head and heart leaders

If I look back at my career from the perspective of bosses who delivered results and built relationships, there weren’t a lot of them. One hand is all I need to count the bosses who knew how to lead with their hearts and manage with their heads. Wow.

I owe a lot to those men and women. Those incomparable individuals encouraged me to learn, take risks, be kind, be curious, and to border my comfort zone with elastic, not concrete. They made me a better person.

All of those individuals shared a few talents like being good at planning, organizing, directing, giving orders, assigning work, and watching the numbers. A few were genius-like standouts.

For all my bosses, I respected the fact that they were my boss, in control of my paycheck and continued employment.

I had a few bosses I couldn’t respect as a person because, to me, they lacked character. They were self-centered, cruel, only interested in the numbers. They saw my purpose as making them look good, nothing more.

With them, my head was absolutely in the game, my heart not so much.

At the other end of the continuum was a small handful of bosses I followed with all my heart because they were extraordinary people who inspired and motivated me.

What set them apart?

Getting the heart part of leadership right


They managed with their heads and led with their hearts.

I respected their knowledge and was motivated by their vision.

They showed us how the work we did fit into the big picture. They let us know we mattered. We knew we were more than a cog in the wheel or a means to an end.

I thrived in the space and time they gave us to grow.

They taught me how to equally value results, the bottom line, connection, and relationships. They pushed for quantity but never at the expense of quality. They were role models for caring about tomorrow, the end of the quarter, and ten years from now. They asked us if we needed help and were having fun. They valued traditions and still encouraged us to be innovative and creative.

I soaked up their lessons on how to manage the opposing tensions workplaces are so full of, things like balancing bottom-up and top-down decision-making or knowing when to centralize or decentralize to maintain efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness.

I was engaged because they asked us what we thought, what we wanted, and they listened.

They nurtured, demanded, praised, and corrected. They knew when to be rigid in enforcing the rules and when to flex them.

They understood that “we” is more powerful than “me.”

They found a way to bridge the simplicity and complexity of leveraging diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective.

I learned it was OK to be vulnerable, to care, and to have both confidence and humility.

They showed us that admitting to being wrong and making mistakes came with the job because being popular for the wrong reasons isn’t important but being respected is. They served the greater good, not their ego. They always valued people, principles, and profits equally. They never surrendered mission to margin because ethics, honesty, integrity, and character mattered all the time.

Character is the indelible mark that determines the only true value of all people and all their work. ~Orison Swett Marden, author and founder of SUCCESS magazine

Genuine leaders manage with their head and lead with their heart. They’re pros at the “science” part of the job, knowing the technical, operational, financial, regulatory, and process components of their job stone cold.

But they don’t stop there.

They ace the “art” of leadership—the people and character part. This heart focus is what sets them apart and makes them special.

I try every day to emulate their practices by balancing logic and emotion, meaning and money, results and relationships, taking charge and taking care. I succeed some days, fail on others.

On the days in which I fail, I pick myself up (usually with a special someone’s head and heart-balanced help) and pledge to do better tomorrow.


Image source before quote: Pixabay