How To Lead With An Open Heart

“What you starting with me for? You know this is my crazy time of year!?” Anyone remember Kramer from Seinfeld saying that on his third day of work?!

Hasn’t it just become a boring cliché saying things like: ‘I’m so busy’, flat chat, under so much pressure, etc etc….”

These sayings have become a social norm, almost like mindlessly asking someone how they are, only to receive the standard response ‘I’m fine, how are you?’….

Blah, blah, bullshit….

If you have experienced this rote-like rhetoric, either as the giver or receiver, fear not. It’s not your fault! 

Chances are, you’re working for a business (or busy-ness, rather), run with a lot of deadlines, a lot of expectations, a lot of anxiety…..but no soul, and, certainly, no authenticity!

Most leaders, are so consumed by the pressure they are under, and their own self-limiting beliefs going through their own heads, they couldn’t possible lead with an open-heart and give you the genuine sense that they care about your development, success, and, most importantly, your well-being. How could they?

If you are part of a medium-sized business (or larger), my guess is there will be a range of ‘corporate wellness’ packages and ‘perks’ available to you. These may include, fruit in the kitchen, a pool table, weekly PT or meditation sessions. They all to be with your best interests at heart. They may very well have been implemented, with the very best intentions. But are they really demonstrating leading from the heart and are they really demonstrating that they truly care about you as an individual? Or are they just scratching the surface of what it means to lead with an open heart?

See, because, modern leaders have the ability to focusing on driving the bottom line and driving emotional connections. They don’t wrap up empathy and care in wellness programmes – they genuinely and visibly exude care and empathy – not in the pretend way, but in the ways that your people are most longing for…
I came to this realisation about two years ago. The management team at TOM Executive, worked out that the average tenure of our staff was hovering at the 5 year mark. In recruitment, that’s like dog years…

We figured, that if logic prevailed, we’d start to experience some natural attrition. So, we did, what many other businesses did. Offered flexible working, weekly PT and meditation sessions, breakfast in the office etc. Don’t get me wrong, all of these initiatives were met with a great amount of excitement and appreciation.
By sheer coincidence, though, I realised that this was just scratching the surface.

An ACL-reconstruction limited my exercise to ‘walking only’ for a period of time. So, I started to walk….a lot. One day, I decided to go for a walk during lunchtime. As I was about to start my walk, I bumped into my business partner. He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he asked whether he could join me. Little did we know at the time, that walk would be the start of changing the way we led our business.

Why, do you ask?

Well, we spoke. A lot. For about two hours. But two business partners talk a lot don’t they? Why was this chat different? It was different, because we spoke with a realness, a vulnerability and an openness, that was different. And it wouldn’t have happened if one of us didn’t open the conversation with what was going on for us. No, what I mean is what was really going on for us.

By putting ego aside, and sharing something that was causing stress or anxiety in a real, human way, allowed the listener to do two things. Firstly, to make himself available to be there, listen and hold the space for the speaker. But, perhaps, even more importantly, provide a safe space for him to share a pain, worry or self-doubt in return. With no risk of judgement or ridicule.

‘TOM walks’ was born. I told the business about my experience on this walk and offered anyone the opportunity to come for a walk with me. I was acutely aware, however, that in any sales environment, a healthy ego is a double-edged sword. It certainly helps you to be a good sales person, but it also stops you from opening up about what’s really going on.

TOM walks had two rules:

1) We had to talk authentically – now, I appreciate this is hard, especially when you’re asked to be real when going for a walk with one of the owners of the business you work for. But not, if the owner is prepared to talk openly and authentically first…

2) Whatever we talk about, remains strictly between us….well, proof is in the pudding innit?

These talks resulted in us sending three people to personalised counselling, paid by us, to assist them in providing them with the tools to deal with some of the challenges life was throwing at them. I can tell you now that these interactions and human connections have done more for retention and loyalty than any amount of free fruit…! Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that authenticity and vulnerability are skills or emotions that many people can easily tap into, especially in a work context. If you’re in a leadership role currently, or have aspirations to move into one, ask yourself whether you have or can develop the following:
  • Help someone with a problem – a real problem, whether professional or personal
  • Show genuine interest in the well-being of your staff, and a genuine warmth and desire to connect in an authentic and emotional way
  • Be prepared to share some of your own journey, failures, insecurities and fragilities
  • Make people feel like they’re the only person in the room
  • Make the time to connect, and never let on that you don’t have a lot of it to give
I don’t know a human being who feels that their performance at work is totally independent to their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Are you prepared to be bold and vulnerable? Because it’s the only way you can create an environment for your people where their well-being doesn’t come a distant second to performance. Grant Movsowitz – Founding Partner, T+O+M Executive