Leadership thinking and practice have shifted toward becoming more human over the last several years.

What we're seeing is that, to fully motivate, engage, and bring out the best in people, servant leaders are instilling more human value at work and creating more human-centered workplaces for competitive advantage.

To challenge our beliefs and stereotypes about work and management, we can start looking at some examples of how human leaders truly walk their talk.

Whom do human beings want to follow?

Truly admirable leaders allow their people the safe space to be humans first -- to bring their whole selves to work, express their ideas and concerns openly, and have a voice that matters.

One example of such a leader whom I've interviewed for my upcoming book is Terry Turner, the president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Financial Partners.

Turner has grown his banking and investment services firm to nearly $25 billion in assets. Pinnacle currently ranks No. 22 on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Additionally, data shows that 99 percent of Pinnacle employees say they have great bosses.

I dug deeper in my conversation with Turner to know what exactly drives his desire to lead a company culture like Pinnacle, which, by the way, also has a 91.5 percent retention rate -- unheard of in the financial services industry. 

5 critical human-centered practices

The motto is clear: Pinnacle employees come first. Our conversation boiled down to five principles of Pinnacle's human-centered leadership approach, which filter down to staff and create business impact.  


"We work hard and with intentionality to make our workplace fun, engaging, and built on camaraderie. But really [those] things are built on a bigger idea, one you don't often see in business books. It's compassion," says Turner.

He adds, "When we built this company, we tried to look compassionately at our associates and say, 'What would I want from my job? What would make me excited to come to work?' And we went from there." 

Radical loving care for others.

I dug deeper and asked Turner for anecdotal evidence which demonstrates human  leadership at work. Granted, keep in mind: Pinnacle is a company of 2,258 employees at last count. Turner unleashed radical candor rarely seen in executives. He said:

The thing I've witnessed to be the most powerful is to simply live life with our associates. I've had the opportunity to sit in hospital waiting rooms with associates on the verge of losing a spouse. I've been to lots of high school graduations, visitations, funerals, and weddings scattered all over the place. I've had the opportunity to send the company plane to pick up an associate and his family with their sick daughters who couldn't ride that distance in a car. Love is not an initiative. It's just caring about the people you live and work with as you live life together. 

That model of leadership travels downward and is infused into the culture. It explains why 96 percent Pinnacle employees stated in surveys that "people care about one another."

Give people ownership.

I asked Turner about what makes his employees respond with more trust, loyalty, and commitment, which makes for Pinnacle's high performance culture. He said it's about giving people ownership, not only ownership over their work, but ownership of Pinnacle stock on an employee's very first day and annual stock awards after that (plus the same cash incentive plan for all--not individual targets--paid out when the company hits its goals).

"Ownership is extremely important to our firm. If you aren't treating the people on your team like they're owners, then how do you motivate them to move the needle on company performance?" He adds, "We want all of our associates on an equal footing so we're all pulling in the same direction."

Engage people in work with a purpose.

Turner stresses that, while it's human of us to want to make money and provide for our families, if you don't love your work, you're not invested emotionally into the company long-term. At worse, you're actively disengaged and not contributing at full capacity while sticking around.

"If we can get people to love coming into work every morning, then we can build a stable team of professionals and drive turnover out of the system. And that has a very practical effect on client satisfaction," explains Turner.

Build a unique culture.

Finally, I asked Turner what he's most proud of about his company. We came full circle to underscoring the unique Pinnacle culture as a clear differentiator for business success. 

"We are so careful to build our team with like-minded people who are a good fit for this unique culture we've built. And we have hit some home runs in that department," says Turner.

Pinnacle's brand ambassadors--their leaders and employees--protect their culture by attracting "like-minded" people.

Turner adds, "We don't use headhunters or our HR department to find talent. Our leaders are our recruiters, and they have found wonderful, happy, successful, all-around positive people to carry on with our mission and build the best company they can."