logo en full

People-Oriented Leadership

“Managers must be effective in two areas: economic and human. They must meet targets and build communities of people who are driven by values.” Iwona Zabielska-Stadnik, Editor in Chief of Newsweek Psychologia magazine talked with Przemysław Powalacz, President of Geberit manufacturing company and lecturer in leadership and management program at SWPS University, about humanistic dimension of leadership in organizations.

Contemporary humanist

Iwona Zabielska-Stadnik: I’ve heard that your interests are very broad and that you are very busy. You mange, lecture, and mentor. You are active in the community and you are involved in sports, design and culture. Are you a Renaissance man?

PRZEMYSŁAW POWALACZ: I wish. I try to work on my personal development. I am a proponent of balance in every sense of the word, including approach to management and leadership. For me, this balance does not mean compromise, but rather maintaining a healthy perspective on myself, my judgements, and everything I do in relation to companies, teams and people. This process involves looking for a golden mean – developing capabilities to find balance in what you do. It is seeking knowledge to gain competencies and have authority in a professional or a social role. I am increasingly pushing myself to do things, which I believe, provide an added value. I am trying to combine different interests and explore new and interesting areas of human existence.

Are you a humanist?

How do you define a humanist?

Someone who is open-minded towards the world and different values. Someone who believes in human morality and capabilities.

Yes, in this sense, I am a humanist.

Humanism in business and leadership

It is said that nowadays business, management and professional relationships have become dehumanized. People are often treated not as thinking and feeling individuals, but rather as cogs in a machine that generates profits. Is there any place for humanistic values in the business environment?

For me, the question itself is very dramatic. It is true that nowadays problems such as the inability to develop relations with others, the lack of maturity in these interpersonal relationships, and the lack of respect for other people are universal. However, these problems are not present in every organization.

I am a proponent of the view, which I have never hidden from my superiors, that I am aware of my role in building the value of the company I manage and in generating return for the investors, but at the same time, I am absolutely sure that my role is to manage a certain community and to create attitudes, such as the way people treat each other, how they address each other, how they share knowledge, how they show respect, etc.

Occasionally, during budget planning meetings, we had discussions whether a temporary turbulence in the form of a diminished demand should lead to drastic decisions, such as laying off employees with sixteen years of experience. Do we really have to make savings that are incommensurable with the human capital of the company? We will save some numbers in an Excel sheet, but in the long run we may lose much more. Where does this type of thinking come from? For me, evidently from a very humanistic dimension of leadership.

Do your bosses accept this view of the business?

In the majority of cases, yes. I can proudly say that when companies were heavily cutting costs in every country in the world, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings, practically no one was laid off from our company. Humanism should be an integral part of any type of work. It is not contrary in any way to making quick decisions and to being effective, which is most important in the business. It is not in contradiction to being occasionally ruthless in demanding that people meet the agreed terms and at the same time being people-oriented.

I believe in educational aspect of work. I think that working for a company goes hand in hand with personal development. By developing yourself, you become a more mature citizen, a nicer neighbor, a better parent, and a more constructive partner in a discussion.

Effectiveness in business

You said that effectiveness is the most important thing in business. What do you mean by that? When all is said and done, isn’t the bottom line the ultimate measure of effectiveness?

For me, being effective in business means fulfilling your role in an effective way. And also feeling fulfilled in this role. There are two fundamental aspects to being a manager: economic and human.

Effective managers are capable of building a community of people, who develop their competencies, are able to build interpersonal relationships, are increasingly mature in these relationships and they are able to transfer these competencies to the sphere of personal life. I believe that many of my managers approach the coaching and educational aspects of their roles in the right way, which helps them in many difficult and even traumatic personal situations, such as negotiating mortgage rates or going through a divorce. Why? Because they have built a certain capital of capabilities related to interpersonal relationships. Because within the framework of a certain culture, values, attitudes and behaviors that we are trying to instill here, they are becoming enlightened and wise people. Effectiveness also means that apart from fulfilling this social goal, I should also meet the target, which is decidedly a much harder element of my employment contract. But I cannot imagine achieving the second goal without the first one.

A charismatic leader?

Are you a leader or a president?

A leader, absolutely! But also a mentor, a coach, an arbiter and someone who inspires. These notions merge and create a kind of amalgam and this is how I see my role.

Are you charismatic? A leader should be charismatic.

Until last Sunday’s afternoon, I thought I was.


On Sunday afternoon, I was reviewing a student’s thesis and I read a chapter on charisma. What I read, made me look at the notion of charisma from a very different perspective. The word has gained a new meaning for me to include a very subtle manipulation and persuasion. A certain de-rationalization of decision making criteria by very strong personal influence.

But these are also characteristics of a leader.

I cannot agree. I don’t think that I manipulate people. Manipulate in the sense that I would give one person certain information and then I would deliberately tell another person, who perhaps would be at the same level in the organization as the first one, something completely different, just to provoke the first person to a certain behavior. This is how I understand manipulation. I have never done it. Manipulation is not a trait of a manager.

However influencing is a type of manipulation.

Indeed, influencing is a type of manipulation. Persuasion - yes. But without the dark side and without false pretenses. I never do it.

So what kind of a leader are you?

Honest. I try to talk the talk and walk the walk. If I want to promote values that constitute the basis of certain attitudes, I must become an embodiment of these values. And if I occasionally slip, then I admit it, because I want people to see me as their role model.

I’ll give you a trivial example: I tell people that we should remain clam in a certain negotiation process, because it is very important to show respect to the other party and to complete negotiations in the atmosphere of equality and kindness. And then within 40 minutes, I am the first to spoil the negotiations by starting a heated argument with the other party at the table. So after the meeting I organize a feedback session and tell people that I am aware that some of my behaviors are not aligned with what I preach.

The values you uphold...

I am curious which values do you demonstrate in your behavior.

There are just a few. Honesty, respect and openness in the sense of being open to ‘otherness’, to the unknown, being ready for change and work, in the sense of self-improvement and development. A maxim that I have learned form my grandfather says: Plenus venter non studet libenter - a full stomach is not eager to learn. I live by these words.

There is another one that teaches humility: take small bites to satisfy hunger.

Very nice. Humility is a characteristic that I don’t have enough. It is something that I have to work on. Thank you for the suggestion.

Transformation of the job market

It is important that you regard work as one of your values. Especially that probably sooner than later, there will be very little room for work as we know it. Perhaps we are going in the direction of the world without work. Technology is gradually encroaching onto the business territory and it may replace humans at work. Do you see a devaluation of work?

Undoubtedly, we are entering the era of a gigantic transformation related to the type of work and the mix of professions indispensable to the life of communities and even nations. There is no way we could escape a situation, where a company which employs a few dozen people is worth on the stock market as much as a huge corporation with multiple assets, such as a steal plant in China that employs thousands of people. It sounds horrendous, but a question arises whether it is horrendous or whether it is signum temporis (the sign of the times). I think that to a large degree it is the latter. And I think that this is the foundation of this prophetic vision, which predicts that work will become devalued, because some tasks will no longer be needed. Therefore, it is crucial for companies to consider the types of restructuring, which will create new professions related to the humanistic aspect of human existence. I think that the human component of the connection between two people will become the subject of careful consideration.

Will productivity and effectiveness become less important?

An organization should look at the work not only from the economic point of view, but also from the perspective of creating certain behaviors that the leaders would like to see in the community and which are not related to the workplace. I think that working for a company also goes hand in hand with personal development, not only in professional terms. This is how I understand personal development. By developing yourself, you become a more mature citizen, a nicer neighbor, a better parent, a more constructive partner in a discussion or even a better interlocutor at the parent-teacher meeting. I believe in the educational aspect of work.

But personal development will not feed a family, will it?

The questions is, what kind of potential is hidden in personal development. Perhaps thanks to this development, someone who was a Deputy Head of HR in our company will open a culture club in his or her neighborhood. And based on his or her experience gained at the company will manage a successful small business.

Award for failures?

I’ve heard that sometimes you award people for failures, not for successes.

Yes, I’ve been known to do this. I try to be very tolerant towards mistakes and I keep explaining to managers that they should let their people make mistakes, because this is the only way they will be able to learn certain things. On the other hand, I try to award people for failures when I know that their engagement, the energy and the heart they have invested in the unsuccessful project is more important than the bottom line, which might bring some profit or not.

How do you reward for failures?

I develop an appreciation for this award in people by giving positive feedback and I do it publicly. I see that it is very important for people. In general, I believe that the feedback culture is crucial. All my managers know it. Sometimes I give people feedback three, four times when I see them in some situations. This is how I see my role as a leader.

What shapes a manager/leader?

There are things that you can learn at the university, but as we all know, life is the best teacher. We are talking about values, feedback and awarding failures. You are merely forty, how do you know all this?

There are many sources of knowledge. The questions is, what catalyst will make you reach for these sources. For me the biggest motivation came from two coaching programs I participated in. They were the key factors. The first one - when I became the Managing Director of the company. The second one - about three years ago. And both of these processes that lasted several months, gave me extraordinary impulses of a reflexive and self-development nature.

I began to tap into certain values, which my parents and grandparents passed down to me and which I had been carrying with me since childhood. Values such as respect for people, tolerance and empathy. I understood their importance. So this is the first thing.

Secondly, censorship imposed by my wife, who unbelievably accurately sums up my weaknesses, flaws and attempts to ignore some problems.

Thirdly, I understood that my education is hugely important. I enrolled in managerial courses in the best universities in the world. And finally, I am very inspired by my friends.

In my position, the temptation to not do anything is huge. If I merely took care of a day-to-day business, I could sit here, pick my nose, browse the Internet and there is a big chance that probably some passive force would carry me for many years and I would thrive, because I’ve been taught a lesson in corporate cynicism. But I don’t want to work like this. I truly believe that leaders must listen to people, be open to the world and change it for the better.

Work-Life Balance

Are you able to maintain a work-life balance?

Yes, especially that my family needs me less and less. My kids are growing up, my wife wants to catch up with her career, because until now she has been taking care of the children. Due to this situation I am getting increasingly more time to myself, for physical activity, reading, but also for other things, such as teaching and community engagement. My life balance means that I am able to balance professional activities that provide me with income, with activities, which I hope, will make the world a better place and with activities that allow me to share what I have best, i.e. my knowledge and experience.

Are you ever bored?

How do you define boredom?

Walking aimlessly, looking at the ceiling. Doing nothing.

Well, this I can’t do. Yet. But...I will work on it. I am not sure, if I have the right to do nothing and not to think about anything.

But boredom is conducive to thinking...


The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia Extra 7/16”
Magazine available here »

258 przemyslaw powalacz

About the Author

Przemysław Powalacz - Managing Director of Geberit Sp. z o.o. since 2015. Managing Director of Sanitec Koło and Senior Vice President of Sanitec Group responsible for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Ukraine (2008-2015). Sales and Marketing Director of Sanitec Koło for Central and Eastern Europe (2004-2008). In 1997, he began his career in the service industry and marketing-related consulting, in Poland and later on in Germany. Member of several supervisory boards, including OTCF SA Supervisory Board, the owner of 4F brand (since 2016). Member of the Advisory Board of the International Management Center at the University of Warsaw. Lecturer in Leadership and Management Program at SWPS University. Mentor of Akademia Przywództwa Liderów Oświaty – an innovative program for developing leadership in education. He conducts individual mentoring sessions focused on leadership, strategy and management. He graduated from SGH Warsaw School of Economics and completed MBA programs at the University of Warsaw and the University of Illinois. He also completed executive education programs at INSEAD, London Business School, HEC Paris, and Harvard Business School

Newest articles


See also

psyche space logo design space logo