How many of you remember your favorite teacher or winning your first game and going out with the team and coach for ice cream? I believe when we think about these moments what comes to mind is bonding, inspiration, camaraderie, and trust. Have you ever noticed that good leaders, like great teachers and coaches, tend to have deep bonds with their workers?
As a manager, you’re probably not going to lead your team to the Super Bowl, but you need to motivate your people to get things done and drive results. Do you have that kind of bond to lead and inspire? Or have you been taught to manage by objectives and metrics to monitor performance, and that bonding with your team members will be seen as frivolous? Of course, good managers don’t make business decisions on just emotion and locker room bonding; performance is important and many leaders have to think about decisions based on whether it’s good for the business.
Given the speed at which we communicate and make decisions, leaders who are able to lead with the head by focusing on the big-picture goal and business objectives, and with the heart, knowing how to engage, coach, and motivate people, and who can provide the tactical tools and skills necessary, are gifted. However, if you’re like most people, you tend to be stronger in one or two areas and weaker in the others.
Leading with your heart
When speaking with clients, many believe that emotions impede their ability to make smart business decisions. However, today’s research shows us that the repression of emotions greatly inhibits human functioning.
Inspiring leaders, like Joseph Guerriero, chief revenue, sales, and marketing officer of MediaDC, recently talked with me about a sales person who was underperforming. “If I just base my evaluation on revenue performance this individual should be moved out,” he said. “But it’s really about diagnosing the problem. This person is a type ‘A’ personality who wants to succeed. In meetings with senior management, I’ve had to defend this salesperson, my argument being, he’s doing everything right and someone else wouldn’t do better.” Guerriero said, “My job as a manager is to keep him focused and encouraged.” Later, Guerriero told me that this salesperson recently brought in three new accounts.
However, some leaders let their emotions get the better of them. Having friends and family in business doesn’t always equate to good business decisions. Tish Squillaro, CEO and founder of CANDOR Consulting, and author of “Head Trash: Cleaning out the Junk that Stands between You and Success!” remembers a situation where a CEO client was stuck. He was having difficulties making a personnel decision where his heart and head were not balanced. When the CEO started his business, he filled important roles with people he trusted and knew as friends rather than focusing on their future skill sets. As the company grew and the need for strong talent in specific leadership roles became critical to the business, the CEO realized that changes were required around personnel decisions. One in particular included a long-time friend who was not performing. In his heart, the CEO knew that he had to let his friend go, but he didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Instead, he allowed him to stay in the role longer than he should, and by the time they let him go, it not only hurt the business but ruined the friendship. Waiting made it worse on the employee who was not performing because it was viewed by the entire company and caused discord among the other teams. The CEO’s heart allowed the prolonged situation to continue, and in the long run it actually made matters worse for his friend because he lost creditability and his reputation during the prolonged process.
Leading with your head
Many of our clients confide in us when grappling with retaining or firing an employee who’s not performing. We ask: “What are you doing to help your employee(s) become more successful? Do you encourage your team to come to you in times of stress and disappointment?” Occasionally, a client says that they haven’t had time to put the employee on the calendar for a discussion. I remember a client who wanted to fire his head of sales after three months. I asked: “What’s in his pipeline? How many new client meetings has this individual had in three months?” To my chagrin, he said “I don’t know.” This leader was only analyzing the revenue and didn’t take into consideration the time it takes to onboard a new employee and, for that matter, the three to four month sales cycle.
Take for example the common mistake managers make when change is about to occur in the company. Another one of Squillaro’s CEO clients rolled out a new company policy, which to the CEO made practical business sense and saved the company money. What she didn’t consider was weighing the impact the cut would have on the team’s morale and motivation without offering an understanding of why it was happening. The team worked long hours, always under pressure during this time of the year, and it was these small rewards and special benefits that showed that the company was paying attention and everyone was appreciated. Removing the benefit without the right message to support the change certainly sent a much different message. According to Squillaro, “In this instance it became very demotivating to the team and it created a lot of disgruntled employees. The team didn’t feel appreciated.” Although it was the “right head” decision and a cost savings, the manager didn’t take into account how people would feel when it was removed. Perhaps if the manager explained the tight budget constraints and the pressures of keeping the business healthy, the message would have been received differently.
Leading with your head and heart
Leaders need to motivate people to respond well to changing circumstances and goals. Most people resist change. They resist the pain of change and the fear of the unknown that comes with it. Distrust leads to employees holding back and resisting the pursuit of success. In the workplace, leaders who show concern and interest in their employees’ lives, as well as provide a set of rules, create a healthy attachment that often empowers others to embrace the risk of pursuing success.
At a recent Neuroleadership Summit in New York City, noted neuroscientist, Naomi Eisenberger, associate professor, Ph. D., UCLA, explains, “feeling connected is intrinsically rewarding to the brain.” That’s because our brains evolved to greatly value social attachment. No one is suggesting that managers should act or see themselves as hand holders. However, understanding these insights may help managers work with people’s strengths and tendencies.
Whether your natural leadership style is leading with your heart (a visionary), leading with your head (an executor), or leading by doing, your approach likely has various benefits and pitfalls. Business leaders don’t make decisions just on emotion. Many leaders think about decisions based on whether it’s good for business. By the same token, great leaders understand that the heart is the primary driver of optimal human performance.
What matters most to people is how they are made to feel by the organizations that employ them and by the bosses who manage them. Demonstrate to your employees that they’re authentically valued. Provide them with opportunities to grow and to contribute at a higher level. While setting the bar, appreciate their work. Make people feel that they are valued. Understand that it’s rarely an appeal to our minds that inspires our greatest achievements.