Welcome to ‘People centred leadership: A different perspective’. In this series of articles, Kathryn Heslop reflects on the topic of leadership, drawing on her background in social work and counselling and her role as Executive Assistant to the National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, where she is surrounded by incredible leaders every day.  

In these short articles, Kathryn reflects on six characteristics she believes are crucial for leaders today: Attuned, Responsive, Inclusive, Attentive, Honouring, and Partnering.  

Her thoughts challenge some of the more traditional views on leadership. Her ideas are grounded in practical experience and a passion for serving God and others. She hopes these musings will bring you a fresh and valuable perspective on what makes an effective leader today - a leader who must, at their core, be centred on people.  

Kathryn Heslop (BSocWk (hons), PGDipEd (Counselling and Guidance)) 

How effective would a youth programme be that is out of touch with its youth? Or an aged care health model that doesn’t meet the needs of the elderly?  

I love the story in the bible about the good shepherd and his sheep. Jesus tells us that he knows his sheep by name, and they know him. He understands them, he goes before them, and when he calls them by name, they follow him because they know his voice[1]. 

Responsive leadership requires us to first understand the needs of those we lead, and then to lead in a way that actively seeks to meet those needs.  

How do we gain this understanding? By being centred on people, connecting with them, attuning ourselves to them, and empathising with them. We put ourselves in their shoes and seek to understand their perspective. We do this with a posture of humility, with the knowledge that there is so much we can learn from others[2].  

And as you connect with those you lead, you will be better positioned to respond to their needs.  

Are they struggling with a heavy workload? Work out a way to spread the load across the team. Did they receive a complaint that rattled them? Take them out for coffee. Is someone close to them dying? Give them flexibility during those difficult weeks. Does it take them an hour to drive to work? Allow them to work remotely one day each week. Is it a difficult anniversary? Pause, pray for them, and acknowledge this challenging day.  

If you are leading larger groups of people, find a way to deeply listen and attune to them. Hui with them—bring them together with a specific focus, ensuring you have representation from a cross-section of diverse people related to that focus. And once you have done that, respond. 

Employ the role they are asking for, engage in that difficult conversation they are seeking to have, put in place the supports they need, change those regular rhythms to suit their needs, kickstart that community initiative they are wanting to embrace. And if you get it wrong? Don’t be afraid to throw away those ideas they are telling you didn’t quite work. 

This takes resilience[3]. Change can be difficult, you may get pushback, people may be resistant, not everyone will agree with you. Persevere.  

Connect with the people you lead, then respond accordingly.  

How responsive are you to the people you lead? 


[1] John 10:14-15

[2] Wolff, M. (Host). (2020, Feb 2). Responsive Leadership with Jackie Jenkins-Scott [Audio Podcast Episode] In The Business Builders Show with Marty Wolf. Spotify. 

[3] Wolff, M. (Host). (2020, Feb 2). Responsive Leadership with Jackie Jenkins-Scott [Audio Podcast Episode] In The Business Builders Show with Marty Wolf. Spotify.

Photo: From National Baptist Hui 2022, by Charl Louw

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