Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century

by Mark C. Crowley (interview)

Prevailing management practices have become “a destructive influence, both to workers and to organizational effectiveness.”  

A Towers Perrin study “found that just 21% of US workers are engaged in their jobs and willing to go the extra mile for their organizations.” Essentially, that means 79% of workers just show up and go through the motions. Whatever management is doing to create this situation—either by commission or omission—it’s not very impressive.

In contrast, Wharton finance professor Alex Edmans “analyzed the stock performance of all companies named to Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For from 1998-2005. “Over the eight year period, stock returns of the top 100 employers annually exceeded peers by a stunning 7-8%.”

“What they’re proving is that high employee engagement is the wonder drug. It helps companies retain and attract greater talent. When workers feel cared for they invest more of themselves into their jobs. They’re inspired to serve customers better.”

Crowley explains his four practices of leading from the heart, with examples from his career in the banking industry.

Build a highly engaged team. “Leaders must be conscious of the effect and impact every single hire will have on the performance of the team, on its momentum, and on its future… and to resist the temptation to ever make a hire just for the sake of getting an opening filled.”

“Everyone has some kind of work that they are good at—and that makes their heart sing. Too frequently, however, we put people into roles that don’t match up to either those talents or passions. It’s irrational to expect anything but half-hearted effort, commitment and effectiveness from someone who lacks genuine enthusiasm for the work they do all day. Never forget that there’s a remarkable difference in the quality of one’s craftsmanship when they love what they are doing… Consequently, you must ensure no one on your watch ever ‘falls into’ a position to which they are unnaturally suited.”

“We think we will risk losing a ‘great’ candidate by revealing less attractive components of a job, but, in fact, we build tremendous trust by doing so… The tendency to avoid discussing these things up front almost always backfires.”

Connect on a personal level. “HeartMath recently reported that 75% of Americans describe their job as ‘stressful’. They’ve also discovered that 60% of all workplace absenteeism is caused by stress… According to Bruce Cryer, a lot of this stress is caused when people don’t feel enough connection, appreciation, and support from work.”

“People understand that we give time to things that are most important to us. And when people sense they matter and feel valued they instinctively become more engaged and more productive. It’s a huge motivational force.”

Maximize employee potential. Taking an active interest in helping your team members with their career development “will not only elevate an employee’s current performance but also helps you build a bench so you will always have talented and experienced people (people you already know and trust) filling your openings.”

“Don’t fight the natural order. Assume everyone will leave at some point. Allow people to move and make their own path. The benefits of this approach are enormous. The surest way of losing people is to repress their growth.”

Recognize achievements. Crowley asserts that leaders who don’t celebrate achievements are destructive. “Following a successful month, quarter, or campaign, they immediately focus on the next goal, the next challenge, and completely ignore the hard work and tremendous effort made by their subordinates…Employees are given no time to catch their breath, savor the moment or feel a sense of satisfaction with that they just accomplished… If you want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, this is the way to do it.”

Crowley says only give recognition when it is earned. The “everyone gets a trophy” concept is misguided. Conversely, never ration recognition when it is earned, such as only recognizing the top 3. “A scarcity of praise leads people to hoard ideas, demonstrate less cooperation, and otherwise do things in their own self interests. When praise is abundant, people are generous and supportive of one another. People are happy when others are recognized and confident their hard work will be acknowledged.”

The author adds, “Giving people encouragement when they are struggling, worried they can’t measure up, or faced with a new wall to climb is the tonic which helps people exceed their own expectations. Encouragement inspires optimism and influences people to become and accomplish more.”

Leading from the heart is more than a metaphor. The word heart is often used as a metaphor for compassion and feelings. But Crowley shares some fascinating research about the heart’s physiological role in human relations.

Dr. Paul Pearsall, author of The Heart’s Code “presents the idea that the heart not only has the capacity to think and feel, but that heart cells even remember.” He relays this story from a psychiatrist. “‘I have a patient, an eight-year-old little girl who received the heart of a murdered ten-year-old girl. Her mother brought her to me when she started screaming at night about her dreams of the man who had murdered her donor. She said her daughter knew who it was.’ … Along with the girl’s mother, Pearsall went to the police and, ‘using the descriptions from the little girl,’ they found the murderer. He later was convicted with evidence the little girl provided. ‘Everything the little heart transplant recipient reported was completely accurate,’ said Pearsall.” — Wow! That’s amazing.

According to Bruce Cryer of HeartMath, the heart creates “an electromagnetic field that extends outside the human body and is tangible. It’s not an aura or something metaphysical. It’s just like every electrical system (e.g. transformers) that creates fields. Well, that field changes depending upon our emotional state as evidenced by being physically close to somebody who’s really upset and you can feel it. You take it on. Or, the opposite—being physically close to somebody who’s in a very caring and appreciative state, and you feel that and take that on too. This confirms why you know when you are close to somebody who cares for you that it feels better [than] being around someone who is frustrated, angry, or impatient.”

Animals sense this energy too. Crowley cites research from Newcastle University in which milk production increased 6% when cows were given names. “According to Catherine Douglas who, with Peter Rowlinson, conducted the study, the ‘naming’ is a reflection of the human’s attitude toward cows and how they behave around them. ‘Named cows,’ says Douglas, ‘are more often treated more nicely and well treated and happy cows make more milk.’”

“Leading with heart is not soft or sentimental—it’s a necessary means of restoring worker commitment to the ambitions and goals of their organizations. Leadership of the heart is great for business and drives uncommon performance.” As Tom Peters says, soft is hard.

Crowley, Mark C. Lead From the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century. Bloomington, Indiana: Balboa Press, 2011. Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Book: Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and The Secrets Of The Heart by James Doty, M.D.