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Lead With Heart

February 1, 1998
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Related Topics: The HR Profession, Featured Article
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This month we recognize two important days: Presidents’ Day and Valentine’s Day. It’s interesting that both are in February and are only two days apart. The connection for human resources professionals is quite simple: it’s leadership with heart.

Making the connection. It’s serendipitous that both holidays are celebrated in the same month. Presidents’ Day is the recognition of both George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays—two of our nations greatest leaders. And it’s a national holiday.

Valentine’s Day, however, is usually celebrated in a more personal way. Love, the focus of Valentine’s Day, is the No. 1 desire of all people, but we’re reluctant to discuss it anywhere near the workplace. Human beings are really very strange. What other species denies recognition of the most important aspect of its being? Love is both a personal issue and a business issue that can manifest itself at work, especially in loving leadership.

Leadership as art, not science. Years ago, the business world defined leadership and management as a mechanical process—a science, rather than an art. Now, as science moves into more ethereal dimensions, so does leadership.

"The old leadership paradigm is shifting from bottom-line rigidity into something more alive and fluid, and vastly more aware," says Bob Roberts, president of Resource Systems in Manhattan Beach, California, who helps executives be who they are in a practical business context. "We’re moving from the ‘science’ of using our heads to the ‘art’ of using our hearts. We’re learning to thrive on being open and inclusive, balancing intellect with a more subtle and global knowing." By this, Roberts means more leaders are using what are traditionally thought of as the "softer" sides of management, like intuition and instinct.

For example, the recent article "No More Mr. Bad Guy, Meet the New Boss—A Little More Sensitive Than the Old Boss" (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 15, 1997) describes the trend toward niceness in leadership and mentions Leo F. Mullin, the new CEO at Delta Air Lines Inc., who has gained a reputation for nurturing employees. This "people-oriented" style, the article says, is helping many companies back to soaring profits from years of downsizings and problems.

In her book "Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership" (Hyperion 1995), author and San Diego-based business consultant Laurie Beth Jones describes how Jesus’ leadership style followed his vision to teach people a better way of life. It was leadership based on love.

A key question Jones poses in her book is, "Which would you rather have, a bouquet of flowers or a packet of seeds?" She says most leaders choose bouquets. But a visionary leader realizes the limitations of cut flowers. A leaders’ time is better spent gathering and planting seeds. "Abraham Lincoln could have been showered with bouquets if he had acquiesced to the demands of the slave-owners, but he chose to plant the seeds of freedom and in so doing became a leader for all time," says Jones. HR can play a part in showing the benefits of loving leadership.

HR’s role. How can HR professionals enhance and leverage the "leadership with heart" style? First, they can begin by becoming conscious of adding heart into their work. Then they can demonstrate this style in their own human resources departments. Finally, they can teach the benefits of loving leadership at work.

"Leading from the heart means having the guts to set leaders free from power and control in a context of trust," says Roberts. "And as momentum is created, leaders should get the heck out of the way."

As Jones says in her book, "The true reward is sowing seeds." Then she asks: "What opportunities have you had recently to ‘take the bouquet’ and run?"

Workforce, February 1998, Vol. 77, No. 2, p. 102.

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