Leaders, early in my management career, I was told to stop wearing my heart on my sleeve. I was shamed into hiding my natural empathy for my co-workers, my desire to connect, to care and to nurture them professionally and personally. In fact, my ability to care for others in the professional space was cited as the reason I didn’t get a promotion that was rightfully mine – because I was ‘all heart’. I was left to retreat and reflect, tending to my bruised and battered ego in the career naughty corner, doomed to stay there.
This bothered me immensely
In the depths of my disappointment, I realised it was about more than just the personal hurt of not getting something I wanted. There was a sense of injustice that reached far beyond my personal story and right to the core of what it means to be a leader in the professional world.
I believed that the ability to care, to connect and to have empathy – characteristics that were labelled ‘too girly’ – were the very qualities that were most desirable in a great leader. I was bewildered about how I should transform myself to continue my career journey. Did I need to cut off my emotions completely and start acting like I didn’t care at all about the people whose lives I shared, day in, day out in? If so, what did this have to do with being less ‘girly’. It made no sense at all, I knew plenty of caring, empathetic men. Why were those parts of my character, that others in the business valued so much, so undervalued by the people above me in the hierarchy, and was this the end of my short-lived management career?
Those who are ‘all heart’ are rightfully nature’s true born leaders.
Now, many years later, after striking out on my own, building a business, training, coaching and mentoring thousands of business professionals from all walks of life, there is one thing I know for sure – Those who are ‘all heart’ are rightfully nature’s true born leaders.
Leaders with heart enjoy deep trust, loyalty, and camaraderie with their team and can always lead them further, faster than those who push and prod their team from a safe distance. Power-driven, authoritarian leaders may look like the giants of history but they lead through fear, a reflection of the fear resides inside of them. They don’t tend to last and suffer greatly while they wrestle with their fears as well as with everyone around them.
I am so glad that I listened to my deepest intuition and refused to become one of them; preferring instead forge my own path, guided by my true compass – my wobbly, never-quite-logical but always reliable heart.
Leaders with heart are not mushy push-overs
Leaders are fierce and passionate people with deep reserves of courage to draw upon when tough decisions must be made – and make them, they will. But they will make them with heart. They will care. They will suffer and toil alongside their people. Ultimately, they will triumph, winning through the combined efforts of their loyal team who are returning the care, that in the past, has been shown to them.
Their commitment, their care, and their inspiring presence etch itself on our spirits and minds and we gladly allow them to light the way for us. After all, where the true leader goes, the team follows.
I have come to see that the characteristics I was told made me too ‘girly’ were nothing to do with gender; they are far more to do with connecting at a deep level with my personal strengths, my uniqueness, my emotional intelligence, my humanity. Using these strengths to connect in the same way with others.
And so, I’m throwing down a challenge…
I invite you to lead from the heart, more often. Stand up for the very human parts of yourself you have been led to believe don’t belong in the workplace. Wear your empathy, your care, your compassion, your desire to connect – your HEART – on your sleeve with pride. Not only are these traits necessary for great leadership and a hallmark of high emotional intelligence; they are absolutely crucial for the betterment of our world and the creation of a fairer, more just and heart-centred society for us all.
Written by Catherine Bell
Catherine Bell helps people discover their hidden talents and find more meaning, engagement, and fulfilment in their work. Applying the proven research and practice of Applied Positive Psychology and Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement, she helps leaders and teams in small and large businesses who are looking for new ways to drive success, engagement, and profit.
Catherine is a passionate businesswoman, a down-to-earth optimist, a no-nonsense trainer and transformational coach. She is also a closet psychology geek who loves reading the latest research about what makes people tick! More than anything, Catherine is a true believer in people – and their often unrealised potential.
Through Consulting Services, In-house, Public and Online Training and Coaching Programs, Bell Training Group ignite excellence in teams and strengthens businesses.