The Heart of Leadership

Group of people standing together

Despite our self-centric tendencies, human beings are uniquely designed to thrive through shared effort and belonging.

More importantly, humans need to belong and feel they matter – and it’s vital that leaders embody this in their daily behaviors so that it infuses a culture of high performance.

Gallup documented these roots of our nature in 12: The Elements of Great Managing (1). Matt Ridley, the British author, was included in this publication, saying, “One of the things that marks out humanity from other species, and accounts for our ecological success, is our collection of hyper-social instincts.” This need to belong is termed the Fifth Element, which Gallup says is best summed up as an employee’s response to the statement, “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.”

What used to be called civility – being respectful – was an integral part of what most humans learned at home or in small communities and it permeated communities and companies. While it seems common sense to treat others at work as human beings vs. human doings, we name it and give it more value.

The collective mojo of human motivation is social capital.

I like to call it trust – the kind of trust I feel when others know me, care about me, and will tell me with respect when I’m off or on the tracks. Shared across a company of 30 or 30,000, social capital is a game-changer.

We don’t easily forget that organizations depend on their employee’s engagement – and want their psychological commitment to each other and the work to be done. More easily forgotten, if leaders want levels of committed engagement, they’ll attract it by modeling on a consistent basis those specific and sincere behaviors that show they care about humans in addition to caring about the work they do towards financial performance and stock values.

When Henry Ford complained that he, “…only wanted a pair of hands, not the whole human being”, he spoke for many of managers who know the headaches of dealing with humans. But humans are more powerful, more genius, and more capable than any issue could obscure, and worth every effort at work to demonstrate that “Someone seems to care about them as a person”.

How are you doing as a leader with your team – and those leaders below you with theirs – at demonstrating caring behaviors? Easy places to gauge the level of social capital are in situations where the risk of feeling alienated, isolated, discounted, disengaged, or discouraged may be highest.

Some common ones are:

  • The presentation that goes wrong
  • The decision that appears biased
  • The new hire that isn’t supported
  • Supervisor silence after months of hard work
  • Being excluded from meetings – often
  • Being passed over for a promotion – with little or no constructive feedback

As leaders, how we handle daily interactions, meetings, and key situations makes a big difference in creating social capital. A client recently took this to heart and simply re-organized internal reporting presentations to allow 10 minutes for the presenter to be welcomed, to interact personally, and feel the team ‘had their back’ before standing to present.

This client also reported that during the Q&A that followed, instead of the participants seeming ready to jump on any mistake, there was a true spirit of inquisitiveness, support, and innovation. This was generated by remembering ‘we are one tribe, and we are human’ and building trust so the presenter wasn’t hijacked by a fear of failure.

This is but one of many examples where great leaders in good companies are embracing the reality that humans are our greatest potential – and truly demonstrating that they’re the company’s most important asset.

Here’s to the heart of leadership.

How is the heart of your leadership?  Connect with me to discover more:

References and Resources: 

  1. The Elements of Great Managing. R. Wagner and J.K. Harter (Gallup Press).

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