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8 Steps to Implement Head-And-Heart Business Leadership

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27 September 2023

by Martin Zwilling

Team members today expect a more human side of leadership. Here’s how to bring this style to your employees.

With today’s rapidly changing environment, I see many business leaders reverting to the “command and control” leadership model, in an effort to be more responsive, rather than leading with their heads and heart. Yet I find in my mentoring practice that team members respond with more engagement and commitment to a human-centered approach.

A fully engaged team is the key to both productivity and agility in the face of change. In my search for guidance on modern business leadership studies, both scientific and actual case studies, I was impressed with a new book, Head and Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership, by Dr. Kirstin Ferguson. She brings a strong background in business with her academic credentials.

I agree with her eight key attributes of a head-and-heart leader, which I paraphrase here, in hopes of challenging your thinking. In addition, I am providing some of my own practical insights to help you become the type of business leader I sense the world needs today:

1. Lead with curiosity as a team role model. 

Showing curiosity means you have an open mind and are willing to hear diverse points of view, even those that may conflict with yours. Seek to understand all perspectives and data, acknowledging and accepting that you do not know everything. This builds real team relationships and enables better business decisions.

I’ve found that you can best start by asking for another perspective, whether of yourself or a team member. If you’re asking someone else and wish to build that connection, be actively present during the interaction. Really seek to understand the other person.

2. Accumulate wisdom by listening and questioning. 

By watching and observing how you acquire knowledge and make decisions, those you lead can be inspired to do the same. Wisdom helps everyone tackle challenges in business and life, and deepens our understanding of our limitations, strengths, and weaknesses. It also leads us to make better choices. 

Wisdom is all about the why of any situation. I recommend the “five whys” approach, where you ask someone why five times, making sure on each step thaty your next why question directly addresses the previous response, until you get to the root cause.

3. Build perspective by confirming context. 

Perspective allows you and your team to assign the correct meaning to the complexities and uncertainties you encounter every day in business. You must all learn to “read the room,” collect and interpret signals, and even recognize who is missing, to have the maximum impact and influence to move forward.

4. Enhance capability by helping others grow. 

You must be committed to developing a growth mindset in those around you, to help them aspire to new challenges and achievements. You must give them a strong sense of self-efficacy by championing autonomy, encouraging them to think big, and coaching them on areas to improve.

5. Show humility by being honest about mistakes. 

Start by getting people comfortable with what they don’t know, showing them you are open to new ideas, and don’t demand perfection in all deliverables. Make it clear that you always aim for progress, expect mistakes, and recognize that course corrections or pivots are normal in business.

6. Develop self-awareness of your triggers. 

Teach team members by example, as well as by monitoring and giving feedback, to gain awareness of what motivates them, triggers them, and where their biases lie. This promotes more psychological safety and better relationships, and helps people work effectively in uncomfortable situations with customers and peers. 

7. Demonstrate the courage to take risks. 

Taking risks can mean standing up to authority figures, confronting peers, or supporting projects with high potential but many unknowns. Courageous actions are often small and subtle, but equally important to high-profile examples. Make your culture psychologically safe for team members to take courageous actions.

8. Use empathy to lead with people at the center. 

Emotional empathy involves identifying with the feelings of other team members, while cognitive empathy involves using critical thinking to understand another person’s emotions and thoughts. You need both to create better outcomes and increase job satisfaction. Diversity and inclusion will get you started.

The challenge in integrating all these elements of human-centered leadership, especially in hybrid work environments, is to embrace flexibility, both in mindset and practice. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. With remote workers, you need to learn how to effectively use the new software technologies, such as Zoom and Slack, to get the engagement and commitment you need.

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