Lead from the heart to bring out the best in your people

Have you ever wondered why some leaders are so much more effective at bringing out the best in their people? When I facilitate professional development workshops for leaders, I often invite participants to reflect on the leaders they have worked with and most admired. Leaders who served as positive role models and fueled their growth and success.

Then, I ask participants to identify the leadership qualities and behaviours they most associate with those favoured leaders. Their responses consistently include things like:

  • They were interested in me
  • They were a great listener
  • They cared about my success
  • They paid attention to my needs
  • They expressed empathy
  • They were open and approachable
  • They followed through

Did you notice the underlying theme in the list? None of the words and phrases say much about the leaders’ well-established professional expertise, strategic savvy, or business acumen.

But they do speak volumes about the ways these leaders engage with those they lead and demonstrate their care and concern. These are leaders who bring out the very best in their team members. They do it by leading with heart.

When you lead from the heart, you put people and relationships first. Work matters of course, but the people matter more. And the results speak for themselves, as we see in the research findings from organizations such as Gallop. Their findings consistently show that leaders who put people first and lead from the heart drive high levels of employee engagement and performance.

Leading with heart is essential to your leadership effectiveness. Here are three ways to do it well:

1. Put your people first

Leading with heart starts with people, and your ability to connect with them, from your heart. This means building personal connections and cultivating meaningful relationships with your team. Doing it effectively means getting to know your team members while taking the time to listen, and to learn.

Things you can ask yourself to evaluate how effective you are at connecting with those you lead:

  • Who are they as a person?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are they especially good at?
  • How and what do they most love to contribute?
  • What causes them to struggle?

Team meetings and regular check-ins with everyone are important for every leader; however, they are only one part of the equation when it comes to leading with heart. To put people and relationships first, you also need to commit the time for more personal, one-to-one connections.

As you take the time to get to know each member of your team, pay close attention to who they are and what matters to them. Then, you can begin to evolve your conversations, relationships, and feedback to best support each person’s continued growth, development, performance, and success.

In getting to know the people you lead, you will also be equipping yourself to plan for conversations and interactions when you meet with everyone. Then, you will be able to focus and align your comments for your team far more appropriately. You will also be able to weave individual stories into the process and acknowledge the kind of real-world experiences your people may be encountering—whether they are meeting with resounding success you want to celebrate or needing greater clarity and insight about a challenging path ahead.

2. Be fully present, with and for your people

Being present to those you lead is a vital component of leading with heart. However, it is critical to appreciate the difference between your physical presence and the essence of ‘being present.’

When it comes to leading with heart, being present is about all the ways you give people your full, undivided attention. It is about committing to ‘being there’ for them – whether you are together physically or connected through technology.

While this may seem like an easy undertaking, we know team members frequently find themselves struggling because they are not being seen or heard by their leaders in ways that suggest their voice matters. And when that happens, it has an adverse effect on individual engagement and performance.

What do you notice about your own habits and the ways in which you are present (or not) to your people?

Things you can ask yourself to evaluate your efficacy:

  • When you dedicate time to a conversation, do you follow through by giving it your full attention? Or are you more likely to be distracted by wandering thoughts, incoming messages and alerts, or the next item on your to-do list?
  • Are you a fully present active listener?

Leading with heart requires your presence and your whole-hearted attention. Challenge yourself to do it with your team members and see what happens when you do.

3. Let your people know you care

When it comes to leading others, your competence as a leader naturally plays a role; however, it is not enough. Team members also want to know you care about them – personally and professionally.

Your people want to know that you’re prepared to invest time in getting to know them and what they are good at (as well as allowing them to get to know you). They also want to know you are prepared to be open, honest, and real with them—and willing to invite the same in return.

One of the best ways to show you care is by ‘encouraging’ your team members. Whether your purpose is to encourage even more success or provide words of inspiration and hope when someone may be struggling, your encouragement plays an essential role in enabling everyone to do their best.

Did you know that the word encouragement has its root in the Latin word cor, and literally means heart? So, too, does the word courage. Encouragement is an especially powerful way of leading with heart.

When practiced regularly and consistently, encouragement translates to hope and courage when it is needed most. Ultimately, encouragement leads to the kind of team efforts and outcomes that are truly remarkable.

Things you can ask yourself to evaluate your efficacy:

  • When was the last time you offered words of encouragement to a team member?
  • When is the last time you reached out to an individual team member to point out their good work?

Leading from the heart is one of the most powerful ways you can inspire the best from those you lead. The key to doing it well begins with putting people first. Work still matters, but the people you lead matter more.

If you are keen to lead with heart, put your emphasis on these three people-first practices: building personal connections; being fully present; and showing how much you care—for their wellbeing, as well as their work.

Do it consistently and you will be sure to bring out the best in everyone you lead.

Interested in taking your leadership to the next level?

Download this free ‘Leading with Heart’ workbook with 20 of the most compelling things you can do to boost your effectiveness as a heart-centred leader.

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at mlane@vibrantleaders.ca.

1 Comment

  1. […] Being open and honest must be part of the equation to get to the heart of any conversation. HONESTY starts with you and your willingness to be vulnerable. For example, acknowledging that you may not have the answers or that your answers may not be the right ones. It’s also a willingness to hear and explore other points of view. Whenever you lead with open, honest communication, you’re leading with HEART. […]

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