Beyond empowering

HR Week: What makes a people-centric leader?

People-centric leadership

published : 21 January 2021


“A brave leader is someone who says I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I am going to keep listening and asking questions.” - Dare to leade, Brene Brown


A few days ago, I gave a closing keynote speech during the people-centric day of the HR Week conference, an amazing event that creates a space for interdisciplinarity in HR.


I gave a presentation on how we could navigate culture change through ethnography and human-centered methodologies. After the presentation, I got a great question from the audience: “What characteristics do you think a people-centric leader has?”


I am not an expert in leadership but in my presentation, I talked about how a habit of asking questions and intentional “hanging around” with employees can bring us closer to people and help us identify needs and problems.


So, the question was right: “What characteristics do you think a people-centric leader has?”


Without taking a moment to think, I answered: “A people-centric leader is one who says I don’t know all the answers. The one who is brave to be vulnerable and to learn new things with her team.”


Those of you familiar with the work of Brene Brown can totally hear her whispering in my ear at that moment. And I am happy with the answer because it says that a people-centric leader is ready to hear before she offers a solution. It is a leader who allows others to see her without corporate shields and pressure to be perfect at every moment. However, I think that my excitement prevented me to deepen my answer. Therefore, I want to add a few characteristics to a people-centric leader, as I imagine her/him.


It is a person who:

…makes people be heard and seen

…allows people to see her and dare to be different

…builds relationships of trust

…recognizes the potential in individuals and supports it

…is fine with not knowing all the answers

…encourages experiments and failures

…asks more than she tells

…evaluates her own purpose

…cares for people’s feelings and well-being

…creates conditions for people to challenge her


But the best answer to this question is actually to ask you: What makes a people-centric leader for you? I am sure that you all know when you feel valued, empowered, supported, heard, and seen. So, who makes you feel like this? What makes this person different from just “a leader”.

The resources I highly recommend and I am sure can deepen your understanding of what it means to build people-centric leaders and cultures are:

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, Brene Brown

The fearless organizations, Amy Edmondson

Teaming: How organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, Amy Edmondson

Humble inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, Edgar Schein

Powerful: Building a culture of freedom and responsibility, Patty McCord


Written by Venesa Musovic Co-founder of Beyond Empowering, Program Designer, and Facilitator