Leaders today must lead not just with their heads but with their hearts. They must have passion for their work, compassion for the people they serve, empathy for their fellow employees and the courage to make bold decisions.
Leading with your heart is neither easy nor soft. It takes considerable effort and many experiences to develop the qualities of your heart. As Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh once said, “The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.”
Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic and currently a professor at Harvard Business School, has called us to this journey in many of his writings and thought-leadership. He just released a new book called Emerging Leader Edition of True North, co-written with Millennial entrepreneur and CEO Zach Clayton.
The stories in this book, which came from 220 interviews with exceptional leaders, illustrate that most authentic leaders who lead with their hearts first discovered their True North through their life stories and crucibles, developed self-awareness, and then found their North Star – the purpose of their leadership. The book includes wisdom learned from leaders like Satya Nadella, Mary Barra, Ken Frazier, Indra Nooyi, Ursula Burns, and Hubert Joly.
To lead with your heart, George walks us through three key steps:
1. Develop self-awareness.
As he shared in the book, developing self-awareness takes reflection and feedback. That means getting rid of your devices to clear your head and having open, unhurried dialogue with those who know and trust you. Self-awareness is the key to everything because all positive changes begin with an honest appraisal of who we are, where we are, and why we are here.
2. Practice living your values.
When you gain self-awareness, you are prepared to practice living your values. George writes, “Your values are standards of behavior that shape your True North, derived from your beliefs and convictions. Staying centered on those values is not easy because temptations and pressures of the outside world often conspire to pull you away from your True North. Being clear about your values is essential to sustaining your leadership and not getting pulled off course.”
For example, many leaders are tested under pressure, often at the expense of their values, which could prove to be costly. George asks, “What behaviors do you regret? Were you honest even if it came at a great personal cost? Or did you stretch the truth?”
George writes, “When you are forced to make values-based decisions with a lot to lose, you learn what is most important in your life. With reflection, you can assess whether your moral values match your actions. With resolve, you can commit to overcoming vulnerabilities that could cause you to stray. You will have many opportunities to realign your values with your True North and live out your values.”
3. Be a coach.
When you gain self-awareness and are prepared to be a values-centered leader, you are prepared to be a leader of leaders. Doing so is very different than managing frontline employees. At this stage, you must learn how to be a coach for your leaders to enable them to reach their full potential.
George writes, “Coaching is the process of fully engaging a team and bringing out the best qualities and skillsets of each member. The best coaches are deeply engaged and care about each team member, even in very large organizations. The coach and the team share a common definition of success and are measured by the same scorecard. They have a unified desire to win, yet everyone respects the different roles of the coach and team members.“
George shares that your next challenge as a coach is to organize your team such that everyone is working in their Sweet Spot–that role where they can utilize their strengths and are highly motivated to contribute.
Having done so, your challenge is to align them around a common purpose, values, and overarching goals to get them working together as a unified team. George shares, “From there, you can challenge them to perform their best. But to sustain the work of your team, you need to engage with them to help them solve problems.”
This is what great coaches do, and it is what you can do to become a great leader of leaders.
In mastering these three qualities–being self-aware, practicing your values and coaching others–you learn how to lead with your heart to reach your full potential as a leader who makes a positive difference in the world.