Why Would Anyone Want To Be Led By You?

Why Would Anyone Want To Be Led By You?

Leadership is not a recipe. Unlike a package of dry soup, there is no ‘add hot water and mix’ solution. In other words, there is no single roadmap for effective leadership. It is not a linear process where you clinically acquire skills[1] and gain altitude in an organization. 

Rather, leadership is a set of personal qualities and character traits that are cultivated over time. It is about who you are.

What is leadership?

Consider Stephen Covey’s second habit: begin with the end in mind. To be successful, a leader must know her/his purpose (the organization’s vision and mission), define what success looks like and inspire others to achieve it.

A vision should excite the people who follow. It should be inspirational so they are intrinsically motivated to realize the mission and perform (or strive to perform) at a level they didn't know they could.

The best leaders are thus driven by a desire to serve the organization and its stakeholders. Heart-centered leadership focuses on understanding, influencing and empowering towards achieving a common goal. It’s not about telling people what to do, but rather expertly guiding them towards the goal, keeping their best interests in mind.

Best interests? Leaders and managers must learn how to lead with their heart – not just their head – and connect with the emotional needs of employees. This is essential to successfully motivate employees through the rough times – and what organization doesn’t have those - and promote productivity while fostering the need for creativity, meaning and fulfillment à their best interests.

Leaders, no matter their title or position, impact organizations, performance and people at all levels.

Heart-centered leadership is a harbinger of an organization’s success. Heart-centered leadership knows that success at the project, business unit or organizational level depends on making each team member successful. 

This type of leadership asks the fundamental question: what do my employees want?  

It considers this question at a strategic level, examining the barriers to engagement, understanding that there is a direct cost in terms of minimal performance and productivity that impacts the achievement of the organization’s vision and mission.

I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don't think that's quite it; it's more like jazz. There is more improvisation. — Warren Bennis

While there is no one prescription to follow, leaders share some common traits:
Humility: this is confidence in motion when leaders give credit to others and recognize their contributions. Think about what drives a leader. It is the sustainability and success of the organization. 

According to Jim Collins, leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will … as their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

Responsibility and courage: leaders accept personal responsibility and hold themselves accountable when things go wrong. They have the courage to respond to crisis. There is no finger pointing but an acceptance that any failure is a failure of leadership.

Respect for others: leaders acknowledge the value of the individual contributor and consider their welfare and best interests. They invite an authentic exchange of ideas and expect top performance from the people they work with. 

It is a two-way street where collaborative relationships are built on trust and respect. It requires leaders to develop through the lens of an external focus, looping feedback into decision-making processes, thereby increasing organizational effectiveness.

Effective business leaders who develop these valuable heart-centered attributes understand that people have the need to be valued, respected, listened to and involved. Heart-centered leaders realize that failure is an option and an opportunity to learn.

Nimble leadership will involve understanding the neuroscience of engagement.

The workplace is changing. And leadership needs to be nimble and adapt to the new reality. The influx of Gen Y talent is shifting traditional paradigms. 

The Gen-Y worker is intensively collaborative, has a deep understanding of technology’s role in ‘liberating’ her/him from the work cubicle, and demands a work-life balance that does not conform to a 9-to-5 cycle. What will it take to motivate and retain this generation of employees?

Will heart-centered leadership positively impact employee engagement, especially the Gen-Y worker?
Yes. One outcome of heart-centered leadership is increased employee engagement. Engagement is a measure of an employee's involvement with, and contribution to, the success of their organization. 

Employee engagement is closely linked to company revenue, employee performance, trust in leadership, retention, customer satisfaction and profitability. Therefore it stands to reason that a highly engaging organizational environment will lead to employee success, and employee success in turn will lead to organization success.

Employee engagement impacts critical business metrics such as performance, productivity, employee engagement and retention. So what fundamentally drives an employee to feel engaged? The three leading drivers are:

  • Sharing the organization’s core values
  • Belief that their opinion counts and getting feedback
  • Opportunities to use their skills and career development

In other words, it is the sense of belonging to the organization and having an opportunity to participate and contribute in tangible ways. Feeling that you are an integral and important part of the tribe.

Heart-centered leadership creates an organizational environment where everyone is treated with respect regardless of who they are.

Heart-centered leaders realize the fundamental need to communicate frequently, openly, and honestly with employees about the company's strategy and goals, what it means for the department, what it means for them personally, and their on-the-job performance.

What is Employee Engagement? Exactly what are we engaging our people to do? Engagement is not about showing up to work. And it’s not about meeting expectations. It is about talent that is motivated to produce unexpected value[2]

Creating unexpected value. A novel concept? Not for Gen-Y. Engaging this cohort of ‘digital natives’ will need to focus on promoting intrapreneurship and applying principles of gamification.

Peter Drucker famously said that management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. A heart-centered approach to leadership will go a long way to defining what those “right things” are and nurture employee engagement.


Kevin Kruse, Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness and Fulfillment at Work 


Mark Miller, “The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, ISBN 978-1609949600), 2013



Alan S. Berson and Richard G. Stieglitz, Leadership Conversations: Challenging High-Potential Managers to Become Great Leader

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