True leadership comes from the heart
Jan 16 2014
— Nelson Mandela
I was reminded of this quote at a recent student interaction. A group of young students who would be voting for the first time were confused and asked whether their decision should be based on their heart or their head. It’s an interesting question that’s been put to me many times in various situations. But there’s never been any confusion in my mind. Apply it to any situation in life and there is never a separation of the heart and the head. Nowhere else is this more true than in leadership, whether of a company, a state or a nation. Great leadership extends from the heart.
History is witness to many great leaders who have brought about political or social change. Many great corporate leaders have transformed their organisations and the lives of their customers and employees. They all have one thing in common — passion. Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch had said, “The most powerful weapon is the human soul on fire.” The minds of great leaders are like smouldering pots on a fire that never dies. It is the desire and the passion to do something extraordinary that drives them. This is what comes from the heart and not from any lessons learnt at a management or strategy training session.
That is why I feel there is no alternative to the heart. Nothing great in life can be accomplished unless there is a soul in it for it is the heart that is the centre for inspiration. The mind gathers information, evaluates, infers and concludes. But decisions that are taken without the heart are short-term and cold blooded. We all work with people. We cannot disassociate emotion and feeling from decision-making. Too often we have been led to believe that being emotional is weak. I don’t believe that to be true. Having emotions does not make you irrational. Emotion and empathy are important for everyone and more so for leaders if they are looking for commitment rather than concurrence; authentic cou-rage rather than false audacity, and true passion that has the capacity to inspire us to extend ourselves beyond the possible.
No leader can survive without building genuine relationships both within and outside the organisation. It is the heart that connects us to the world around us. No management book can teach you that. Leadership comes with great responsibility — among others is the leader’s commitment to “take care” of his or her people. Bill George had said, “Successful leaders lead with the heart, not just the head. They possess qualities like empathy, compassion and courage. They also have the ability to establish deep, long-term and genuine relationships where others trust them.” It is only when you lead with the heart that you would be available to people for counselling them on both professional and personal matters. Nothing can substitute a patient listening ear. When you genuinely care about your people, you are rooting for their success, encouraging them on every step, telling them not to quit, letting them know you care and will always be there. When the desire to see your people grow into future leaders is genuine, you mentor and coach them. You look out for opportunities for them to grow. You are proud of their victories and celebrate their success.
When you are compassionate, you support your people if they stumble and forgive them for their mistakes and miscalculations. You are there with words of encouragement to ensure they stay on course. The road to the top is arduous and made much easier when someone keeps telling you, “you can do it”! That is what a leader does. When you lead from the heart, you lead all the way. It is about being authentic in everything you do. You can neither fake compassion nor courage. As a leader, you need to be real. Your heart is not just the core of your being, but also the core of the organisation’s soul. Where you lead it to would depend on you. The emphasis should be on reality and, therefore, on the core, that would ensure that you and your people deliver real quality and not just make a good impression. Impressions don’t last, reality does.
We put on our best behaviours for people we want to impress, but forget to be kind to those who genuinely care about us. We take those friends for granted who have always stood by us. Let me recommend a simple experiment at work. Every week, take out time to write out one appreciation note to someone who did a really good job and you forgot to say thank you to. Also write out one apology note to someone you may have hurt, but never apologised. Give it to them and see the transformational impact you would have as a leader who really cares. Loyalty, trust and unconditional love cannot be bought, but can be earned if you genuinely try.
“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration — of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a programme, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.”
— Lance Secretan
(The writer is CEO of KPMG India)