Getting at the Heart of Leadership

I wrote this post in September, 2011.  It was inspired  by the a story of a woman’s grief and the choices her employer made to deal with its impact on their workforce.  There are lessons here worth repeating.  

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“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”~ His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

I was thinking the other day about how easy it is, when first embarking on the leadership road to pack our authority and our sense of self-importance but leave little room in the bag for what it really takes to lead well ~ heart.

For the fledgling leader it’s an easy mistake to make. As fledglings, we often expect little from others, except maybe obedience.

I like to think that most of us grow out of it. Some people though, fledgling and seasoned alike, treat the leadership role like a game of monopoly. They have a strategy and goals. They deal in only that which they can hold in their hand or see on the bottom line. They buy and sell, trade and bargain. They strive to pass GO as often as possible so they can collect their $200 regularly. Their focus is singular, their intent only to finish the game with the greatest number of assets.

It is possible that these leaders believe their legacy will come from asset gathering alone. There are after all, some very wealthy and powerful people who have amassed their fortunes in just that way. So why bother to mess it up with emotion?

Well, simply put, human beings are emotional creatures. And, if we expect them to bring all of themselves to work and dedicate their energies to the success of our enterprises, we must also care about them.

Witness the case of Cecelia Ingraham.

Ms Ingraham worked as an Administrative Assistant for a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. She is also a mother whose teenaged daughter died. That kind of grief is unimaginable for most of us.

Her co-workers, although initially sympathetic, became uncomfortable around her because she talked about her daughter constantly, hung the girl’s ballet shoes in her cubicle and displayed her child’s photograph on her desk. Someone complained to the boss that Ms Ingraham’s behaviour was becoming disruptive, interfering with the work.

The story goes down hill from here, the bottom line of which is this. Ms Ingraham was told to remove the mementos of her daughter from her workstation; stop talking about her and, in fact, pretend that she had never existed.

There is more to this story, the outcome of which produced no winners at all. Money was no doubt spent in both accusing and defending. The twelve years of experience and the time Ms Ingraham spent learning and contributing to the company prior to her daughter’s death were lost. And there are others costs. Those who continue to work for this company will by now get the message that perhaps its best to leave part of themselves in a safe place at home. There is, after all no empathy waiting for them at work and no help when they really need it.

As Glenn Holland put it in Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Music is not just notes on a page”. Similarly leadership is not just about being in charge or numbers on a balance sheet.

So, if you are new leader by all means pack your self-confidence; be aware of, and use your authority but please leave plenty of room for your heart. If you are to be truly successful, you will need it. And so will everyone else.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, Employee engagement, Human Resources, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values

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