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.
“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” -Jesse Jackson
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.
“You lead by encouragement and inspiration, not by fear and control.” -Susan Steinbrecher
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.
“If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow.” -Chinese Proverb
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.
“Since in order to speak, one must first listen, learn to speak by listening.” -Rumi
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.
“Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” -David Starr Jordan
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.