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The Boldest and Best Leaders Lead With Heart

The best leaders are the boldest leaders.

Employee satisfaction trends show a decline over the past two decades. Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace Report shows 66% of American workers are either not engaged in their jobs or have become actively disengaged. Meanwhile, data collected across thousands of organizations provides an interesting snapshot. Those with the highest employee engagement experience 17% higher productivity, 20% higher sales and 21% higher profitability. With employee engagement scores at an all-time low and increasingly complex organizational strategies, it’s clear that among the best leaders, success only comes to those bold leaders with heart.

It's impossible to sustain any long-term growth without happy employees.
As the best leaders know, the key to any business success is making sure employees are engaged.

The Significance of these Alarming Trends

Gone is the age when the stereotypical boss – callously shouting orders while workers scurry about – can be considered essential for success. In fact, nowadays, among the metrics used to gauge business success, is employee engagement. Which means the best leaders are the ones who engage with their employees.

The millennials of today’s workforce require that their work is meaningful, connected to a greater purpose and reflective of their values. They expect to establish personal, one-on-one relationships that show someone cares and appreciates the work they are doing. Leaders are vital in creating this connection. And only the best leaders are able to strike the right balance between driving results and building interpersonal bonds.

At this same time, business functions have only grown more complex. Driven by the speed of technology, emerging digital capabilities, increased competition, the way work gets done is impacting the ability of many organizations to execute strategy. There is a multitude of dimensions required to create alignment with business objectives and control for performance variability, both critical in achieving positive organizational outcomes.

Take one example. Two-thirds of c-suite executives believe customer preferences will be a major impacting force in the next 2-3 years on growth.* (IBM Institute for Business Value: Global C-Suite Study, 19th Edition). CEOs are emphasizing customer experience over product innovation and organizations are scrambling to deploy personalized customer experience strategies.  All the while, employee engagement is a key predictor of service delivery and reported levels of customer satisfaction.  And with over 70% of engaged employees believing they can positively affect customer satisfaction, it begs the question…what are the best leaders doing to create connections with employees and prioritize a culture of engagement?

Characteristics of Leaders with Heart

Gone are the days when leaders can sit in their corner office and direct the organization from afar. The best leaders do two things really well:

  • Show up with intention: The best leaders project a sense of responsibility and commitment to their employees, own the culture and role model the behavior they want people to follow.  They have congruence with the organizational values and their own.  They strive to build credibility and gain the respect of others.
  • Invest in workplace moments. Every interaction can have an impact on engagement and ultimately performance. The best leaders demonstrate an interest in their employees and get to know them personally. They get to the core of what inspires, motivates, connects people individually – and what touches their heart.

You don’t need to be hard-hearted to win respect and expressing emotion is not a sign of weakness. Leaders with heart – those who model the behaviors they expect and know what employees need to feel fulfilled – will get the return on investment, in employee engagement and increased performance.

The best leaders lead with their hearts, and are empathetic to their employees.
Leaders with heart understand that the best leadership is less about barking orders and more about engagement.

Bold Leaders Out in Front

You don’t have to look much further than Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” list to find great examples of organizations that have cracked the code.  Two companies who have stood out as having the best leaders who lead with heart:

Southwest Airlines: The heart logo on the belly of every aircraft and the “Heart sets us apart” tagline says it all.  People are at the heart of everything Southwest Airlines does internally and externally.  They boast some of the highest engagement scores in the industry and continue to raise the bar on leadership behaviors that matter.  In this culture, employees collaborate on uniform design and the CEO sends a personal weekly shout out recognizing employees who are living their values.  Founder, Herb Kelleher set the tone, not just focusing on the work product, but each employee personally.  Southwest Airlines has some of the best leaders who invest time, energy and resource into proving to employees they care every day.  The result – a culture of caring that has persisted for over 30 years.

Salesforce: Overly protective and proud of their OHANO culture rooted in philanthropy, diversity, and community, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has a 97% approval rating among CEOs most loved by employees* (Glassdoor’s 2018 Top CEOs list).  Over 30,000 Salesforce employees are successfully rallied around a common goal as a result of V2MOM – vision, values, methods, obstacle, and measures – a framework designed to directly align their vision all the way down to the work of the lowest level employee.  And because it is people executing this vision, their best leaders often gather employees together to express feelings, to be heard and to be respected for diverse points of view.  The result – a highly engaged workforce with a belief the work they do every day will change the world.

The best leaders understand that employee engagement breeds success.
There’s more to business success than just dollars and cents – for leaders with heart, there’s employee engagement.

Reversing the Trend

The best leaders have a presence, are present and show concern for individuals on their team.  They are bold leaders with heart – they listen to employee needs, show compassion, create shared dreams for the future and have a direct effect on increased performance and decreased employee turnover.

So many companies rely on speed, productivity, and cost innovation to grow their business. Only those who invest in cultivating personal human connections will experience differentiated business success.

Rather than “checking your emotion at the door”, consider striking the appropriate balance between driving business results and demonstrating care and connection with individuals on your team.  The beauty is in the AND!

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