There is a great cost when you neglect the human connection point in business.

Over the past 20 years there has been a significant amount of data showing that investment in the human element in business is a profit-making proposition. It is no secret that programs directed at employee engagement, leadership development, wellness, and employee assistance all show a significant return-on-investment for employers. One example of this research is a 2012 Towers-Watson study of 50 global companies, comparing those with low regard for sustainable engagement strategies versus those with high regard for such. These strategies include a people-first leadership approach, along with emphasis on work-life balance, job clarity, supervisor support, and ethical business practices. The study found that those companies with low engagement had an average operating margin under 10 percent, whereas for those with high engagement, the average one-year operating margin was close to three times higher, at just over 27 percent. There is strong evidence that these results may be due to the positive impact that a more heart-centered leadership approach has on employee performance.

In essence, heart-centered leadership is not a singular gold standard or an ultimate pinnacle that only a rare few can achieve. It lies in your ability to stop, go inward, and reflect on the course of action that you know is the right one rather than succumbing to external pressures and circumstances. Leading from the heart is not just a nice idea or theory or some magical dream. By embracing a heart-centered approach to leadership, you will be in a more powerful position than you could possibly have imagined. After all, what can be more powerful than motivating an associate to go the distance for you and your organization because he or she is inspired by you and respects you so highly? More importantly, you will genuinely and deeply touch the lives of others by your actions.

So, what does it take to be a heart-centered leader? If the following 21 traits sound familiar, you may be well on your way to a form of leadership driven by the principles of authenticity and integrity rather than the pursuit of profit at any and all cost.

You Might be a Heart-Centered Leader if...

  1. You tell the truth.
  2. You trust your associates to do the right thing.
  3. You are able to relinquish control. As leaders, we don't really have it anyway. Our associates do. If you think that's not true, try getting anything done without them.
  4. You know your impact and are mindful of how your words and actions may be interpreted in formal and informal ways.
  5. You aim to serve the people that you are leading, not the other way around.
  6. You are open-minded and do not judge or assume, but come to understand a situation or behavior.
  7. You take care of your "whole-self"--physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
  8. You have the willingness to look in the mirror and come to terms with your own character flaws.
  9. You are committed to personal and professional growth.
  10. You strive to mentor others and surround yourself with people that have skills, talents and styles different from your own.
  11. You are empathetic and strive to maintain the self-esteem of others.
  12. You have an "open-door" policy.
  13. You believe that, given the right support, people rise to the occasion on their own and actually feel good about being held accountable.
  14. You develop strategies that involve, promote, call upon, and inspire associates to participate fully in creating, renewing, or revitalizing the organization.
  15. You have compassion for yourself and others.
  16. You replace blame with responsibility.
  17. You believe that people have positive intentions, even if associates' behavior appears to illustrate the opposite.
  18. You are committed to making a difference not only in your own life, but in the lives of your associates and society as a whole.
  19. You listen before speaking.
  20. You create an environment where feedback is expected and appreciated.
  21. You are not afraid to admit your mistakes.