The importance of incorporating human development into leadership

Center for Creative Leadership’s Elisa Mallis tells HRM Asia how leaders can embrace human development as leaders.
By: | June 7, 2023

Elisa Mallis is the Managing Director and Vice President of Asia-Pacific (APAC) at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). With over 20 years of experience as a business leader, Mallis’ expertise is on transformational change, human capital strategy, and sales and marketing, and much of that experience has been spent in the Asia-Pacific region.

HRM Asia caught up with Mallis after HR Tech Festival Asia 2023, where she spoke at the ASEAN Human Development Summit during the Leadership Shift: Are Business Leaders Ready? panel discussion, for her thoughts on human development (HD) and shifting leadership.

What are the essential factors that leaders need to effectively “take the jump” to make changes and embrace HD?

Mallis: At CCL we’ve embarked on the (Better) Leadership project because we believe we cannot solve our problems with the same traits of leadership we used when we created them.  As the world changes, leadership should change with it. 

Some of those traditional traits include aggression, focusing primarily on shareholder value, and heroic or ego-centric leadership.  Going forward, we see leadership as a collective effort that focuses on better teams, stronger organisations, and healthier communities.  

We find that (better) leaders focus on compassion, well-being and belonging for themselves and others. 

Here are the essential factors:

Empathy to compassion

At its broadest, compassion is an awareness of a person’s condition, coupled with genuine concern for that person and a willingness to take action to help. It’s about having the courage to walk alongside someone as they navigate a difficult time, a complex situation, or a persistent problem.

Truly compassionate leaders don’t merely lend a sympathetic ear or show empathy for everyone, and their goal isn’t just to solve the problems of their direct reports or take pain away from them.

Instead, compassionate leaders move beyond empathetic concern to take productive actions — supporting team members as they work through challenges and looking for systemic ways to reduce friction, making it easier for good people to do great work.

Resilience to wellbeing

As we moved through the pandemic many organisations scrambled to help individual leaders optimise their personal effectiveness with an increased focus on self-care. And for good reason: The pandemic left a wake of stress and burnout. Yet, while self-care is important, and resilience is foundational to leading others, they’re not enough alone.  Our Asia Work 3.0 research indicates that less than half of employees are thriving, while the rest are just surviving or struggling.  We believe that more work is needed to cultivate organisational cultures that truly support everyone and ensure people are better than just okay and resilient – that they can thrive and meet their full potential.  

Inclusion to belonging 

Belonging, the belief that we are connected, supported, and respected — is a basic human need. Belonging in the workplace can pave the way for greater performance, innovation, satisfaction, and persistence through challenges.

Considering that leaders are humans themselves, what is contributing to their hesitation in embracing re-humanisation?

Mallis: The scale of the pandemic has shaken up a lot of organisations and recent disruption has awoken boards and leadership teams to the reality of the need to lean toward stakeholder capitalism rather than shareholder capitalism for long-term financial, social, and talent sustainability.

Societies are more aware and more demanding of businesses to balance commercial and social sustainability. Communities are holding organisations more accountable for their actions. People do not want a transactional relationship with organisations that are only in the business of making money; they are looking for more meaning in their work. Investors are more supportive of organisations that play a more balanced role in the social, economic, and environmental space. Even leaders are more reflective of the alignment between their personal values and the organisation’s purpose. 

At the same time, with a soft global economy and geo-political tensions, there are rising pressures on leaders to reach quarterly earnings targets and produce results that are often at odds with putting people first.  

Leaders often need to look deep within and identify, communicate, and live their purpose authentically.

READ MORE: Transforming HR with data: The potential of people data analytics

Some of the attributes of leadership that come up as most important right now based on our Asia Work 3.0 research are:

  • “Communication” shows up as the most important attribute at 49.3%. Communication is the ability to convey or share ideas and feelings effectively in a synchronous and asynchronous mode with people working onsite or remotely or a combination thereof.
  • “Growth Mindset” shows up as the most important mindset at 37.7%. The good news is that intelligence and talents to succeed in a rapidly evolving Work 3.0 culture can be developed over time irrespective of an individual leader’s age and seniority.
  • “Accountability Mindset” ranks 3rd at 31.2%, after “Trusting Mindset” (33.5%)