Leading with your head and heart - Michelle Gibbings

Leading with your head and heart

Leadership and decision making go hand in hand, and as technology changes how we live and work and the rate of change accelerates, the nature of those decisions and how to lead can appear more complex and challenging.

However, when you ask employees what they want from their leaders the answers are relatively consistent, and simple.

Respect tops the charts
Georgetown University’s, Associate Professor of Management, Christine Porath, found that respect tops the charts for employees. Her survey of 20,000 employees around the world, conducted in conjunction with Harvard Business Review and Tony Schwarz, concluded that being treated with respect was more important to employees than recognition and appreciation, having an inspiring vision, receiving feedback, and having opportunities for learning and development.

The research found that respected employees reported:

  • 56% better health and well-being
  • 1.72 times more trust and safety
  • 89% more enjoyment and job satisfaction
  • 92% greater focus and prioritisation.

When leaders respect their employees, they care about how they are treated, have compassion when they are struggling, and are committed to their growth and development.

This doesn’t mean they shy away from tough decisions. They make decisions using both their head and their heart.

Balancing head and heart
The most effective leaders know when to lead with their head and lead with their heart. Where do you currently focus your energy? Are you all head and little heart, or the other way around?

It’s very easy to make head-based decisions, and there’s lots of tools that help leaders do that. For example:

  • Listing the pros and cons
  • Doing a cost – benefit analysis
  • Exploring the risk – reward trade offs
  • Mapping a decision tree
  • Generating options for debate, and then voting to determine the agreed approach

Heart based decisions go beyond thinking with your head or relying on instinct. They challenge the leader to approach the decision differently by looking at the issue through multiple perspectives.

With a heart-based decision you ask yourself:

  • If I was courageous, what would I do?
  • If I put the needs of others before my own, what would I do?
  • If I put this decision through an ethical framework, would it change?
  • If I took a compassionate approach, what would I do?
  • If I respected the other person involved with (or impacted by) the decision would my actions change?
  • How will I feel about this decision in a month’s time, a year’s time, ten year’s time, and so on?
  • Will I be proud to share my involvement and part in this decision with the people I care about the most?

It can be uncomfortable to answer those questions, and it takes commitment and courage to follow through on what those answers highlight that you should do or not do.

Courage is deliberate
Building the courage you need to balance the head and the heart takes deliberate effort. To make this easier to do, it can help to lay the groundwork by considering these six ideas:

  • Be prepared to self-reflect – so you are in tune with how you are feeling, thinking and ultimately reacting to what is going on around you
  • Welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear. Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future and how likely team members and colleagues will be in raising future issues
  • Beware of gatekeepers – whilst support staff will often be acting with good intent, if access to you is heavily controlled and limited you will miss out on important connections and conversations
  • Take the time to walk the floor – casually walking around the office and incidental conversations are an invaluable way of finding out what is going on. If the majority of the team is working from home, take the time to ring team members individually and have one-on-one conversations
  • Don’t silence the dissenters – it is often the person with the dissenting opinion or the one asking the probing questions who can help you shift your perspective and ultimately, make a wiser decision
  • Build the emotional quotient – seek ways to build connections with your team, spend time with them and actively demonstrate that you care

The benefits from this approach are the flow on to team engagement and motivation. Team members and colleagues will recognise and appreciate the efforts you make to connect with them on an emotional level and know you have their back. With that support in place, they’ll be more willing to innovate, learn and try new things as they strive to secure progress.

In the words of author, John C Maxwell, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care”.



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