Over a decade ago, the concept of heart-centered leadership was met with skepticism. People who had read my book on the subject were uncertain that heart-centered principles could thrive in a world obsessed with the pursuit of profit at any and all costs. Yet, the concept of a leader who champions traits such as empathy, transparency and self-care was intriguing to some people who found themselves questioning the status quo.

Today, leaders are beginning to recognize the value of a heart-centered approach. Evidence of this shift can be found in several recent studies. For example, the 2015 Harvard Business Review of the Best Performing CEOs in the World. Financial data was studied for this report, as well as each company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. In the past, the ranking was focused solely on hard stock market numbers. The recent Global Empathy Index findings by London-based consultancy Lady Geek, measured the "empathy quotient" of global companies, by looking at a number of metrics including analysis of internal culture, CEO approval ratings, and social media presence. These studies emphasize the importance of a more human-centric business model.

Business owners who genuinely lead with their heart -- not just their head -- are more equipped to connect with the emotional needs of employees. They understand that people want to be valued, respected, listened to and involved. Leaders who consistently show their employees that they are appreciated possess the wisdom and capacity to run thriving, profitable businesses.

Consider the following 21 suggestions that will help you create a connected, relationship-based workplace. It takes time and genuine effort, but the impact is powerful beyond measure.

  1. Be a good listener. Employees will be motivated when you listen in the present moment with empathy and understanding.
  2. Coach, mentor and develop your associates. Provide ample opportunities for growth and development.
  3. Ask better questions and offer support.
  4. Tell the truth.
  5. Hold yourself accountable.
  6. Be approachable. Have an open door policy.
  7. Celebrate successes.
  8. Make work interesting and challenging.
  9. Trust people to make the right decisions. This boosts confidence and cultivates mutual respect.
  10. Support and encourage health and wellness programs.
  11. Be flexible with scheduling, whenever possible.
  12. Avoid judgments and quick assumptions. Instead, pause and seek to understand.
  13. Affirm or enhance self-esteem.
  14. Say "thank you" for a job well done, and be specific with your feedback.
  15. Observe the day-to-day operations and make time to personally connect with others.
  16. Relinquish control. Doing so empowers employees and fosters confidence-building opportunities.
  17. Practice mindfulness. Know the impact of your words and actions.
  18. Commit to ongoing personal growth and build the habits that you want others to emulate.
  19. Be humble; be teachable. Do not be afraid to admit your mistakes.
  20. Encourage creativity. Endeavor to be open to new ideas.
  21. Be courageous enough to lead with your heart.