Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring group of MBA students at Texan Christian University for a round-table discussion about leadership. The book that I co-authored, Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well had been assigned as required reading for the semester. I asked the students how they felt about heart-centered leadership as they pursue their careers as business leaders. They voiced some valid concerns regarding their perception of a leader who genuinely cares about their employees and customers. A leader who takes the time and energy to go inward, and reflect on the course of action that they know in their heart is the right one rather than succumbing to external pressures.
During the discussion period, the students expressed that the "real world" may not reward the heart-centered leader. They asked pointed questions such as, "Who has the time and energy to develop these 'soft' qualities?"
The truth is that heart-centered "soft" skills cannot be ignored in today's business environment. Numerous studies report that the most financially successful companies have leaders that champion virtues such as humility, honesty, open-mindedness, and consideration for the impact they had on others. This and other research indicates that leading from the heart is not just a nice idea or theory or some magical dream. Rather, as businesses grow and the speed of commerce increases, company leadership must learn how to provide a sense of meaning and engagement for employees with ample opportunities to grow and develop.
Here are three common myths about leading from the heart:
1. Employees are not held accountable.
At some point, all leaders have to make difficult decisions and give unpopular directives. Yet, a heart-centered leader will attend to the objective requirements of the situation with integrity and an open-minded and authentic manner. The difference lies in how you deliver the message. When you communicate in a "parent-to-child" tone, the message has a negative connotation, and the employee may not be motivated to improve their performance. An emotionally intelligent leader will address accountability or performance issues in an "adult-to-adult" manner, which upholds self-esteem and respect.
2. A humble leader is an ineffective leader.
Success requires willing followers -- an awareness of this requires both humility and humbleness. If you impulsively forge ahead and try to make things happen the way you want them to, without paying attention to the will of your colleagues, you will most likely be in for a rough ride. You might as well learn something about humility and understand your role as a strong servant leader. Part of being humble means you must also be teachable. You have to be willing to admit your mistakes. A heart-centered leader knows that people work at their very best when they're committed to an organization, not when they have to comply.
3. Being "nice" takes too much time.
A "people first" leader makes it a priority to build relationships by showing care and concern, and providing feedback. It is undeniably time well spent. Think about your best boss that you ever had. What behaviors did this boss demonstrate and what was the impact? The most common answer to this question is that the best bosses truly listened, showed respect and provided meaning for you in your position. If you want to make an impact and inspire loyalty in your organization, just take a few moments to tell someone that they did a great job on a project or that you appreciated their input.
The more time you spend proactively setting employees up for success by coaching and mentoring them, the less time you will spend on fixing mistakes or trying to understand why an employee did not meet expectations. When you commit to investing the time and dedication to your associates, relationships are strengthened and goals are more willingly accomplished. You'll succeed not with force, not with power, but with patience and, yes, compassion.