Matters of the Heart
Students of leadership will often look at the intellectual attributes of a great leader. We point to great strategy, distinction, winning against the competition. Leadership is also about matters of the heart. Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett’s book Heart-Centered Leadership reminds leaders to be mindful, authentic, and caring.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan Steinbrecher about her work. Susan is a consultant, mediator, speaker and leads Steinbrecher & Associates, Inc., a management consulting firm.
Leading From the Heart
What is your definition of “Heart-Centered Leadership”?
Heart-Centered Leadership means having the wisdom, courage and compassion to lead others with authenticity, transparency, humility and service.
Anyone can be a heart-centered leader if he or she has the determination and daily commitment to practice certain core principles. The root or basis of these principles is what we call “the power of the human element.” Two things are required to tap into and unleash the human element. The first is your ability to listen or, even better, your ability to learn how to listen. The second is your own willingness to clear personal obstacles, in other words, your own story and organizational obstacles that get in the way of this deeper listening.
3 Differences of a Heart-Centered Leader
Off the top of your head, what 3 things are different about a heart-centered leader?
- The focus is to serve the people that you are leading, not the other way around.
- A heart-centered leader tells the truth. If you are not able to provide information when asked, you must be willing to explain why you aren’t at liberty to share that information.
- A heart-centered leader does not judge or assume, but comes to understand, asking the right questions instead rushing to judgment and assumption.
Our book outlines some key guidelines for heart-centered behavior. But in order for this behavior to be authentic, it has to come from a place of emotional resonance and coherence. You have to believe in what you are doing. It has to resonate with you. Ultimately, a heart-centered leader leads from principles, values, and virtues.
Encouraging Leaders to Have an Open Mind
How do you encourage leaders to be open-minded?
I ask them to reflect on a time in their career when being open-minded paid big dividends and why. I also ask them to tell me of a time when they were not open-minded and what happened. I find that if people can reflect on their own experiences, they can piece together the benefits of being open-minded much faster than me pointing out the rewards of being open-minded.
Another approach is to ask leaders to imagine how differently they would communicate with an associate if grounded in this key principle: people have positive intentions. It requires revising certain ways of thinking, such as taking sides in a conflict, and replacing them with healthier habits of mind — observing the perspective of both sides. It involves identifying and taking responsibility for your own mental tendencies, including an inclination to stereotypes and making snap judgments about what people “should” do. It also means flexing your empathetic muscle. As a result, you gain a greater understanding of the causes of atypical behavior and problems that result from that behavior, as well as insight into the best solution.
Leaders Need to Let Go
Often leaders feel like they need to seize the reigns, and yet you talk about the importance of letting go. Tell us more about that.
There are times when seizing the reigns is appropriate, but there are times when letting go can be beneficial. Letting go creates a more empowered associate who has the opportunity to truly learn from the experience. When an associate seizes the moment to take on a task or project that normally would have been completed by the boss, engagement level is increased and self-esteem is boosted.
It is helpful to remember that you lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control. In the long run, we are not going to change people through our efforts at maintaining power over them. We can only invite others to get on board with us by asking for their opinions and help and, ultimately, letting go and trusting them to make good decisions.
Leaders Must Take Care of Self
You talk about “self-care.” Why is this so often ignored by those in or aspiring to leadership positions?
The challenge in today’s business world is the pressure to perform at an accelerated pace and at higher levels for the business to be more profitable. This means that the leader is experiencing a great deal of stress to achieve the objectives and goals of the company. Longer working hours, 24/7 access and fewer resources can create a mountain of pressure and stress — and because the pressure is on them to perform, leaders often think of themselves last in terms of taking time for self-care. Of course this is not a good idea, but it happens. I often share with leaders that there is a reason that safety measures when flying specify that, “In the event of lack of oxygen, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on a child or person next to you.” The message here is straightforward: if you are not healthy, then it is unlikely you will be able to take care of your business — or those you care for.