Why You Need To Lead With Your Heart

If you think your brain makes you a great leader, you better check your head.

According to the Conference Board, job satisfaction in America has been on a steep and steady decline for an entire generation. The century-old research organization reported this summer that more than half of all US employees are unhappy in their jobs today–effectively an all-time low.

Recent Gallup studies not only validate that people feel worse about their work, bosses and organizations than ever before, they reveal a remarkable 71 percent of American workers are either not engaged in their jobs–or have become actively disengaged.

Clearly, all this discontent is bad for business. Gallup estimates that it’s costing $300 billion in lost productivity every year.

Given all that’s at stake, and with all the great business minds presumably attacking the crisis, we’re left to wonder why we’ve yet to stem the tide? How is it that we haven’t yet identified what it will take to re-inspire our nation’s workforce?

Drawing upon recent scientific discoveries, it appears it’s because the solution contradicts one of the most widely accepted and long-enduring paradigms in business. We now know that the path to engaging workers is through their hearts.

What We All Were Taught: “Keep The Heart And Emotions Out Of Leadership.”

The idea of bringing the heart into workplace leadership widely is seen as being a soft and weak approach that inherently undermines productivity and profitability. Traditional leadership theory assures us the best managers are the brainiest and most analytical–intentionally insulated from emotions.

But according to research conducted by the Institute of HeartMath, organizations that will endure and even thrive will be those that reject flat-earth attitudes about heart and leadership, and accept that both feelings and emotions play an enormous role in driving employee (human) behavior.

If your desire is to be a leader who attracts and retains the best people all-the-while producing truly uncommon and sustainable performance, here are two things you must know about the power and influence of the human heart:

The Heart is the Primary Driver of Optimal Human Performance

HeartMath’s research largely has been focused on the physiology of optimal human performance–what has to go on inside of a person’s brain, body and nervous system to be able to think clearly, maintain composure, and perform to one’s full potential.

According to Dr. Rollin McCraty, HeartMath’s Director of Research, they’ve discovered the heart, as “an organ of perception and intelligence,” is a huge part of the equation.

“We now know that the heart and the brain are in a constant two-way communication and that the heart sends more information to the brain than vice versa. The signals the heart sends affect the brain centers involved in our decision-making and in our ability to perceive. In other words, each beat reflects our current emotional state. If we’re angry, irritated or frustrated, the heart beats out a very chaotic message. Conversely, more positive emotions create harmony in our nervous system and the heart rhythm pattern we have when we’re in our most optimal state.”

Coincidentally, a Towers Watson study recently showed that the greatest driver of employee engagement worldwide is whether or not people feel their managers and organizations have genuine concern for their well-being. Heartmath’s corresponding insight: More caring leaders set off the neural machinery that produces optimal workplace performance.”

Emotions Drive Performance

The prevailing belief in leadership is that emotions undermine good decision-making and other cognitive tasks and have no place in the workplace. But the new research is very clear that the repression of them greatly inhibits human functioning.

“While it’s obvious that certain kinds of emotions drain our energy and thereby negatively affect our performance,” McCraty says, “we now know it’s our emotions that drive our biochemistry–not the other way around. Feelings and emotions, therefore, determine our level of engagement in life, what motivates us and what we care about.”

Initial cynicism toward this information is something McCraty routinely experiences firsthand. The US military has contracted with HeartMath to teach its soon-to-be deployed personnel how to maintain psychological composure when enduring the most stressful wartime circumstances.

Here’s how McCraty successfully persuades a room full of sceptical soldiers that feelings and emotions are the driving force in their lives:

“Some of you joined the military for the paycheck, but I’ll bet it’s not the majority of you. I’ll bet you’re here because you care about the country and its way of life, right? Raise your hands.”

All hands go up.

“And you have the courage to stand up and do something about it.”

Everyone nods their heads.

“You have the integrity and dignity to stand up for America.”

McCraty then hammers home the point: “Are these not emotions?”

“Yes, they’re the strongest emotions we have. Courage gives you the power to do things others wouldn’t or couldn’t. Dignity is doing the right thing when no one is looking–that kind of integrity. These are all the emotions that really motivate us and determine what we care about in life…why we choose to do the things we do in life.”

The Bottom Line

It’s long been believed that a job and a paycheck was sufficient motivation for workers to perform. But pay in all of its manifestations now ranks no higher than fifth in importance globally as the reason why people excel in their jobs.

While the idea of managing people with greater care may strike some as intrinsically wimpy, the Conference Board’s ongoing employee engagement research has proved that workplace leadership cannot succeed without it.

What matters most to people is how they are made to feel by the organizations that employ them, and by the bosses who manage them. So, demonstrate to your employees that they’re authentically valued. Provide them with opportunities to grow and to contribute at a higher level. Appreciate their work. Make people feel they matter. Do all these things and more–knowing it’s rarely an appeal to our minds that inspires any of our greatest achievements.

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century. Reach him on Twitter @markccrowley or via his website.

A version of this was first posted on

Busting the Myths of the Future of Work: How not to Lead in the 21st Century

I am often invited to share interactive keynotes on the future of work and too often I am asked to highlight the best practices of companies like Google and Facebook. I rarely comply and mostly ask, “How is that relevant? What makes your organization unique and how can we tap into that richness of what works well for you? Why do people love working here and doing business with YOU?”

An entirely different conversation emerges when we start asking questions and listening than providing the traditional 7-steps to success. We have somehow not only got lazy by believing there is a formula for success, we have lost our common sense.

Predictions are rampant around us on how leaders SHOULD prepare for the future of the work with cookie cutter formulas and best practices that are yelling at us at what we should and should not do to be successful. Yet the fundamental elephant that is not in the room is how each of us defines success as an individual and as an organization. How does anyone else know what will work for us? Why would someone else’s way of working be good for us? Why are we stuck in a sameness mindset when we publicly pursue “innovation”?
And when you can see that this is one of the best times to be alive because we live in an open and connected world, all you will see when it comes to business is opportunities to thrive.

The 21st century leader understands that her role is to bring people together in conversation to imagine possibilities and go create them. She is not mired in a state of solving problems but generating opportunities. She understands that innovation and corporate social responsibility do not need to be separate departments in her organization but part of the fabric of the organization that is so tapped into the needs of its people — employees, customers, vendors, partners and community members — that it simply becomes part of how the organizations continues to create and deliver its richness in the world. We allow structure to flow instead of always leading with structure as our shared purpose is clear. We don’t need to define ourselves by the organizational box we report into since we care more deeply about why we do what we do and with who than where we are on an organizational hierarchy.

The 21st century leader is an amazing storyteller. He deeply understands that creating meaning and purpose with others is about transparency and being real. He does not delegate his communication responsibility to a function but knows how to take people on the journey with him by listening and sharing. He makes everyone feel like a leader and encourages people to join him in delivering on the purpose of the organization.

The 21st century leader leads with purpose. Through her storytelling, she creates a shared purpose of why we are here and builds amazing relationships to realize the purpose. She no longer needs to be the expert and always have the answers. She has an uncanny ability to bring people together in conversation around key projects. She no longer focuses on branding as she uses simple language to bring people to care about the purpose. No buzz words or elevator pitches needed. Stories that touch people work better than canned messages on a PowerPoint slide. Her slides have images that tap into the human imagination and creativity rather than lines and lines of words or models. She takes people on a journey of possibilities.

The 21st century leader is a community builder. He tears down the walls of separation and brings people together in lively conversations. He busts the myth that the only way to lead is with fear and consensus. He knows that there is nothing to fear in the 21st century as we have everything we need. He brings the best technology that is valuable to the business and integrates it into his leadership. He does not talk about platforms but integrates them into how work is delivered seamlessly.

He remembers that when Instant Messaging and Texting appeared no one needed training or massive change management programs because they were useful and people simply adopted them because they were valuable. He no longer needs to be the information source as his biggest contribution to the business is to bring people together in open dialogue focused on actualizing the purpose of why the business exists. Communication no longer needs to be a function that provides a one-way message but a driver of amazing two-way conversations that flow naturally and provide the information people need when they need it. There is no longer anything to fear in a culture where people jump out of bed to live their purpose instead of celebrating hump Wednesday, TGIF and dreading Monday mornings.

The 21st century leader sees life as a fearless adventure where work is part of it. We, as 21st century leaders, do not try to balance the mythical work-life separation as we recognize there is only life. There is no need to balance. We don’t need mindfulness practices as we respect our lives fully and understand work is part of who we are; not who we are. We stop defining ourselves by our job title and what we do to make a living because in the 21st century, our biggest opportunity is to regain common sense and make a life. All the mindfulness programs have made us recognize that we want full lives and to pursue our own heartbeat. We move from the myth of being a workaholic to the reality of being a LIFEaholic where we put people first.

The 21st century leader sees business can be a force for good: good for the planet, good for our communities, and good for our co-workers. We want to make an impact in the world and see the business will become the most powerful force for good that human society has ever experienced. Sustainability is integrated in the fabric of organizations as we care deeply about the impact we have on the world and are mindful in how we build our business.

And here is the biggest myth of all that needs some busting: leadership is top-down. In the 21st century, we are all leaders. There are no followers.

It’s up to each of us to wake up to our own divine leadership essence and co-create the world we want to live in. There is no one else apart from each of us.

What are you doing today to share your art and purpose in your life and your work?

It’s our time.


San Francisco, CA

May 2016

P.S. In the 21st century, we are all leaders. There are no followers.

A version of this post was first published on

photo credit: Нови и стари митове via photopin (license)

Open Up and Lead

This week we found out that the federal government tracks every phone call we make. On the one hand, it’s unsettling. On the other, if it helps stop terrorist attacks, it may be worth it. In some ways what was most disturbing about the revelation was its secrecy. Our instinctive response is mistrust: our government wasn’t being open with us. And we all want open leaders.

That’s the lesson in business for companies that are striving to recruit and retain the best talent. When leaders are honest and forthcoming, people feel respected, engaged and invested in the enterprise. Unfortunately, too many leaders still don’t get it: open leadership is the foundation of 21st century success. We live in the age of the individual (some might say narcissist) and old-style, top-down, command-and-control leadership just doesn’t work. It makes employees feel devalued and wary. Just the opposite of what success demands: active, fulfilled employees who are bringing their full talents to work every day.

How can a leader achieve this open ideal?

1) Open door: Everyone in the organization should have access to their leaders. Leaders who welcome input change the entire atmosphere of an organization. Keep your door open, it’s a powerful metaphor for an open organization. And when someone walks through it, no matter who they are, welcome them.

2) Open mind: Brilliant ideas can come from anywhere in an organization. Open leaders listen carefully, welcome off-the-wall suggestions, and understand that clinging to the status quo will soon leave you behind the curve. Refresh and renew your consciousness. Take a class, talk to a consultant, explore a museum. Stretch your mind – like a muscle, it will grow stronger.

3) Open laptop: Many leaders still don’t grasp the power and necessity of engaging and enabling online. Find ways to integrate social media, expert networks, videos, forums, and blogging into your leadership toolkit. This is where employees live nowadays – open leaders must join them.

4) Open standards: Your mission must be stated, but more importantly it must be lived. You have to treat everyone by the same rules. And when a challenge arrives, keep people informed. Nothing undermines morale more than whispers and favoritism.

5) Open heart: All great leaders transcend the sometimes prosaic demands of their organizations and reach people on an emotional level. Make a list of the five leaders you most admire. Bet they all touch something in your heart and soul. I’m not talking about turning your company into a group therapy session, or saying you have to dispense hugs (though hugs can be a very effective leadership tool if done in a way that makes sense to objectives of course), but open leaders aren’t afraid to show some heart in how they lead.

All five of these Open Leadership tools must be employed with sincerity and follow-through. Paying lip service is worse than doing nothing. It’s hollow and people see right through it. Most successful companies born in the Internet Age practice open leadership. Think of Google, Quicken, Zappos, and Facebook, just for starters. Openness is baked into their business and social media model. The old closed system of leaders hiding out in their executive suites is a relic of another age. Why? Because it just doesn’t work in these connected, open times we live in.

So open up and lead and build this into your company culture. What are you waiting for?

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 6/09/2013


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15 Writers Shaping How We Think about Leadership

Leadership is no longer about command-and-control. Barking expectations don’t motivate people. It irritates and diminishes a leader’s effectiveness. After all, leadership is learning how to motivate people to want to do something.

So what does leadership look like in the 21st century? These 15 writers have a body of work that can help you adapt to a more relationally-driven approach to motivating people to want to do their best.

Brene Brown: From Rising Strong to Daring Greatly, Brown lovingly, and with humor, shines the light on leadership topics many of us want to ignore: getting back up when we fall, courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. These are real human realities that today’s leaders must discuss, explore, and learn from.

Adam Grant: Whether learning about givers, takers, and matchers in his extraordinary first book Give and Take, or really what it takes to transform the world in Originals, Grant’s work will guide you through ideas that shift how you can have a positive influence on people and the world.

Bob Chapman: As CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and co-author of Everybody Matters, Chapman is the shining star example of executive leadership in the human-age. If you are looking to find a balance between business and people demands, Chapman is your guide.

Tom Rath: In his most recent book Are You Fully Charged, Rath paints the case that meaning, interactions, and having the energy to do your best are vital for today’s leaders. You’ve got to care for yourself before you can care for others.

Arianna Huffington: Thrive was a revelation for me about living a whole life and loving it. In a 24/7 world, leaders need to know how to find this for themselves or find themselves depleted. Huffington’s new book, The Sleep Revolution goes deep into one of the means to a thriving life–getting a good night sleep.

Jurgen Appelo: In his upcoming book, Managing for Happiness, Appelo gives leaders plenty of insights on how to make the workplace meaningful, purposeful, engaging, fun, and productive. Appelo has his finger on the pulse of what is shifting in employee expectations and how leaders need to respond.

Susan Cain: While the conversation about introverts and extroverts is decades old, Cain shined a fresh light on the topic. In Quiet, she sparked a more informed conversation about introversion and introverts. For leaders, Cain’s message is key to understanding people.

Simon Sinek: The popular Start with Why and Sinek’s follow-up, Leaders Eat Last,connect creating a business built on purpose to leading one with your humanity intact.

Dan Pink: Understand what motivates people: It’s an essential knowledge area for leaders today. Pink’s Drive is the required reading if you want to help people live into their potential.

Patrick Lencioni: With Lencioni’s rich body of work, there’s so much to pick from. If you want a primer of his work, pick up The Advantage. His upcoming book, The Ideal Player, drills down into teamwork and team players. Creating great teams today takes more than simply wanting one.

David Burkus: Your success today can’t rely solely on ideas of the past. Burkus’s latest book, Under New Management, presents new ideas for a new era of business–one that promotes community, transparency, flexibility, flatter organizational structures, and more. Leader’s today need to know what trends are changing the nature of running a business.

Amy Cuddy: What does your body language communicate about what you’re thinking? About your confidence. Self-awareness is essential for effective leadership. Cuddy explores this in insightful, useful doses in her book Presence.

Whitney Johnson: Speaking of self-awareness, Johnson invites you to answer a key question for leaders today: have you disrupted yourself? We get complacent as human beings. Complacency makes for lazy minds and ideas. There is no time for these two performance drainers in a hyper-competitive work environment. Check out Disrupt Yourself, Johnson’s, second book. A must read for anyone who wants to grow.

Travis Bradberry: If Amy Cuddy and Whitney Johnson teach us about self-awareness, Travis Bradberry builds on their message. He teaches us about emotional intelligence in his book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. He makes it easier to understand how to increase your emotional quotient (EQ). We need more leaders with higher EQs.

Liz WisemanMultipliers is a fantastic message for today’s leader: how do you magnify other people’s intelligence and capability. This takes a bit of selflessness. We need more of this today. Wiseman’s book is one to keep by your bedside.

There you have it. Top writers doing some needle-moving thinking towards enlightened leadership. Treat yourself. Update your library with any of the above writers’ works. Your people will thank you. Your personal satisfaction with your work and yourself will grow.

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