7 Practices to Help Evolve Your Leadership Style to Reflect the Needs of a Modern Workforce
For decades, business leadership has been successful with top-down, command-and-control approaches to getting things done. Companies have sought leaders whose resumes were filled with single-minded outcomes, such as growing a business by double digits, or launching a new product in record time. While minor variations on the theme come and go with the latest crop of business books, leadership is generally rewarded for getting bottom-line results with machine-like efficiency. Without a change of heart, many companies continue to operate in this 20th-century mode.
We are now well into the third decade of a different century, and companies are called to look at leadership differently. Change is constant in our world across many different dimensions – economies, politics, environment, and social issues to name a few. As a result, people’s needs and expectations are also changing. What matters to employees, customers and investors is changing.
Employees are looking for different qualities in their leaders. Yes, they want to know what they are doing, and where they’re going. But they also want to know how they’ll get there: "What will my experience be? What will it mean to me?” It’s not just the ultimate outcome that we want to be meaningful; it’s also the experience along the way, which is actually where we spend most of our work lives.
By leading with heart, organizations answer the questions and concerns coming up around the work experience. This approach recognizes a whole constellation of human needs that have been under-addressed—the need to be respected, and for our work to have meaning and purpose in our lives.
People want to work at a place where they can be human, and they want to work for other humans who have hopes and dreams, vulnerabilities and weaknesses right alongside them. They want their leaders to be authentic and transparent. In this transparency, they find trust. They find commitment. They find the inspiration to accomplish things they didn’t think possible, or even imaginable, before.
This transformational power of leading with heart is the piece that falls outside the lines of conventional business thinking. While leading with heart may sound “soft,” it’s actually the secret ingredient to achieving outsized success and building a strong, sustainable organization that can flourish in times of uncertainty and change.
What does it take to lead with heart? How do you get started—and keep going? Here are some of the ways that I have found that work, and that I am still working on mastering.
Lead by putting your people first. It’s easy to focus on the tasks at hand and let “to do” lists consume our attention. Instead, adopt a mindset of making people your priority. Begin each day by asking, “Whose life am I going to impact today, and how?” Begin each conversation with “How are you doing today?”
Create the environment for transformation to take place. As people leaders, it’s our goal to build an atmosphere where each individual can bring their whole self to work. Innovation, energy and agility soar when people are valued for not just their head knowledge, but their entire heart knowledge and other dimensions of their lives—social, spiritual and creative.
Be transparent in words and actions. Leading with heart allows for a level of transparency that’s been rare in the business world. Being as transparent as possible leads to greater understanding and trust with your people. Take the time to go beyond the “what” to include the “why” and accelerate the progress of a change curve. And don’t underestimate the power of sharing your own personal feelings—human to human. Relating your own experience is more engaging and inspiring than simply delivering the corporate talking points.
Never underestimate the power of trust. Trust is a precious asset that is constantly ebbing and flowing in an organization. Leaders earn deep trust with consistency, honesty and solid communication. We develop trust more quickly when people see leaders as fellow humans who are championing a desired shared outcome and express a genuine belief in their ability to reach it.
Use leading with heart to focus on your business goals. It’s sometimes assumed that leading with heart will distract leaders from their business goals. But the reality is just the opposite; it makes those goals more achievable. Those who lead with heart know that their highest calling is to help each other accomplish—and even outperform—their business goals.
Make time to be available and see where it takes you. Being available to others takes time, attention and practice—especially when you have a full calendar and inbox. But the formula for leading with heart is different. It takes time to make an impact. If you’re always racing to get 1+1=2, you’ll miss the opportunity to make 1+1=10. When you lead with heart, you change the equation.
Take care of yourself so you can show up for others. When you feel drained or distracted, it’s tough to engage and inspire others. But, when you feel grounded and centered, you can be life-giving rather than life-draining. Start with a daily routine that’s just about you. Mine is a morning routine—my coffee, my dog and a walk to center my thoughts about the day. And take time throughout the day to check in with yourself. Create intentional breaks on your calendar and honor them.
Whether we humans are looking for solutions to the pandemic’s impact, the climate crisis, or the Great Resignation, it’s never been clearer that we’re all in this together. When you lead with heart, you have the capacity to mobilize our human interconnectedness for your company, your people and your community of stakeholders. You can co-author the new story of business leadership we need now.