Mastering Human-Centered Leadership: Strategies for Success

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a truly impactful leader in today’s fast-paced world? Today, we’re diving into the heart of leadership with Jennifer Krippner through her role at the Institute for Healthcare Excellence. With a career spanning over three decades, Jennifer is at the forefront of integrating human-centered leadership into the fabric of healthcare. To her, leadership extends beyond the immediate team to encompass the broader community they impact.


doctor talking to a woman - human-centered leadership


The Institute for Healthcare Excellence

The Institute for Healthcare Excellence leads and inspires a movement that redefines what it means to connect, lead, and thrive in the challenging world of healthcare. It was founded in 2014 by Dr. Bill Maples after his time at a large health system in Florida. As Chief Quality Officer, Dr. Maples was tasked with exploring new ways to engage with patients and connect with them on a deeper level. He discovered that it wasn’t just about the patients but also about how employees show up and lead their teams. This led to the creation of a training curriculum and solutions designed to meet the needs of both patients and healthcare teams. Thus, the Institute for Healthcare Excellence was born. 


What is human-centered leadership?

Jennifer views human-centered leadership as showing up with empathy and truly understanding where others are coming from. It’s about being connected and being present whether it’s with the people who directly report to you, colleagues, or clients. This means approaching conversations, meetings, and client care with curiosity and vulnerability.

A human-centered approach is relevant to anyone, no matter the size of your business, as long as you’re interacting with people and building connections based on trust and respect. It’s important to consider how you show up as a leader, especially during team meetings and one-on-one meetings. 


Be Present: The First Step in Leadership

As a leader, your first and most crucial step is to be present. Focus on the task, person, or team in front of you, making them your priority. Both you and the person you’re meeting with are giving up valuable time, so aim to be the best you can be in that moment.


Limit Distractions

  • Turn your phone over or put it in your pocket.
  • Turn off your computer screen.
  • Inform your assistant or others not to interrupt.
  • Close the door and draw the shades if necessary.
  • Show your full attention by indicating to others that you are giving 100% of your focus to the meeting.


Avoid Excessive Apologies

Instead of explaining why you’re late, simply say, “I’m sorry I’m late, I’m here now,” and focus on the other person. This approach shifts the emphasis to them, showing they are important and have your full attention. If you don’t have enough time, reschedule the meeting, emphasizing the importance of valuing their time and setting up another meeting. Being fully present in meetings can reduce the need for follow-ups and repeated information, making the process more efficient.


Start with Small Steps

Improve your presence gradually. Add more practices each week to see benefits for yourself and others. In team meetings, ask if there’s anything distracting the team before diving into the agenda. Allow team members to share their distractions to clear the air. Start or end meetings by sharing things you’re grateful for, shifting focus from negative biases to a thriving mindset.


Reflective listening is an essential leadership skill.

Reflective listening is when the other person is talking to you and before you respond, you repeat back what you heard them say to ensure you understood correctly. When you listen without interrupting, you allow others to share their story fully. 

Reflecting back what they said helps them feel heard and understood, which can have a powerful, healing effect. For example, studies have shown that patients with back pain who experience reflective listening from their caregivers often see improvements. This demonstrates the impact of truly hearing and reflecting back someone’s words.

Additionally, asking powerful, open-ended questions can further enhance communication. Instead of assuming we know what someone is thinking, being open and curious allows for more meaningful dialogue. Starting a meeting with powerful questions and letting the team prioritize the topics can make everyone feel more involved. For example, if you only have an hour for a meeting and the team suggests five topics, ask them to choose the top two to discuss first. This way, the meeting feels like a collective effort rather than just the leader’s agenda.


Moving from Burnout to Thriving

Resilience and burnout are closely intertwined. Burnout can be seen as the inability to feel positive emotions, like joy, hope, or gratitude, especially when stress overwhelms us. It’s like a daily grind focused on what’s going wrong rather than what’s going right.

Resilience, on the other hand, is all about bouncing back from tough situations, handling tricky conversations, or dealing with unexpected challenges. For leaders, being present and attentive is crucial for success. However, it’s normal to have moments of distraction or lapses in presence. This is where our resilience as leaders shines through—it’s a chance to learn and strengthen our skills.

Understanding resilience also teaches us the importance of embracing our humanity. Connecting with our emotions, whether they’re positive or negative, not only fosters healing but also boosts our performance, benefiting not just ourselves but also our teams. As leaders, we must cultivate skills that foster genuine connections with others. While technical expertise and checklists are valuable, combining them with emotional intelligence and cultural awareness brings about real transformation in how we lead and inspire others.


Human Capital Is Just As Important

Successful leadership is a balance of technical expertise and genuine human connection. Understanding your regulatory standpoints and clinical care guidelines is crucial for effective leadership. However, it’s equally important to focus on the human aspect of your role. This human connection is what sets you apart in the marketplace and ensures excellent care for those you serve. 

As a leader, your impact goes beyond operational efficiency; it extends to how your staff interacts with patients and customers. Investing in your team’s well-being and fostering genuine connections is just as vital as managing operations. You don’t have to maintain a rigid, clinical facade. Being authentic and approachable as a leader allows for better communication, collaboration, and ultimately, better results. It’s about embracing humility, listening to your team, and being open to new ideas and perspectives. 


Your investment in your human capital is just as important.


The Feedforward Approach

Shifting from the traditional feedback model to a feedforward approach can be transformative when delivering feedback. This change involves focusing on strengths, recognizing where team members excel, and utilizing those strengths to drive their progress forward. Nurturing professional development within the organization is equally crucial, offering opportunities for growth and learning that empower team members to advance in their careers.

Marcus Buckingham’s articles in the Harvard Business Review on Feedforward are invaluable resources on this topic. They highlight the use of real-time mechanisms to evaluate your team’s strengths, areas of excellence, and how you can leverage these strengths to boost performance effectively. Integrating these principles fosters a culture of continuous improvement and development within the team.


Confident Leaders Practice Presence

Confident leaders understand the power of being fully present. This entails giving undivided attention, shutting down distractions, and actively listening, which fosters trust and deeper connections. By practicing presence, embracing our humanness, and cultivating a thriving environment, we create a space where individuals can thrive, collaborate, and achieve their full potential. 

You can tune in to the full podcast episode with Jennifer Krippner for more insights on human-centered leadership.

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