Mark C. Crowley, author and podcast extraordinaire, continues to inspire me. I first read his book “Lead from the Heart” while in my doctoral program in 2015. Since, I have since seen Mr. Crowley present on this leadership concept on a few occasions and I continue to be inspired. I have also become obsessed with his podcast of the same name, Lead from the Heart. I highly encourage you to take a listen. He has interviewed some fabulous authors on his podcast.
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Crowley’s tagline! Leading from the heart has been my internal compass since the day I began leading teams and leading people. My “True North” has been to lead and inspire through the simple act of kindness – as Mark C. Crowley so eloquently stated, leading with heart. In my own research on how exemplary leaders create meaning in their organizations, I found the same to hold true. It is such a simple concept, yet research shows that many leaders do not apply the principles of leading from this internal compass — and most important piece of our being — the heart.
So how can you lead with heart and compassion? Our work on meaning-centered leadership teaches simple skills and strategies that you can implement immediately. Leading others includes just being a good human being, and treating others the same as you prefer to be treated. These concepts are weaved throughout our 3Es: Engagement, Empowerment and Expertise.
Today, let’s focus on a few key ingredients to building strong relationships and engagement, which is paramount to leading your people with heart and compassion.
Time and time again we hear the importance of trust. Trust is the foundation to a stable relationship. Trust is the glue that can hold a relationship together. Trust and be trusted. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what creates trust in a relationship, but you most certainly are able to say why someone is not trustworthy. Further, and most important, trust can take weeks, months, even years to build, but remember, it can take one simple breach of trust to make the whole thing crumble.
In your career, think back to a leader or a colleague you fully trusted. What are some of the traits and characteristics you would state about that person? Oftentimes, the following adjectives come to mind: integrity, character, honesty, humility. Now think of a time when someone you trusted caused the relationship to crumble and trust eroded quite rapidly. Perhaps it was when a leader took sole credit for a project that was really developed by a team. A great leader will include the team, if not give all the credit to a team. Perhaps it was when a leader undermined another coworker in a conversation, albeit not intentional. We have all witnessed someone “throwing someone else under the bus.” These breaches of trust can knock the foundation down all at once, or slowly chip away at it. Trust erodes when one of the stated adjectives is compromised. As a leader, it is vital to build trusting relationships. It is through this trust that relationships are strengthened. It is through strong relationships that engagement is built. When there is engagement, the organization is more successful.
Care and Concern
The old adage of “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” has been repeated time and time again over the decades, yet it is no less relevant today than it was nearly 90 years ago when it was stated by President Theodore Roosevelt. Showing care and concern for others is paramount to strong relationship building. A strong leader must show true care and concern for team members. Simple acts such as starting a conversation with “It’s so good to see you. How are you holding up through this pandemic?” will help to show that the leader cares, not just about how a team member is at work, but how they are in life. Getting to know your team members’ likes and dislikes will help to build trust. Understanding how the family life is, or how home-schooling through covid is affecting them is vital. Being flexible and showing concern will build a solid foundation to the relationships.
One note of caution, though, showing care and concern must be authentic. People can see a fake from miles away! If you are asking about their health and well-being, be prepared to listen. Especially at times like this, your team members may be aching for a particular human connection outside of their home, so if you are going to start this conversation, be ready to take some time and truly listen to the response. Validate and support their comments. Be a shoulder to lean on. Laugh with them, empathize with them. Just show that you truly care.
And this leads us to the third aspect of leading with heart. Exemplary leaders are great listeners! You cannot get to truly know someone unless you listen to what they have to say. Time and time again, studies show that people love to talk about themselves and it is the person in the room who listens that wins. It even boils down to the simple concept of knowing someone’s name. Make a conscious effort to say their name, repeat their name and state their name one more time before parting ways. By doing this, it will help you build this very important skill of remembering their name the next time you see them. As we discuss in our book, ARE you Listening? is a technique that will help you hone in on your listening skills. You must genuinely ask questions and actively respond to what is shared in order to develop good listening habits.
Another great skill to strengthen relationships and improve upon your active listening skills is management by walking around. This is a key component to getting to know all of the people in your organization. Make it a point to get to know who they are, what they do, what they love, and what motivates and inspires them to come to work every day. Make each and every team member feel important and valued. I once had someone ask me how I keep up with what you hear and I simply said, “Thank goodness for cell phones!” The notes tool is a great way to jot down a quick word or two from a conversation. By doing this, you can head back around in a week or two to follow up and continue the conversation.
So yes, “Lead from the heart and your people will follow” is a great thing to remember when it comes to building strong relationships and engaging your team members for success. A great way to lead from your heart is first to develop trust and support this trust by showing care and concern while actively listening. For more skills and strategies to building meaning in your workplace, you can purchase our book from Amazon or visit our website at www.meaningcenteredleadership.com.