Once upon a time, it was believed that if you wanted to rise to the pinnacle of success in business, you had to play not by the rules of society but by the law of the wild. Business was a game of survival of the fittest. Only the most select specimens survived. Only the apex predators endured.
Today, however, the world is waking up to a new paradigm. Now more than ever, it appears that if you want your career and your company to thrive, then you may well need to embrace your softer, more “feminine” side. This article describes the seven leadership traits typically associated with heart-centered leaders that professionals would do well to emulate in their own business practices.
Leading with the heart and head
The old boys’ club of yesteryear might have repudiated the idea of leading with the heart. Male leaders of today, however, increasingly recognize that a heart-centered leadership style typically associated with the feminine has a lot to offer, promising to mitigate the deficiencies of the old, outmoded standards. So what are the seven heart-centered leadership traits to consider embracing?
1. Be authentic
Unlike the unhealthy alpha-male leadership style, it is key for great leaders to be honest, transparent, and have integrity with their actions. Authenticity starts with asking yourself, does what I say and what I think match what I chose to do? In other words, do your actions match your desired way of being? Heart-centered leaders have learned that they can do better and accomplish more by dropping the pretense and getting real. They tend to be more open, communicative, and authentic, which research shows contributes significantly to workplace innovation, increased productivity, and optimized performance (4).
2. Be vulnerable
Back in the day, strong leaders would almost rather take a bullet than show their vulnerability. Evolution has long been thought to favor the strong, after all, so to show “weakness” was to invite attack.
Heart-centered leaders show that there can be incredible power and opportunity in vulnerability. In a 2019 article in Forbes, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s emotional response to the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch was heralded as a courageous and inspiring display of vulnerability in leadership. After all, it’s impossible to connect with others, to motivate or rally them, if they see you more as an automaton than a human, as an amalgamation of business metrics rather than a sentient being made of flesh and blood.
The simple reality is that we all have our vulnerabilities. We all have fears, anxieties, and pain. To deny them is to deny your truth, and when you do that, you create a barrier between yourself and others, including the colleagues you are endeavoring to mentor, develop, and lead.
3. Be a good listener
The alpha male paradigm generally holds that the “male” role is to protect and resolve. This means that leaders who subscribe to this model generally perceive the act of listening as only about fixing. Unfortunately, when communication is almost always tied to action in an organization, this can lead personnel to keep silent because they aren't in an environment where they feel heard or understood. For example, in a study of communication channels in a large healthcare organization, Martin et al. (2018) found that employees were reluctant to discuss concerns with leadership for fear of activating “resolution” processes that may, ultimately, do more harm than good for themselves and those around them.
Heart-centered leaders, on the other hand, seem to excel in listening not just to problem-solve, but to understand, connect, and empathize. After all, in business, as in life, not every issue can or should be resolved, but that does not mean that one’s experiences should not be shared. The relationships that develop when one constantly hears and is heard by another are the most successful and enduring, both in the home and in the workplace.
4. Be emotional and empathic
The old, familiar adage, “it’s nothing personal; it’s business,” pretty much encapsulates stereotypically “masculine” approaches to leadership, in which the bottom line prevailed above all other considerations. The reality, however, is that no matter your industry, business is fundamentally a people-focused endeavor.
Your business lives or dies on its capacity to serve the client well. And to make that happen, you must prioritize your team. They are, after all, the ones who make the work possible. “Feminine” leadership styles have much to teach in this regard because heart-centered leaders lead from the heart and head (7). There is significant evidence that this type of leadership excels in demonstrating empathy and emotion, particularly in times of crisis, as with the recent pandemic (3, 6). For these leaders, leading with the heart and prioritizing the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of employees, partners, and clients is the most effective mechanism for ensuring the long-term well-being of the company.
5. Be self-nurturing
Much in the same way that strong heart-centered leaders recognize that you must prioritize your people’s wellness if you want your company to thrive, they also understand that the leader’s physical, mental, and emotional health matters too. After all, you can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. This is what makes self-care one of the most important leadership qualities. This is an important link to the ability to be vulnerable and to lead from the heart.
Traditional alpha male paradigms were generally predicated on the leader’s ability to deny–or to utterly ignore–universal human needs. To take time for rest, for self-nurturing, for pleasure was to lack dedication at best or to lack competence and ability at worst. When business leaders fail to take the time to regularly quiet their minds, re-energize their bodies, and reconnect with spirit, not only is their leadership performance going to suffer, but they’re also more likely to burn out and lose motivation, inspiration, and creativity (8, 9).
6. Be collaborative
In a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review contrasting the leadership styles of female executives with the practices of men in comparable roles, researchers found that when male executives were asked to describe their leadership style, they typically used terms relating to hierarchy and authority. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to use descriptors such as “transformational” and “interactive.” In other words, female leaders prioritize collaboration, the capacity to engage and empower employees in order to align a company’s success with the success of the employees, to find points of agreement and opportunity in the company’s vision and mission, and the life and career goals of the employees. In this way, heart-centered leadership qualities seek to nurture employees to work with the company and its leaders, not for them.
7. Be different
As the above discussion has so amply shown, heart-centered leadership qualities generally differ starkly from traditional “alpha male” models. Leaders who display these traits typically do not conceptualize business as a zero-sum game. They do not perceive themselves to operate in a “kill or be killed” environment. Rather, they envision success as a function of one’s capacity for cultivating relationships, practicing compassion and care, supporting engagement and empowerment, and demonstrating vulnerability and the nurturing of self and others.
How Casa Alternavida Can Help
At Casa Alternavida, we embrace a culture of these 7 leadership qualities and help companies integrate them as part of their own culture. We operate on the premise that true leadership derives not from the head but from the heart.
As such, our mission is centered on the commitment to helping business professionals at all levels find peace, inspiration, and fulfillment in their lives and careers through practices that help nurture and cultivate meaningful connections with oneself and with others. Thus, we offer a variety of leadership and team-building retreats specifically designed to support and empower business leaders and foster relationships within teams. As such, our approach is deeply rooted in the effort to support heart-centered leadership styles. We offer a range of team-building exercises and experiences created to support trust, empathy, and understanding between leaders and team members. Contact Casa Alternavida to discuss how we can help leaders and teams discover personal and professional success together. Learn more here.
Casa Alternavida was founded on the principle that there are healthier, “alternative” ways to balance life and work. This alternative is to stop the unconscious addiction to stress, overwhelm, and struggle to focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle that yields better results. Our practitioners are trained to support you with unraveling those unconscious commitments so you can actively create the lifestyle you want to be living, take charge of your well-being, and reset bad habits. We are experts at creating playful experiences in nature that inspire deep personal insight and long-term positive behavior change. Teams walk away from our facility with new excitement for their projects, practices to work smarter, and a deep appreciation of their companies. If you are a business that cares about your employees and wants to enhance your workplace culture, we are dedicated to providing alternative ways of building resilient leaders and teams.
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