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Lead with the heart

4 min read


This post is sponsored by Alan Fox, author of People Tools for Business.

A growing number of business leaders are stepping out of their corner offices, shedding their stoic demeanor and adopting a more personal leadership style that favors authentic relationships.

Author and entrepreneur Alan Fox talks about the link between heart and personal connections as they relate to business in his new book “People Tools for Business.” SmartBrief spoke with Fox about how these two entities work together to create effective leadership and business success.

In your story “The Tin Woodman,” you say you hope you have become like him and finally “earned your heart” and learned how to exercise “effective compassion.” Why are these qualities necessary for leaders?

In the “Wizard of Oz”, the Tin Woodman wanted a heart. He had to go through adventures and vanquish the evil witch of the west to earn his heart, to learn how to care for people.

We aren’t born knowing how to do everything. We have to learn it. There’s a line from my favorite musical, “The Fantastics,” which says “Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.” We’ve all had experiences — painful experiences — and from those we learn how to care about ourselves and others. This is effective compassion.

And effective compassion is necessary for good leadership. People are not machines. But even machines need oil and maintenance otherwise they stop working. With people it’s even more important to care about what happens in their lives. It builds trust and a desire for everybody to do their best jobs.

To get the most out of people, give them the most of yourself.

How should leaders respond when confronted with tense situations?

Good leaders think things through. While leaders must be prepared to act immediately in a situation if they can’t do it right at that moment, they should wait – three days or three minutes. I’d rather get the best possible result. And if I can’t do it right, instantly, then I’m going to wait awhile.

You encourage people to speak from the heart. Why is authenticity important for leaders?

People respond to authenticity. When I was in high school, my friend Pete ran for office. He and his opponent had to give a speech. Pete got up and gave a wonderful, erudite speech. His opponent got to the podium and his hands were shaking. I was positive we had this win in the bag — until the kid looked at the audience and said, “I’m scared.” The audience broke into applause. He was entirely authentic. He went on to win the election in a landslide.

Speaking from the heart is not a sign of weakness. It’s a matter of being human and enlisting support and empathy of others. It’s incredibly important, but seldom done.

Leaders set the tone for corporate culture. If the leader lies, others will also. Don’t pretend to know everything. People don’t like that. Set the example — be authentic, admit mistakes. When you do this, you build a team for whom the goal is more important than the individual ego.

How can managers use the yearly review as a way to foster relationship and demonstrate their support of their staff?

Start by having your employees do a self review, to tell you what they think they did well over the last year and where they think they can improve. Keep the conversation positive. They should focus not on what they did wrong, but where they have room to grow.

Next, ask what their goals are for the coming year and how management can help support those objectives. Do they need training, new equipment or a different desk location? Find out what you can do to help them get the most from their time and effort.

You’re building a team. Don’t use the annual review to come down on employees and list everything they did wrong. Help them do the best job they can. Provide clear, consistent, constructive feedback and then follow it up with support.