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Lead With Your Heart, Not Just Your Head

January 4, 2013

Recently there was an article in the Harvard Business Review I thought was well articulated. It was about the importance of leaders using their hearts to really connect with their staff. I believe that when leaders care about their people in all facets, they will get the most from them. This doesn’t mean letting people slack off. Sometimes tough love is needed. But, you are always using your heart to drive your people forward.

I’d like to share the Harvard Business Review article, entitled ‘Lead With Your Heart, Not Just Your Head’ by Naomi Eisenberger and George Kohlrieser with you.

Have you noticed that in dangerous jobs, good bosses tend to have deep bonds with their workers? Whether it’s a captain and crew on a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea, a platoon commander and his troops in Afghanistan, or a tree-cutting foreman and his team in the forest — people in dangerous working conditions sense they need to trust each other and their boss to survive.

As a manager, you may not be working on a fishing boat or in armed combat. But you need to motivate your people to get things done. Do you have that kind of bond? Or have you been taught to manage by objectives and metrics to monitor performance, and that bonding with your team members will be seen as a distraction at best or weakness at worst? Many have. Perhaps that’s why a recent survey found that more workers would trust a total stranger more than their own boss.

At the Neuroleadership Summit in New York City this October  we jointly presented research and findings explaining why leaders should develop the capacity to build secure attachments and personal relationships. The productive manager in a complex, global workplace should be less like a football coach with a whistle around his neck and more like a belayer helping climbers reach the next goal. While it is true that companies with abundant resources can afford to use fear as a motivator and absorb the cost of more frequent hirings and firings, this approach frequently ends up being memorialized in case studies of failed leaders and shuttered businesses.

Let’s look at some of the reasons impersonal leadership fails. For George Kohlrieser — who has acted as police psychologist and hostage negotiator in addition to his role as a leadership professor and management consultant — the dynamics of hostage negotiation helped him learn that most of us are hostages at work in different ways, to emotions such as anxiety, fear, and ambition. To escape from these emotional hostage situations, each of us needs a secure base — a person, place, goal or object that provides a place of protection, gives a sense of comfort, and a source of energy.

This is important to managers because they need to motivate people to respond to changing circumstances and goals. When it comes to employees making change, they don’t resist change itself. They resist the pain of change and fear of the unknown that comes with it. This leads many employees to think more defensively, to hold back, and resist pursuing success and playing to win. In the workplace, leaders who show concern and interest in their employees’ lives and a predictable set of rules, create a healthy attachment that empowers others to embrace the risk of pursuing success. Read more.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2013 12:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing the HBR article. It reminds me a lot of the book “Switch” (by Chip and Dan Heath) in which they talk about 3 core elements of change management: appealing to people’s heads (which seems to be the default management style for many), appealing to their emotions/hearts (which seems to be the point of your post – and a very important point at that) and also the ability to shape the path (sometimes it’s not a “people problem” but rather a situation problem).

    Of course, finding the right balance between head and heart is always so much easier said than done. Any quick thoughts on how best to strike that balance?

    • January 4, 2013 1:51 pm

      Hello Brian.
      Thanks for your insightful comments. My thoughts on striking the right balance between heart and head is actually by tuning into your gut. I think as a leader, you need to gather the facts as best you can (so this requires head and heart), and then really listen to yourself as to what you feel the right path is. Any time I really tune into my gut, I always go the ‘right’ way. One of my most successful areas of coaching has been to help people develop their ability to tune into the gut instinct and to take action on it.

  2. January 20, 2013 5:51 pm

    Glad to come across your article Carey-Ann. Since a few years I have come to understand that the distinction between heart and mind is only temporary. Once the actual intelligence of the heart starts flowing, and the benevolent heart quality of the mind is revealed, then who can say what is up or down. I think the notion of balance between heart and mind was a phase for me that transpired while the two parts still were at odds or better said, retained their conditioned qualities. Once thinking is no longer engaged in delivering predatory gains, its heart quality is naturally revealed and the mental rigidity subsides. Once the heart receives a natural role, its intelligence speaks loudly and actual reasoning somehow emerges from its silent depths. My three cents… Thanks again for writing about this amazing topic. Best, Mikael

    • January 21, 2013 9:37 am


      Thanks for your insightful comments. And yes, completely agreed that leadership from the heart and mind really do become a natural flow. I think leadership is like a dance or an art. I really is back and forth, doing beautiful, strong, and graceful steps (even when you don’t know the songs being played all the time!!)

      Take care.

  3. April 16, 2013 9:02 pm

    Very good post. I’m dealing with a few of these issues as well..

    • April 17, 2013 12:59 pm

      Thanks for the nice comments on my article. I am glad the story resonated with you. I always think the more we second guess ourselves, the more likely we are to go off-course in what needs to be done.

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