The Four Practices of Leading from the Heart
There’s a massive shift happening in society. The quest for individual meaning and purpose has hit critical mass. People are seeking personal fulfillment from their work and require a much greater sense of well-being in order to thrive. Organizations and individual workplace leaders that ignore these trends will do so at their own peril.
People work harder and contribute more to their organizations when their hearts are engaged. This is largely because feelings and emotions drive human performance; they determine what motivates us and what we care most about.
It’s been proven that companies where employees are more fully supported, and thereby engaged, enjoy phenomenal benefits. Employee turnover is consistently low, individual productivity is remarkably high, and financial performance makes a quantum leap over those of less enlightened competitors. All constituencies win.
Leading with heart, therefore, is by no means a soft, ineffective or “feel good” strategy. More accurately, it’s a necessary means to restoring worker satisfaction and motivating people to care about and deeply connect with the ambitions of their organizations. Leadership of the heart has become essential in the 21st century workplace.
Here are the four practices of leading from the heart:
- Hire People with Heart
- Heart to Heart
- Empower the Heart
- Inspire the Heart
Hire People with Heart: Build a Highly Engaged Team
Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. — ARISTOTLE
Every step of the way, you are revealing a part of your personality, a glimpse into how you lead people. How you will lead them. In a healthy economy, people have real choice as to where they work and for whom. And you reveal so much about your character by refusing to put someone into a role where it’s clear there’s no real fit.
When you involve your team in the selection process, your applicant will see you as being secure in yourself, team-oriented, and empowering. By being truthful and complete in your explanation of job duties, you reveal yourself to be not just thorough, but unusually considerate, trustworthy, and caring of others. The work you put into the selection process sets the example for what an employee can expect, and sends the clear message that, in working for you, they can anticipate not just succeeding—but thriving.
And once you do decide to make an offer and hire a candidate, you have a wonderful opportunity to honor your new employees by acknowledging them for how successful they were in the interview process. Commend their interpersonal skills and their work samples. By acknowledging all the hard work the candidate put into the entire process, you not only are expressing gratitude—grateful for having a highly qualified person join your team—but also are recognizing what really is the applicant’s first real accomplishment: winning the job!
Heart to Heart: Connect on a Personal Level
To be effective today, the leader shoulders an almost sacred responsibility to create conditions that enable people to have happy and productive lives. — PETER SENGE
In their book Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall make an uncommon (and accurate) assertion: They believe a leader’s span of control (i.e., the number of people they can effectively manage) is inherently determined by how many employees they can consistently check in with every single week without fail.
A “check-in” is a one-on-one conversation that managers have with their employees where the two key questions asked are, “What are your priorities for this week?” and “How can I help?”
According to the authors (Buckingham is a former Gallup researcher and Goodall is SVP of Methods and Intelligence at CISCO), because employees (humans) need attention and connection in order to thrive, the frequency of these meetings is far more important than their quality. Not surprisingly, their research shows that leaders who check in weekly with all team members have higher levels of engagement and performance, and lower turnover.
Empower the Heart: Maximize Human Potential
If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves. — THOMAS EDISON
people have far greater potential to contribute than we allow ourselves to imagine. We too often pigeon-hole people, judge them too quickly, and overlook the greater capacity that lies inside them. People are almost never fully maximized in their potential; there’s always something new to learn. As Emerson advised, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be and he will become what he should be.
If you manage people today—or one day aspire to doing so—ask yourself, how would you most want other people to describe you? As someone who recognizes talented people, draws them in, nurtures them, and utilizes them to the fullest? As the boss who helped them grow more than any other—and who focuses on their potential, not their limitations?
In her best-selling book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman says that managers like this—those who purposely help others become more capable—are known as “multipliers.” And, as a matter of course, they optimize talent.
But Wiseman describes a very different kind of leader—the polar opposite of the “multiplier”—known as “diminishers.” People like this treat employees as resources to be deployed and left to languish. They use people, hold them back, and micromanage.
In her book, Wiseman says “multipliers” get two times more out of their people, and it’s no wonder. Human beings are inclined to reciprocate when given uncommon care and support. And so, we must always remember that when people work for bosses who are “multipliers,” they hold nothing back.
Inspire the Heart: Value and Honor Achievements
Leadership author Bruce Tulgan wrote a cleverly titled book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, as one of the first guides to understanding the millennial generation (born 1981–1994). His title refers to the then common practice of awarding trophies to millennial children just for participating in activities like soccer and other sports. The idea of handing trophies to everyone, and not just to kids whose teams won a championship, came out of a belief that it would build self-esteem. It’s since been found to be completely misguided. And it’s just as bad an idea—even out of a generous spirit—to give working adults recognition when it’s not deserved.
Employees must understand what standard of performance a leader expects and also to know that meeting these standards will be met with praise. But the meaning and importance of recognition to people is fully diluted when it’s not fairly earned. Much like a teacher who hands out A’s to every student, the grade rings hollow for students who know they didn’t really earn it. Even worse, it suggests to all those who did that their extra effort wasn’t really worth it—and won’t be worth it in the future. The leader’s job is to hold people to high standards, proactively help them reach them, and authentically honor those whose achievements warrant it.
Unless the leader takes things to saccharine excess, it’s virtually impossible to over-appreciate people. As long as praise is earned and deserved, acknowledging performance only has the effect of inspiring greater future effort and commitment. Not praising it is inherently harmful, and choosing to ignore accomplishments in the belief that they’re an example of someone “just doing their job” is leadership malpractice. Reserving recognition just for unique or long-term achievements also undermines people and their performance.