Human-Centered Leadership Development


  • Today’s leaders must learn to be effective with a multigenerational, multicultural workforce that spans as many as five generations.
  • Each generation’s attitudes and expectations toward work and life are uniquely shaped by people’s experiences, and much of today’s leadership development is focused on managing the differences.
  • While the difference in people’s experiences is real, there is little evidence from an evolutionary psychological perspective that core human needs have evolved.
  • Leadership development and coaching programs often fail to make a tangible impact because they don’t develop foundational skills in understanding core needs and influencing human behavior.
  • Applying behavioral science principles can help leaders understand the human hardwiring that people share and develop vital skills to influence human behavior effectively.

Most of today’s corporations employ a multigenerational and multicultural workforce spanning as many as five generations. Each of those generations – from Baby Boomers through Gen Z – has a unique mix of work and life experiences. From accidents of history and technological advancement to the advent of new forms of organization and career paths, those experiences significantly influence each generation’s attitudes and expectations toward work and life.

What is often overlooked is that while the difference in people’s experience is real, there is little evidence that humans have evolved neurologically or psychologically very much in the past one hundred (or arguably 1,000 or even 10,000) years. The implications are profound for programs aimed at developing todays and future leaders.

Putting the Human into Human-Centered Leadership

Putting people first and focusing on employee well-being, experience, trust, and psychological safety as a means of delivering performance, profitability, and long-term value sounds like a no-brainer. Most leadership development programs and leadership coaches tout those as topics and outcomes. Yet too often, those programs fail to impact leadership capabilities or team and organization performance.

One of the often-cited reasons for this failure is that leadership development and coaching are standalone initiatives, disconnected from the day-to-day realities of the organization and teams. Another critical reason is the need for more follow-up and reinforcement of the learning.

There is, however, another less apparent and more fundamental reason why these programs fail – the leaders need to be trained to understand why people think, feel, and behave the way they do.

When people don’t understand the underlying human hardwiring of concepts such as creating empathy, developing a growth mindset, overcoming bias, and embracing diversity, they are challenging to put into practice. Behavioral science can be a powerful tool in ensuring that an investment in the development of leaders provides a significant return on that investment.

Behavioral Science @ Work

Every generation is a product of unique experiences that have influenced their attitudes and expectations toward work and life. And while there is some evidence that human behaviors have changed somewhat throughout human evolution, these changes are likely to have been relatively small and essentially unnoticeable across recent generations.

By illuminating essential connections between people’s neurobiology and psychology, leadership development and coaching approaches can be designed to help managers understand the hardwiring of motivation, change, and group dynamics. They can provide methods to leverage those powerful connections to align purpose and values, inspire motivation and change, and sustain trust, psychological safety, and healthy relationships.

By teaching the fundamentals of how and why people think, feel, and behave as they do, behavioral science can give leaders insights into the human hardwiring that people share versus their differences. By developing vital skills to influence human behavior effectively, they will be better prepared to address employees’ core psychological needs and position them, their team, and the organization for success.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeb Hurley is a behavioral scientist and leading expert in team dynamics. Jeb’s work connects neurobiology, psychology, and technology with team effectiveness and performance. His leadership experience includes multiple founder, CEO, and global F100 VP/GM roles and over thirty years of developing teams and coaching leaders. Jeb holds a doctorate in organizational leadership and is the author of two books on team dynamics and leadership.
Learn more about Jeb’s work making good teams great at