Most business leaders and professionals lead with their head. It mostly works, and nobody will criticize you for it (usually because that’s the way they do it). But you’re paying a huge price every day in the form of stress, stagnation and self-doubt, in ways you might not realize. Leading by heart is a whole other matter - and it’s as hard as it is worth it.
Leading by heart means seeing your role as a verb, not a noun. “CEOing,” not the CEO. A verb moves, adapts, grows and surprises all the people who are standing still. If you want to know what a verb does against a noun, take a look at the what the Colorado River has done to the Grand Canyon.
Maybe someday we’ll lose the very ‘military-industrial complex sounding’ noun Chief Executive Officer in favor of something that still acknowledges authority without all the self-importance - like “Business Leader.” It’d be for people who love that leadership is a journey that never ends, that the lessons just get more subtle, and who wake up every day trying to discover how yesterday’s manager is today’s technician.
Here’s three touchstones to think about Leading By Heart:
Be Spacious: Good leaders are effective problem solvers. They can see the ideas and issues on the page and rearrange them, maybe even think of a new element nobody else has yet - and they go for it. Leading by heart means waiting. It’s not passive, but it’s about opening up spaces for others to innovate and lead. A good leader sees low morale and finds three ways to improve it. A great leader asks “What am I/we doing as an organization that people don’t take up the call to ownership?” Good leaders are heroes. Great leaders are catalysts.
Be Evocative: Good leaders provoke, they get people to do things they don’t want to do using carrots and sticks - they use management “tactics.” Great leaders evoke, they inspire people to discover places in themselves they didn’t know they had by modeling that through their own behavior. They don’t use “tactics” on human beings. They actually care about people, and want to make something meaningful where who gets the credit is an absurd question. A good leader has good ideas. A great leader loves when others have better ones.
Be Fearless of Fear: Good leaders aren’t stopped by fear. They keep going when others say no way or see no way. They muscle up and don’t show their anxiety or imperfections because they think it undermines their authority. Great leaders aren’t stopped by fear either, but they open up to it, which allows them to get bigger than it. They “own” their fear because it’s real, and they let it impact them and open them up to becoming more transparent in their relationships with employees and customers. Good leaders have high standards for others, and get results. Great leaders have high standards for themselves, which inspires others to do the same.
Of course, you can’t even begin to lead by heart until you disentangle your over-involvement in the day-to-day. You need some perspective, a process, and a good business coach is all the better - but it’s relatively easy to start letting go of the technical-work-you-shouldn’t-be-doing to make room for more strategic work.
Once you get down that road far enough, you have a new choice. You can ease up knowing you’ve done something 99% of business leaders never have the courage to do. Or, you can use this new freedom to go the next mile and literally change the basis of what you do every day. You can work on leading by heart.
Wise people know that heart moves the mind and not the other way around. Integrity is when you live that way.