Heart-based leadership is the ability of a leader to lead more powerfully by building strong relationships within their team. It is the ability of a leader to recognize and utilize the power of love in their leadership role.
It has been said that at the root of all emotions lies two very basic, core emotions – love and fear. The experience of all other emotions stem from these two. For many years, leaders have chosen to lead through fear and intimidation. After more than three decades as a leader and a leadership development professional, I have learned this important key – fear motivates, but only in the short term. Initially, individuals led by fear will jump when you say jump. Over time, the stress from being in this fear-based environment will cause your employees to become ill. Absenteeism in a fear based team is higher for two reasons –
- Studies have shown that stress can actually make people sick. With problems like ulcers, high blood pressure, heart problems, insomnia, and more people will develop illnesses that take them away from work.
- People working under extreme stress tend to be more likely to call out sick when they need a “mental health day.” In other words, they just can’t stand to be in that stressful environment another minute. They need a break!
Over time, people who work in a fear based environment become apathetic. They just don’t care anymore. They are happy to leave, don’t care if they are doing a good job. They become numb to the yelling and the insults. They may even seek revenge through sabotage. They are more likely to be fired or to quit, so you can also see how fear increases turnover.
Leading from a place of fear does not build good relationships. Some old school leaders will tell you that they are not in their job to build relationships or make friends. That is unfortunate and short sighted. What they have not learned is that strong relationships with your team are the most powerful leadership tools that you can master.
While many leaders are still afraid to use the word “love”, it is the strongest level of the emotion which is the opposite of fear. By my definition, love in a leader is an unconditional high positive regard for another person or a team of people. I promise you do not have to run around proclaiming your love for your team. If you treat them well, they will figure it out… and most of them will return the favor.
Love is an emotion most often associated with your heart. It often resides there with other emotional power houses like kindness, intuition, creativity, authenticity, and relationship. A leader’s ability to draw on these resources indicates that they are practicing heart-based leadership.
Other resources such as reason, planning, strategy, finance, and math are thought to come from the head. Until recently, it was thought by many leaders that these were the only valuable or acceptable leadership tools. I have spent decades in leadership positions hearing people say there is no place for emotion in business. Thankfully, in 1997, Daniel Goleman wrote an insightful book on a concept he called Emotional Intelligence and proved the theory you’re your emotion strength was equally as important to your success as your ability to reason. Daniel Goleman was, perhaps intentionally or maybe unwittingly, an early supporter of the heart-based leadership concept. Since the introduction of his book, companies haven’t been able to get enough of Emotional Intelligence.
Even now, many leaders are more comfortable with the rational style of leadership over the more emotional. Heart-based leadership highlights the value of the tools which are thought to reside in your heart. That is not to say that leaders should turn away from the logical, head based leadership. There is great value to be found in both the head and the heart.
Heart-based leaders tend to recognize the value in both head based tools AND heart based tools. They are proficient in building relationships with their team. They exhibit kindness and concern and know that these emotions demonstrate strength rather than weakness. Teams led from the heart tend to be happier and more productive. People on these teams are less likely to leave (reducing turnover) or call out sick (reducing absenteeism). Some studies also indicate that they way your treat your team is contagious! If you treat them poorly, they tend to treat each other poorly. Conversely, in teams where the leader leads with kindness and love, the team members will begin to treat each other in the same way. The team will demonstrate greater cohesiveness and cooperation.
Heart based leaders know how to lead with the tools that come from their head, but they are also not afraid to use the powerful tools that come from the heart. They know that a good leader is adept at both reason and emotion. A heart-based leader understands that people are emotional and relationship based. The leader who knows how to use those skills to his or her advantage is a powerful leader.
© Stephanie McDilda