There is a growing disdain for leaders who show heartlessness. Will Smith's "slap heard round the world" at the 94th Academy Awards was harshness defined. The national obsession with the fall from grace of Elizabeth Holmes is, I would argue, directly related to her heartlessness. There are many other examples from entertainment, business, and politics.
Increasingly, the expectation is that our she-roes and heroes are self-aware and know how to thoughtfully manage their emotions. Oh, and while they do this, be their genuine self and embrace their authenticity. But few people really know how to do this. Even for the most emotionally and relationally aware leaders, our post-Pandemic empathy-first era of leadership is a tall order.
Leading with heart is hard. Why? Because we are human. Things happen that irritate or frustrate or downright make us angry. We find ourselves disappointed by others or ourselves. Leading from the heart does not coincide with "he should," "I shouldn't," and they should have." It is the opposite of blame and shame. It is compassionate. The requirement for these sophisticated "people skills" comes at a time when navigating business growth in a hybrid-working world is as exhausting as it has ever been.
Leaders at all levels must be mindful of others or risk them walking out the door. Be inclusive and create cultures of belonging, ensure psychological safety is present, pay attention and foster team member well-being, show others your genuine self so they can bring their whole self (safely) to work too, make it ok for others to take risks ... the list goes and on and on. In other words, mind the heart-- yours and others'.
What does "minding the heart" require? The keys are a willingness to be vulnerable, an understanding of you at your best and most grounded/centered self (and how to return to her or him in a moment's notice), and a whole lot of compassion. So how can we effectively lead from the heart?
My invitation to all leaders and public figures is to invest in your best self and practice self-awareness and self-management. When you lead from your best self, you have your best shot at showing up as compassionate and measured for those around you. The action we all need to take is pausing (between stimulus and response) in order to come back to a place of respect for self and others before we act. The Best-Self Centering Practice I co-developed with my colleagues at the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership shows how to do this with four steps:
Pay attention to what's going on for you. Maybe you're feeling triggered, annoyed, whatever-- you're not your centered best self.
For example, imagine being in a virtual meeting at which you planned to present. You're ready to go but you're seeing time for your segment is dwindling as a conversation related to the last presenter's updates goes on and on. You "woosh" out of your best self and feel some combination of annoyed and anxious.
Take a minute or even a good long walk until you can find your best self again-- he or she's waiting for you to calm down and doesn't want you to say or do things you'll regret. You need to take that space between stimulus and response quickly.
In the same example before, you just noticed you are annoyed and anxious due to the situation at hand. The goal now is to take a pause and refrain from doing any number of things including blurting something out with a not-so-subtle tone of annoyance or backing up from your desk and unleashing that inside voice that says "what a waste of time-- why do I try so hard?" Just breathe. Inhale. Exhale.
3. Consider kindness and compassion.
Return to a place of respect for yourself or the other, ideally before you say or do something you regret. In other words, channel some heart.
While you are inhaling and exhaling calmly, you are redirecting your energy and thoughts to "hey-- easy does it. These things happen. I can present another time when there is time. What they are talking about is important too. My stuff is as important." If you cannot get here in the moment, keep breathing. The goal is to get back to your best, most grounded self and show up in ways that you will not regret.
Get curious with yourself and ask, what is going on for you right now? What is not okay for you about this person or situation? What do you need to better understand?
With newfound grace and composure (without a tone of frustration or exasperated futility), ask the group "hey there-- I notice we're tight on time. Can everyone go over five minutes? If not, let's reschedule my presentation. I need the full 10 minutes." If you can't quite get there, perhaps type in chat "let's book another time for my presentation?"
Will Smith could have used this centering practice during the awards ceremony. Many politicians could use this in the moment practice; so could most teenagers, adults, managers, and leaders. Incidents like these should prompt us to think about heartlessness and harshness, and why we humans give ourselves permission to act in ways that hurt others. I think about the times I have been disappointed in myself or someone else and how none of the examples represent leading from my best and most heart-minded self. Don't allow yourself to act heartlessly. Ditch the harshness and mind the heart so you can get back to your calling and give of your best self-- before you do something you regret.