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5 Traits Needed to Lead with your Heart

Posted on January 10, 2019
Image of a blue sky with a heart-shaped puffy cloud in the center.

I recently came across a quote from Dame Minouche Shafik, the Director of the London School of Economics. She said, “In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.” This really resonated with me, likely because I talk a lot about the necessity for empathy and compassion in the workplace and both come from the heart.

This term, I’m teaching Brené Brown’s book, Dare to Lead in one of my master’s classes, and she includes that quote at the beginning of one of her chapters in which she discusses “wholeheartedness.” She essentially argues that leaders need to lead with their whole hearts. Brown points out that while many organizations claim to embrace wholeheartedness, in fact, they do quite the opposite. “I often observe…that many organizational cultures and leaders still subscribe to the myth that if we sever the heart (vulnerability and other emotions) from our work, we’ll be more productive, efficient, and (don’t forget) easier to manage. Or, at the very least, we’ll be less messy and less…well, human.”

Leading with one’s heart is essential to connecting with those who work for you. Without that sense of connection, employees will feel disconnected, which breeds isolation, which hampers productivity and innovation.

Here are 5 traits that are essential to lead with one’s whole heart:

Actively Listen

Actively listening to others shows you value them and their opinion or perspective because it give them the opportunity to speak and be heard.

Develop Connections

It is imperative that you connect with those who work for you, this builds trust, which makes people feel safe – especially when times are uncertain.

Be Honest

It is never a good idea to hide things, it erodes trust. Even in those times when you can’t share everything, be honest, and explain that you will share as soon as you possibly can

Show Empathy

This means taking note of events going on in your employees’ lives. It isn’t just about wishing them Happy Birthday, but also about asking about their recent camping trip, mother-in-law’s surgery, etc. It also means trying to understand your employees’ perspective.

Be Vulnerable

Brown argues that “vulnerability is the core of all emotions.” To be vulnerable with your employees is “having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”

Listening, connecting, honesty, empathy and vulnerability are all interconnected. A key element for all leaders is trust, and trust is built through connection, listening, honesty, empathy and vulnerability. When one is lacking, it impacts the others.

But it isn’t about leading form one’s heart to be a good person. Leaders who consistently demonstrate these five traits: active listening, ability to make connections, honesty, empathy, and vulnerability create a safe environment, which ultimately fosters creativity and productivity. An employee who does not feel heard will not be as productive as one who does. An employee who does not feel their boss is being transparent and honest with them will not be able to unleash their creative spirit. As noted, these characteristics are intertwined and when a leader falls short on one, they fall short on all because it erodes at trust, which is the corner pin to safety; without safety, employees will not be able to harness innovative ideas or complete tasks with efficacy.

To improve your leadership skills, reflect on these five traits: active listening, ability to develop connections, honesty, empathy and vulnerability. Where and how can you improve to move toward leading with your whole heart?


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University

Source: Brown, B. (2018). “Dare to Lead.” New York: Random House
Posted in leadership-management-skills