Leading with Heart

Perhaps in a time when online personas and personal branding are the norms, it’s not surprising that we would also see the emergence of a concept that is essentially grounded in being true to ourselves. Over the last few years, the idea of authentic leadership has taken hold of our corporate imaginations. We are encouraged to be true to our values and told to seek authenticity in our bosses. It’s meant to indicate everything from honesty in the workplace to corporate morality.

All the chatter makes me wonder if we weren’t supporters of authentic leadership before, what were we supporting?  Surely no one was championing that our leaders be inauthentic? I doubt that shareholders, employees or members ever thought, hey, hope that guy is a little hard to talk to, a -tad fake or – mildly dishonest.

The idea of authentic leadership first emerged in the 1960’s and originally focused on the activities of the organization rather than individual leaders. However, over time, it is an idea that has become grounded in what it means to be a powerful or effective leader.

Harvard offers courses in discovering your inner authentic leader. Forbes, Inc. and even Psychology Today offer up their opinions on what authentic leadership entails. Bill George, the contemporary Harvard guru of authentic leadership, described it this way in a 2015 Huffington Post article:

  • Authentic leaders:
  • Understand their purpose
  • Practice solid values
  • Lead with heart
  • Establish connected relationships
  • Demonstrate self-discipline

I’m can certainly relate to the idea of leading with heart and establishing connected relationships.  It means that it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top, a concept that has been pervasive in management circles for years. Being an isolated decision maker is an idea that would make most reasonable people shy away from leadership roles and leave the door open to narcissists and egomaniacs…hmmm that explains so much.

It isn’t all that long ago that heart and connectedness would have been seen as weaknesses. It speaks volumes about the shift we have seen in business thinking over the past decade. I’m not sure if it’s the success of new entrepreneurs, who motivated their people with carrots instead of sticks. Or, whether it’s the fact that we see slightly more women at the helm of big successful organizations or if it’s just that common sense stepped in and said, organizations are run by people, not androids. Whatever the cause, it’s a move in the right direction.

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Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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24 responses to “Leading with Heart

  • I believe being the same person professionally as you are personally this helps not only in creating better working environment & eventually helps develop healthy relations which bring in high productivity.

  • What a good post. I think it is important these days for organizations to have some type of Corporate Morality. Companies today have gotten more capitalistic, where the bottom line is profit, not what they stand for. However, these companies will praise themselves in donating money, will closing factories and laying off its workers, polluting the environment, and engaging in politics. It is like a person cheats his neighbors on Saturday, but claims goodness on Sunday Morning in church.

    • William I may be an optimist, but I do think things are shifting. If for no other reason than a blind pursuit of profit can be its own punishment. Greed means that eventually innovation gets stifled, opportunities are missed and failure follows. Corporate history is littered with greedy companies that failed because they were too fixed on the bottom line, for example, Enron, Pets.com and of course Charles Ponzi. Ponzi is now synonymous with bad scheme. I know greed is still alive and well, but I think/hope common sense is also alive and kicking. 🙂

  • This concept of leadership brings up the question for me of whether you are and whether you want to be the same person professionally as you are personally. If you’re a ruthless and aggressive leader in your profession, but a warm and empathetic person in your personal life, is something wrong? I’d say yes.

    • I totally agree. Years ago I did a 360-degree feedback process that had colleagues, reports and my husband all participating. The thing that struck the consultant doing the analysis as surprising , was that everyone described me the same way. Apparently, at the time, that was considered unusual. 🙂

  • I think we can maybe thank the Millennials for this trend, young people today place a great deal of value in doing good. Corporations need to have a social conscience to score with this generation, and so do leaders. Having more women in the executive boardroom has no doubt impacted this softer, more human side to leadership, too!

  • heraldmarty says:
    September 13, 2016 @ 02:00 pm

    I agree with you – we’re definitely heading in the right direction, although I lean more toward the entrepreneurial influence than anything gender based. Of course, maybe that’s because, to be brutally honest, the worst managers I ever had to work for were women.

    • I will admit to showing a little gender bias in my speculations. 🙂 I also think the new entrepreneurs have done things so differently and yet been very successful that it made it impossible for people to ignore.

  • As I’m sure you understand I agree with you completely that that’s the way leadership should be carried out. In Scandinavia it has been like that for a long time and the results are both positive and negative. Tried leading like that in the developing world and, unfortunately, it never works. If they feel the stick is gone they start taking liberties. Sad, isn’t it that people are so used to be treated badly they can not handle when someone is considerate.

    • I’ve not had any experience working in the developing world. I find it totally disheartening to hear that people are trained to want the stick in order to be motivated. I had hoped that the developing world could learn from our mistakes.

  • An authentic leader makes the best leader. A leader who is not only driven by results but also “sees employees” will get more output from them. People should always matter more than what they deliver. It does not always happen this way though.

    • Its a funny thing, but I’ve found when you “see employees” as you put it, not only do you get the results you want, but I’ve been surprised to have my expectations far surpassed.

  • Hi Debra. I’m all in favour of authentic leadership as that is the style I have practiced throughout my career. When we fake a thing, we lose credibility. Thx for the discussion.

  • Authenticity can be such a loaded word. What if anything is real or authentic? Context definitely plays a part, and authenticity can shift depending on where it’s practiced. My leadership and teaching style definitely fits the list you included from HuffPost, but the actual bosses I’ve worked under tend to be on the other side of the spectrum, which makes for some entertaining (and also frustrating) butting of heads at times.

  • If authentic leadership and leading with the heart are indeed becoming more common in the corporate world, it truly is a step in the right direction.

  • I appreciate the value of authentic leadership, but I don’t think that it’s appreciated in all power circles. Leading with the heart, unfortunately, can still be equated with being soft or weak. We have a great example of inauthentic leadership in our Republican Presidential candidate. Lord help us.

    • Agree, there are still those who prefer the stick to motivate, but at least influencers like Harvard are suggesting better ways. As to Mr. Trump, well, Lord help us all indeed. 🙂

  • When I think of leading from the heart, I think of running a company with the same values that you would run your home. So that it isn’t only about the financial bottom line, but also about the people and the causes. And running a business in this way also can help a company build their distinctive brand.

    When I think of a successful female entrepreneur leading from the heart, I think of Oprah Winfrey. She has become so successful that she now only needs to build her business in the direction of things she’s really passionate about. She also develops many projects to give back to the world as well as the people who work for her. And doing this has made her even more successful.

    • Its funny, I rarely if ever hear people talk about bringing their home values to the office. Oprah is a great example of someone who does that and was wildly successful.

      The sentiment I usually hear is, how we should apply business principles to other places, including government. It has always struck me as odd. Governments aren’t created to do the same things as businesses. I’m not sure what kind of culture we would have if we could fire citizens.🙂

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