“Krish, you wear your heart on your sleeve.”
People often say this to me, and I am not sure it is meant as a compliment. But I take it as one anyway. I would rather be emotionally free and vulnerable than inviolable but trapped.
Leading with heart is my natural tendency.
But sometimes people say heart leadership will not work in the business world. They say business requires a cold heart and a hard head. A hard-driving stoic leadership is required to stay focused on your targets and elbow your way through the rat race to success while others around you fail.
I believe things are changing. More and more business leaders are recognizing that business needs a purpose beyond the bottom line.
Your heart is a great navigator to finding purpose. It seeks the magnetic north of meaning in your work and it will be restless until it finds it. A friend of mine put it this way, “I don’t want to just make money, I want to make a difference.”
My work is a heart passion of mine.
I run a charity focused around finding loving homes for every child who needs one. It is a charity that developed out of our family’s experience of adoption and fostering. Caring for vulnerable children is the most challenging and yet most rewarding thing our family does.
But I can only help one or two at a time. What about the thousands of others who need love and security?
I think about it at breakfast when I am setting the table with my child who has additional needs. I think about it at bedtime after reading “Where’s the Wookie” book (again) with my 9-year old foster son. I can’t look at my own children without worrying about the others I can’t help. So, I love it when I hear that another child has been adopted. I love it when someone has been inspired to foster. I love hearing that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are getting a family to care for them.
There are great joys and great dangers in leading with your heart.
The Joys of Heart Leadership
Leading with your heart is an exhilarating way to lead. Knowing what you are doing really matters, knowing that you can be proud of what you are achieving because it is not just serving your bank balance, but actually making the world better for people, leads to no greater feeling. We discover a joy in our work that can’t be robbed from us no matter how much money we do or don’t make, whether things at work are going well or not. It helps you get up in the morning and sleep well at night.
The Dangers of Heart Leadership
- When leading from the heart, it can be tempting to neglect work-life balance. If you lead something you truly care about, it can become an all-consuming passion of your life. You will want to grow the work to the highest level possible. Family, friends, and wider responsibilities can easily become secondary in your life, even while they are cheering you on in your “selfless” dedication.
- When leading from the heart, some leaders neglect the discipline of wisdom. It is important to hear critical feedback, to ensure the work done is evidence-based and impact-assessed. The world does not just need hearty well-meaning do-gooders, but those who make headway in actually doing some good.
I recently spoke to a passionate leader who runs a children’s village for over 3,000 children. I asked him whether he had any plans to transition children to families—based on the research that children raised in families have a far greater chance of success in life than those raised in institutions. Family-based care is in line with UN best practice and his country’s stated national intention. He shook his head. “Oh no. God told me to run a children’s village, so I will run a children’s village. It doesn’t matter what you say.”
Leading with your heart can sometimes make you stubborn. It can sometimes make you blind.
Mitigating Against the Dangers of Heart Leadership
It takes investment in good accountable relationships to try and help with work-life balance. And it needs a posture of humility so we can allow our leadership to be shaped, not just by hunches, passion and determination, but by evidence, truth and discrimination.
I believe you cannot lead well if you are not leading with your heart.
If your heart is not in your work, if you cannot get passionate about leading where you are, then you have to ask yourself if you are in the right place.