Schwarz, The Chambers Dictionary (13th ed.). Chambers Harrap. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from Credo Reference.

Mitroff, I. I. & Denton, E. A. (1999). A study of spirituality in the workplace. MIT Sloan Management Review, 40(4), 83. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/a-study-of-spirituality-in-the-workplace/

Rathee, R. & Rajain, P. (2020). Workplace spirituality: A comparative study of various models. Jindal Journal of Business Research9(1), 27–40. https://doi.org/10.1177/2278682120908554

Phenessa A. Gray PhD

Phenessa A. Gray PhD

Senior Consultant

she / her

Phenessa A. Gray is a Social & Emotional Intelligence (SEI) Coach, Wellbeing Author, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Advocate, and Creative with a passion to empower others to feel better, think better, and live better in creating a more emotionally intelligent world one heart and mind at a time. She is the founder of Emotional Intelligence Doctor, LLC and brings over 20 years experience working in government, higher education, and non-profit organizations. 

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