I like to spend some time each day reading a variety of material, from journal articles in business and I/O psychology, to Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, to LinkedIn posts and blogs. My goal is to get a sense of what people are about – what are they concerned with, what interests them, and what are the challenges they are facing in today’s workplace? What do leaders, managers, and employees need to improve their work experiences and contributions and boost their organization’s success? Reading broadly day after day, year after year, has given me a sense of patterns across industries, functions, and time. What I have found that if you really boil it down there just two broad areas that matter to people – how they think about work and how they feel about work.
If you want to enjoy and succeed in your job, and if you want to cultivate an engaged workforce, one of your guiding stars needs to be your heart. A leader’s heart lends itself to the overarching mission, purpose, values of the organization.The content of the heart matters because it determines your passions and motivations, it dictates your level of energy and excitement for what you do and therefore your ability to ignite the same in others. Your heart is what helps you make people decisions that are oriented to the long-term success and wellbeing of your organization and the people that comprise it. Your heart imbues your work with meaning so that you can cultivate a successful life and promote a culture where others can enjoy the same. As we discussed in Meaning Matters, meaning and purpose matter to both employees and customers and therefore directly impact the bottom line.
But a leader with a heart of gold can get themselves into trouble if they don’t also lead with their heads. Decisions about customers, products, operations, and employees need to be made within a robust strategic framework. To be a solid “whatever you are” you need to develop analytical, conceptual, creative, and strategic thinking skills. Working in concert these skills help you develop awareness of how you are situated in the business landscape, which allows you to quickly respond to or anticipate actions in the environment. But even our mental apparatus needs to be carefully handled. We all have preferences and cognitive short-cuts that may serve us well at times but which can be an Achilles heel if they go unchecked. For example, do you tend to see the trees or the forest? Is your immediate reaction to criticize or explore new ideas? Do you tend to be risk tolerant or risk averse? When approaching problems, what type of information do you go to, what frameworks and assumptions do you apply?
Balancing your heart and your head is an ongoing and dynamic, co-occurring process. We all have a head, we all have a heart, but we also tend to have personal inclinations to lead with one or the other. The inability to use both equally effectively – or, more to the point, to be able to use both simultaneously – can be problematic. A leader who leads with his heart may find initiatives failing because they were poor strategic choices, or she may find they have an organization full of mediocre performers unable to execute even a brilliant strategy. People who lead with their heads may make sound strategic or tactical decisions which fail in execution because they have neglected to draw in the hearts and energy of their people. But a leader who can harness the power of both head and heart, mind and meaning – these are the people that others passionately follow.
“He is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”— Henry Ward Beecher