Leading From the Heart

Simon Marshall

Lead from the Heart

(This post is part 2 of a four-part series which describe the foundational pillars of Why-Based Organisations. The topic of this first part is “Start With Why”)

WBO pt 2I’ve had the privilege to work with and to coach people who really do ‘Lead from the Heart.’ You know when you meet these people – they connect with you on a different and deeper level, and they are more interested in you as a person than anything you could do for them. In fact, they are often more interested in what they can do for you!

In my experience, these leaders come from all backgrounds, all sectors, and all levels in organisations. I can think of people who made me feel this way: The CEO of an oil company, a middle manager in banking/insurance, a nurse working in the NHS (National Health Service in England), and a police officer working our city streets. So what is it that binds them all together, that enables them to have a profound connection with everyone they meet, and seemingly inspire all those around them?

There are two fundamental aspects I have noticed:

Being your Why
Well, the first thing I’ve learned is that they Lead from the Heart of what matters. They are clear on their higher purpose – their Why1 – and think act and communicate starting from this place. It is this clarity of purpose that permeates through everything they say and do. In fact, the ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ is just confirmation of what they believe. This is contagious, inspiring and creates trust, loyalty, and followership, all aspects that form the bedrock of leadership.

Being authentic
Being authentic to who they are as a human being, and also as a person, is essential. To Lead from your Heart requires openness and vulnerability, acknowledging your shortcomings, and being comfortable in your own skin. People who lead from the heart have the courage to be this way, to acknowledge what it is to be human and to lead from this place. The courage to admit when they don’t know the answer, to ask others for help, and most importantly, to openly share with people how they are feeling.

To do this, these leaders have developed a strong relationship to:

Knowing themselves: The first part of being a leader is to be the leader of your own life. To lead yourself you need to know yourself, and this starts with knowing your Why. When you know your Why and are serving this, you are the leader of your life. This creates the foundation for being authentic in how you communicate and act.

Understanding being human: Being authentic requires us to acknowledge what it is to be human. Acknowledging the dance of love and fear that we all experience – that our mind is a survival mechanism and that we all want to make meaning of everything – is a start. But the real work is to acknowledge that we are all social animals that want to serve others and be loved and feel a sense of belonging.

Leading with your Heart often means going with your gut, what feels right – this isn’t your gut making decisions, but it is your limbic brain talking. And learning to listen to this very centre of our humanness is the start of understanding what it is to be human.

Relationship is the foundation: In business, the most enduringly successful organisations are led by those who actively focus time and effort on building relationship within their team, to their Why and to everyone’s true commitment to what they are at work on.

Importantly, relationship is as much about just being with people as it is about doing things. This may seem obvious, yet how often do we perceive that our senior managers feel remote?

Relationship is built at the water-cooler or over coffee as much as it is while engaged in day-to-day activity.

If your heart allows you to feel and discern the needs of others, then you can best communicate with them on their level, and in ways that they understand and can relate to.

One of the most generative things a leader can do is to constantly reinforce everyone’s connection to the Why by talking about it – it can set the environment for extraordinary things to occur. Consider Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai.

Spending time building relationship is never wasted. It’s the foundation for everything else.


lead from heart 2The conclusions I have come to from knowing these inspiring people is this: They know their Why, they can articulate it well, and their lives are dedicated to bringing this into existence. Equally as important, though, is their love for people, their care for each and every person they meet. The more we can build caring into the work we do, the more we will all be able to progress. Caring is about understanding the profound affect our words and actions have on the lives of others and is a cornerstone of our humanness. Creating work that matters, engaging everyone in this process, and caring for those around you as family is key to Leading from your Heart.

Viktor Frankl wrote of the sources from which true happiness ensues: Doing work that matters, loving without condition, and growing from adversity. We must end the artificial separation between these essential aspects of our being and show up as a whole person in all that we do – leaders who Lead from the Heart know this.

WhyNot Partnering (www.whynotpartnering.com) is an organisation dedicated to transforming the nature of work, by creating Why-Based Organizations2, where trust loyalty, collaboration and integrity are the norm – and high performance the outcome.

1Why – your purpose cause of belief, the very reason you exist and why anyone should care – (As defined by Simon Sinek in one of the most watched TED talks of all time) Watch TED talk
2For further information on Why-Based Organisations, visit whynotpartnering.com

Simon is the author of Why-Based Organisational Development and WhyNot’s Leadership Curriculum, and has extensive experience in leadership development, cultural and organisational change and executive coaching.

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