The Secret To Exceptional Leadership Four Practices To Help You Lead From Your Core
A Challenge Many Leaders Face
Recently in a coaching session, a high powered leader said, “I really don’t like my job. I am doing it because I have to.” As he continued, it became clear that hating his job was just a symptom and not the real problem. After listening for a while, I said, “I hear that you are stressed and overwhelmed in your position, but I think there is more going on than just work. The real issue here is that you have lost heart.”
With a bewildered look on his face he asked, “I have lost what?” I replied, “You have lost heart. You goal here in coaching is to recover your heart!”
I continued, “By heart, I mean the core of your life. The part inside that makes you feel alive; the part that loves making a difference; the part that loves leading and growing your people. It is that place where you feel a great sense of service and contribution. It is that place where you feel most alive--where you feel a sense of meaning, purpose, and passion.”
Leading With Heart
Exceptional leaders lead with heart. They stand out and are indeed rare. They lead with energy, courage, and enthusiasm that can only be generated from the heart (their core). Exceptional leaders live life in the larger context of purpose and contribution.
The core meaning of the word courage is to live with heart, conversely, discouraged means to live without your whole heart.
Think of the great leaders in your life. I’ll bet they have one thing in common--they lead with heart. That is not to say they didn’t use intellect too, but when it comes to leadership the heart makes all the difference! Yes, it’s all about heart.
We all have had “managers”. By managers I mean task masters, who do not have the power to stir people’s hearts. Managers treat people as if they are robots. The reality is, no matter what business you are in, you are in the people business.
Genuine leaders blend both the power of intellect and the power of heart. Anyone can lead from intellect--well almost anyone. But intellect doesn’t really have the power to stir the hearts of others and that is what exceptional leaders do.
An Example to Follow
Mike Dueso was one such exceptional leader in my life. I had just accepted the position as the executive director/chief operating officer of an employee assistance and wellness company and I was in over my head. I did not have an MBA. I was trained as a psychotherapist. Secretly, I doubted my ability to lead and felt that at anytime I was going to be exposed as a fraud. I felt like I was at the Indianapolis 500 on a skateboard. I kid you not.
The environment was extremely fast, very demanding, and highly stressful. My employees were making life and death decisions every day. One screw up had huge consequences. Did I mention that I am a psychotherapist (for crying out loud) and not an MBA?
I was drawn toward Mike because he was confident and he understood the human side of leadership. I asked myself, “What makes him so different from other leaders?” He seemed genuinely comfortable in his own skin (something I wanted, but honestly felt was out of my reach as such a young leader). I loved how alive he was. Here is the part I don’t really want to admit…I was jealous of how he seemed to deal with challenges with grace verses the insecurity I seemed plagued with. He had a knack for performing well under pressure. His magnetic personality galvanized others to want to follow him. I longed to live with courage like he did. I longed to have the freedom to live with my heart fully alive.
So what was Mike’s secret? What was the secret to his exceptional leadership? It had everything to do with his heart--his inner world.
Without being alive inside, a leader’s ability to lead is compromised. A leader can never lead to their fullest potential without having their heart engaged. Never! Can you identify a leader who has lost heart? How do you feel in their presence? Do you feel inspired, uplifted and motivated? Of course not.
So how would you help the leader I was coaching to revive his heart?
"Without being alive inside, a leader’s ability to lead is compromised. A leader can never lead to their fullest potential without having their heart engaged." Doug Nielsen
The Leader Heart Check
Here are four simple practices we worked on in coaching that helped this leader revive his heart. Much like food, water, sleep and exercise are essential to our daily living, so too are these daily practices as a leader. I call this the Leader Heart Check:
The Practice of Self Awareness--Daily ask yourself the following questions:
What is my dominant emotion?
How do I feel physically?
What is my dominant attitude as a leader?
How are my relationships with my wife, family and friends?
Overall, do I feel happy with my direction as a leader?
Do I feel a sense of purpose?
Do my actions align with my core?
Busy leaders need self reflection regularly. Ask trusted employees, co-workers, or loved ones for feedback. Take time to journal your responses to the above questions.
The Practice of Self Care-- Research is clear that if you are not getting enough sleep you will not have the energy you need to be an exceptional leader. Most of us (myself included) try to get by on the least amount of sleep possible. There are books and articles about how to reduce the hours of your sleep so you can get more done. However, research shows that 1/3 of your day should be spent in sleep. Find your sleep sweet spot--where you feel the best. Honestly, for most of us 5-6 hours is not going to cut it. Also, there is research that shows a 20-30 minute nap can boost productivity.
The Practice of Play-- Make sure you play every day. Just like a bow, must be unstring so it doesn’t lose its spring, you need to unstring your life through play. Don’t lose your spring. Schedule play into your day--if even for just a few minutes. Go golf, hit a bucket of balls. If you don't have time for that, get your club and practice your swing in the backyard. Go for a walk or a run. Get your guitar out and play. Read, listen to music, etc. Do something that restores you and you will always feel better. That is the ultimate goal of play.
The Practice of Relationships--Research shows that the number one key to happiness is found in your relationships. Connect daily with those who matter most. Turn off the electronic heroin (TV, phone, video games...) and be present with loved ones. Connect with them. Show interest in their world. Do you have a close friend? If not start today to build healthy friendships.
So this leader made a decision to apply these four practices and he would tell you that he is not the leader who has lost heart, but has become an exceptional leader whose heart is fully alive.
He said, "I have found that there are two types of leaders: the kind that brightens the room when they enter it and the kind who brighten the room when they leave. I am committed to living with my heart alive so I can brighten the world around me and help others be successful.”
Follow these practices for the next 30 days and feel your heart come more alive.