When it comes to talking about what makes a great leader, I return time and again to this trifecta: character, commitment and…heart.
As soon as you read that, I’m betting your mind went one of two ways:
- “Pah, heart! There’s no room for this touchy-feely crap in business. Cut the fluff and get on with the good stuff already, Al!”
- “Yes, heart! That’s what I’m all about. My business grew from my passion! You’re talking my language, Al.”
Which reaction did you go with?
In truth, it doesn’t really matter because when it comes to heart and leadership, both responses miss the mark. Let me show you what I mean by using the most unlikely source: my daughter’s basketball team.
There’s no way to sugar coat it, they were just not that great. And when I say they weren’t that great I mean that their very best game last season saw them losing by “only” 15 points. They were a bunch of scrappy 5th graders (my daughter was one of the tallest at a whopping 4ft 10ins!) up against a league packed with giant, sports-savvy 6th graders. Their emerging skills were no match for the other teams. They can barely dribble, play offense when they should be focusing on defense, they missed shot after shot, and they seem to give away the ball at every opportunity.
Yet before each and every game they run on to the court smiling from ear to ear, laughing together, waving to their parents and friends in the bleachers, clearly overjoyed to be there and taking part.
And they ended every game the same way, no matter how badly they lost.
Despite what looks to everyone else to be a crushing defeat, they’re elated. They can’t wait to come back and go through it all again.
Why? Why do they keep going when many (if not most!) adults would’ve given in to the frustration of constant defeat?
It’s because they have heart. A ton of it.
They know they’re not great so what would be the point in defining success by the number of games they’ve won? Instead they’ve worked at developing a different metric of success. After a rude awakening at the start of the season, we parents and coaches decided that we’d get just as excited about the girls’ progress as we would about a win.
And it’s rubbed off on the kids.
By modeling positive behavior and creating a definition of success that included having fun as a non-negotiable, with effort and making progress second, and winning somewhere much lower, the coaches were able to keep the girls coming back long enough to get a little better.
They’re all working hard to improve their game, and it’s slowly starting to pay off. Most of them have already decided that they want to play again next year, and you can bet that they’re going to be better than they were last year, if nothing else, because they’ve failed so often, in so many ways, that they’ve been able to learn from it and figure out where they most need to improve and what they need to do to make that happen. Guess what? This year’s team of pretty much the same girls won three of their ten games. Still girls having a great time!
But they would have never gotten this far if they hadn’t had heart to begin with.
What happens when you lead without heart.
Which is why it pains me that so many people overlook heart when it comes to business. Too many view it as a soft skill, at best a “nice-to-have” and at worst completely ignored. They subscribe to the “business isn’t personal” mantra.
Yet what happens when the going gets tough, as it inevitably does in business? They don’t have heart. When they rack up failure after failure, lose game after game, stomp off the court in a temper, or give up completely. And even if they struggle on, they fail to provide their teams with enough motivation to do the same. Work becomes lackluster, turnover suffers, and employees become disengaged.
Now, if you’re reading this thinking, “no way, that’s not me. I’m the proud owner of a heart-led business!”, I want to ask you something. Are you absolutely sure that you’re not mixing up heart with passion or enthusiasm?
Because, while both of those qualities will drive you forward when you’re starting a project or when things are going well, neither one of them will sustain you when you hit a stumbling block or when the initial excitement of a new venture dies down.
Passion and enthusiasm can wane depending on external events; heart is constant. It’s something you decide to have, it’s when you make the choice to be positively emotionally connected to your work or your leadership, at all times, whether you’re winning every game, or missing your shots, but you are present and want to be where you are.
So what does heart actually look like in business?
Adjust your parameters.
Like the girls‘ basketball team, it’s worth reconsidering your definition of success. Yes, numbers are important and you need to keep an eye on the bottom line, but there’s more to business success than that. Value and celebrate the less obvious wins. The times your team overcame an obstacle, the times they worked well together, the individuals your organization has helped, the occasions where you chose to do what was right rather than what was easy. Celebrate progress not just wins.
Heart starts from the top.
You can’t expect your employees or your team to have heart if you don’t show them the way, just as my daughter’s teammates would’ve lost their mojo if the coaches had focused on their failures rather than their progress.
Too many leaders feel they have to switch off their personality when they reach their workspace. They’re all business, with no room for caring, for empathy, for emotion. But great leaders have always known that to get their staff fired up about work, they themselves have to show that they care. They have to bring heart to the team and show their excitement and passion for a project, if they want their employees to feel the same connection to the work. Empathy is a teammate to heart. A leader with heart most often exhibits empathy.
Reward heart-based action.
I know you value your team and care about their successes, but do they know that? Some organizations just make it so damn hard for their employees — making them jump through hoops at every turn, making it impossible for them to show initiative or take on extra responsibility. Or they dwell on past mistakes and focus solely on areas for improvement during every appraisal, every Monday morning meeting. That is not how you encourage heart in your organization.
Instead, show your team that you have faith in them, reward progress not just successes, and encourage growth.
Start building heart into your business culture, nurture it, and see where it takes you. You’ll soon find that when you lead with character, commitment, and yes, heart, it won’t matter whether you have a winning season, or whether you lose a few. You’ll keep showing up for your business, with a smile on your face and the desire to keep on making progress, safe in the knowledge that next season, or the next project belongs to you.
Al Schauer is the Founder of PointNorth Consulting. He offers coaching and mentoring to aspiring leaders committed to leading with character. His new book on values and doing the right thing will be available Spring 2019. Sign up through the link below to receive updates on how you can purchase his book.