Fostering a human centric leadership

Co-Founder and CEO of DeepSkill, Miriam Mertens, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai, about human centric leadership and the key leadership traits, empathy, authenticity, and personal values, to attract new talents.

Miriam Mertens
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The Agenda Podcasts

The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with former BBC World Service interviewer, Nisha Pillai. #LeadingTogether

In this podcast episode, you will hear:

Co-Founder and CEO of DeepSkill, Miriam Mertens, as she discusses ways to foster human-centric leadership that places people, teams, and customers at the core of an organisation. Following decades of experience in the tech industry and the consulting field, Miriam co-founded the start-up DeepSkill, a digital platform for employee development. She believes that empathy, authenticity, and a set of personal values are the key traits of a great leader which help to attract talented people to companies. Here are some of the topics covered in the podcast:

  • Human centric leadership, and the role of meetings in enabling it
  • Being an authentic leader, and ways to create psychological safety
  • The talent war, and recruiting the best people for your organisation
  • Women in the workplace: Viewpoint on inclusion and leadership opportunities.


How to foster a human centric leadership with Miriam Mertens

Human centric leadership, and the role of meetings in enabling it

"Human centric leadership is for me to be able to build personal connection and personal bonding as a leader, and really put the human and team member, or even the customer, to the centre of all activities of a corporation. [...]

I think meetings are actually really important for showing personal connection, and thus, human centric leadership. Because meetings are really the place where human interaction and emotional bonding can be shown. [...] 

Especially in COVID times, I think we have switched from the physical meetings or from hybrid settings fully to virtual meetings , and didn't really think about the consequences. So, in my opinion, it's time to really do these things more consciously and set agendas more consciously, and really pay attention."


Being an authentic leader, and ways to create psychological safety

"To be an authentic leader , it means to be very clear about personal strengths, talents, and derive from that personal values. And I think you have to be really clear about what's important for yourself to be a good leader. What do you want to do, and what do you not want to do? And once you have that set up, you can align that with corporate values. But you need to know beforehand what's important for you to align that with corporate values. 

And that's the precondition for being authentic, to really have an alignment between what you think and what you say, and also how you act in a corporate setting, and what's important for yourself. If that's not congruent, at least 70%-80% of people feel and see that, and then you lack leadership power. [...]

In the business world, it's very important to see that psychological safety is something that really pays off economically. So, it's something that's good for the people, but it's also good for business. In the long run, if you have an atmosphere, where there's fear and no psychological safety, people won't come up with new ideas, new problem solving approaches.

They will not just show their full potential, and that's bad for the business. [...] It's really important to be honest and to admit if you have done something wrong to create a really good failure culture, and be open about things that didn't go so well, or open about your own fears or risks. And once you've done that and really created a space for people to do the same, I'm sure they will follow, and also come up with new ideas and show their full potential.

I think numerous companies are trying to establish a culture with more psychological safety because there is also a need for new business models, especially in times of crisis. Businesses need new ideas. They need the creative power of everybody. And in these times, I see that many corporate cultures are trying to establish such a culture where people can bring in their ideas."


To be an authentic leader, it means to be very clear about personal strengths, talents, and personal values.

The talent war, and recruiting the best people for your organisation

"The war of talent is really tremendous and it's growing every day. It's harder and harder to get good talent. But I also see big changes in this development. First of all, I'm sure it will foster more diversity, because companies need to look for new target groups for their employees.

So they cannot just rely on the job profile as they used to, but really look for new approaches for new groups of people. So that's the big chance in the end. On the other hand, another good point about the war of talents is that they really need to care about people, because not recruiting is really expensive today, and I'm sure it will get worse in the next months and years. [...] So companies really need to think about concepts, how to keep people, to develop them better, although it's quite challenging. [...]

Retaining talent is a huge topic. I think the first point you need to do is look at your leadership culture because you can read everything in job postings and tell people anything in interviews how good your culture is, but they will find out in weeks or months if it isn't like that. So look at your leadership culture, how decisions are taken, how people are treated, how employees' satisfactory results are with regard to leadership. [...]

Look at your leadership culture , act upon it, and really do something, train people to be good leaders, because leadership does not come by birth. It can be trained, it has to be trained.

Then ask your people what they want. Look at your culture and see what the people want . Do they want more personal development? Do they maybe want to have more responsibility? And then see how this aligns with your corporate values. [...]"


Women in the workplace: Viewpoint on inclusion and leadership opportunities

"Female empowerment, female leadership is a big topic for me. Diversity and female empowerment is more like a symptom of an emotionally intelligent organisation. [...] And if you have an emotionally intelligent organisation, people will come up with this idea that a diverse leadership team is more productive, creates better ideas, and has better problem solving capabilities.

It's really important to look at diversity and female leadership, and not just give them equal rights because it's something that has to be done, but because it's really something that's necessary to be successful in the future. 

How to do that? I would first start with creating an emotionally intelligent organisation, and then really look at which kind of leadership qualities do we really need in our team? What is missing? What are common pitfalls or common problems we run into because of our non-diversity? [...]

My advice [to female leaders] would be just do it, just go out there. Don't feel bad about taking your space, about making big steps. Don't overthink every step you do and just see it as naturally that you have the right to get power, that you have the right to found your own business."

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Miriam Mertens
About the author
Miriam Mertens is Co-Founder and CEO of DeepSkill, a digital platform for professional development. With a background in software development and management consulting, she is passionate about the tech-industry, people-centred leadership, and sustainability. In addition to her start-up, Miriam is committed to female empowerment, and to the development of empathy and humanity in business.