VICTOR KANNAN shares what heart-based leadership means and defines ten essential qualities for excellence in leadership.
“If you don’t understand that you are in service to the people below you,
then you don’t know anything about leadership.”
Dee Hawkes – writer, teacher, and football coach.
The other day, out of curiosity, I searched for scholarly articles on “mind-based leadership” and “heart-based leadership.” This yielded more than 3.9 million searches for the former and 3.8 million for the latter. I felt very relieved to see such a return, and I was happy to note that a lot of work has already been done in this area. The search takes us to interesting reading on transactional leadership versus transformational leadership, profit versus purpose, and reward versus emotional investment in team members.
But most modern-day leaders in corporations are held to account for short-term results and stock performance. Cut-throat practices are overtly and covertly encouraged due to competition and short-term orientation. This results in chronic stress for all those who are stuck on the Catherine wheel of corporate life.
While we have higher standards of living today than in the past, our quality of life is still wrought with worrisome consequences. Stress, depression, sleeplessness and loneliness are on the rise. This is causing dissociation from family, friends, faith, and even facts.
Though my search results indicate what people are looking for, it does not give us any indication of the prevailing culture in leadership. Historically, leadership in businesses is for profits and career promotions. In other words, it is based on quantitative aspects of a person’s corporate experience. For over half a century, however, we have come to realize that material success alone is not adding to our happiness and well-being. Also, society has pockets of material prosperity and better health, while an enormous number of people and the world are unaffected by this prosperity.
This unfortunate trend is not limited to corporate life but has spread to other professions, from school teachers to factory workers. Chronic stress and helplessness create hopelessness and deeper mental issues. They also affect physical health adversely. As body, mind and spirit are connected, if we lose our mental health along with our physical health, where is the question of excellence?
The statistics and trends are alarming, cutting to the very purpose of organizations, people, nations and our civilization. The industrialization, urbanization and materialism that we have adopted over the decades for GDP growth, personal success and the alleviation of disease, have become the essence of our current problems of mental illness and social inequity. The combination of these two is a fertile ground for personal and social unrest. And the lack of an holistic humanistic approach has resulted in the current situation. What are we doing about this?
It is in this context that I am encouraged by the search results. An overwhelming number of people are doing research on heart-based leadership, to help pull us out of the current and imminent danger of losing all the gains we have made as human beings.
Heart-based leadership is a qualitative approach to engendering the lasting well-being of all those with whom we surround ourselves. It is servant leadership. It is interconnected and interdependent. Corporations that are successful in making a profit, are innovative so that they can adapt and thrive. Those lacking dynamism perish. They either flourish or perish based on how dynamic they are. So, what leadership qualities are needed for such an innovative and dynamic approach?
The leadership of any corporation with a certain corporate culture can be identified by the priorities it has in its value system. The corporate vision, mission, values and goals are not just ritualistic statements – they are the compass providing direction and stability for the organization over time. The words must be lived through day-to-day actions and periodic reinforcements and corrections. They gradually become ingrained into the DNA of the corporate culture. Such a dynamic organization will continue to evolve to greater heights.
Corporate culture is always top-down. It succeeds according to the authenticity of its leaders’ behavior and the transparent corrective action when the top falters.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Peter Drucker, author
The order of many older organizations is hierarchical, top-heavy, and structural. The expectation of contribution from employees is limited to doing their jobs and making their bosses happy. The emphasis on “out of the box” thinking is not encouraged. As a result, the speed of innovation and competitiveness is also less. As a result, many older organizations are not as great as they used to be.
In comparison, a heart-based organization is flat, productive, inclusive, innovative, and provides a porous ceiling for talents to move up in the organization quite easily.
What is heart-based leadership?
Stephanie McDilda, a motivational speaker and leadership coach, says, “Heart-based leadership is the ability of an individual to inspire loyalty and build powerful relationships by being kind, caring, and courageous – virtually by leading from the heart.”
She goes on to say, “I’ve asked thousands of people to tell me about the best manager for whom they have ever worked. They say things like:
She cared about me,
He listened well,
She was concerned about my development, and
He appreciated me.
“These are all heart-based traits that connect you with your team at the heart. Virtually no one has ever said:
She was strategic, or
He was good with numbers.
“These are head-based traits. I cannot deny that these are important skills for a good manager, but they are not the qualities that inspire passion in your team. Remember that your goal is to manage resources, but lead people.1”
It will not be out of place to mention the concept of servant leadership in this context. As Aristotle said, “He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.” In a nutshell, this talks about leading by example. When Jesus said “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” it is leading by example. In a leader today we value the virtues of authenticity and empathy more than being an extrovert.
“When you love your employees, they will love you back … and they will walk on hot coals to give you what you need,” says Stephanie.
Changing the panorama of leadership
Today’s leaders are more diverse, technically savvy, rationally minded, and independent. A recent survey by the MIT Sloan School of Management shows that younger managers prefer narrower, more technical approaches, while older ones tend to work through others and focus on the big picture. One way to interpret these results is to say that the mental frame of reference is uniquely different between the two age groups. The younger group has the potential to use the heart-based leadership values while the older group is more set in their ways. This is a generalization and not indicative of individuals or particular corporations.
It is gratifying to note that “Managing yourself ” is the predominant characteristic of both younger and older leaders, followed by “Anticipating people’s emotional reactions during a change process.” Both these management techniques point to the need to improve the emotional intelligence of leaders.
Emotional intelligence “is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and adjust emotions to adapt to environments.2” D r. Daniel Goleman popularized this term in 1995 via his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, where he lists an array of heart-based qualities such as attention, empathy, authenticity, and resilience that drive leadership performance.
In Yoga, many practices are prescribed to improve mental acumen and purity of the heart. Both go hand in hand, along with a certain amount of physical agility and well-being. The eight steps of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga provide a road map for us to cultivate heart-based qualities and lead a balanced life, integrating physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual values and activities. A proper understanding and practice of these eight steps of Yoga results in well-being, which is essential for today’s leaders.
The eight steps of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga
provide a road map for us
to cultivate heart-based qualities
and lead a balanced life,
integrating physical, mental, emotional,
social and spiritual values and activities.
I consider the above 10 qualities to be essential for a heart-based leader.
While working on the above, we may incorporate breathing and meditation practices to improve our physical and mental health and our awareness. In this way, we will remain dynamic, alert, emotionally intelligent, and able to manage change and lead people. This is the Heartfulness way, a heart-based leadership pathway.
2 Source: Wikipedia