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3 Ways to Infuse Heart into Your Leadership Practice – (for Valentine’s Day and everyday)

“Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting…The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce…Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”

– Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge

As I travel through the world of organizational teams, I meet many well-intentioned leaders who intuitively know team development is important, but they haven’t built the interpersonal skills needed to nurture and develop a strong team. I often hear statements like this:

                 “I can see that we need to work more efficiently together, but I don’t know what to do about it.”


                    “If we don’t start to work more cohesively as a team, I am afraid the business will fail.”

The interpersonal realm of team development does not necessarily come naturally or easily to many leaders in today’s corporate culture. But, as leaders recognize, it is important for people to work together effectively for the business as a whole.

Organizational development guru Patrick Lencioni states that teams need to be both “Smart” and “Healthy.” A Smart team will excel in the decision sciences such as technology, strategy, finance and marketing. A Healthy team excels on the people side of the equation which includes minimal politics, high morale and productivity, and low turnover. Lencioni says that Smart is only half of the equation but it gets about 95% of the attention!

I find this to be the case. When we engage an organization to build a cohesive leadership team, many leaders find the process arduous and time consuming and expect to see results more quickly than is realistic. Implementing people skills in teams is often a difficult, complex and sometimes long process, without a direct, straight line to immediate and tangible results, or as leaders like to say, the ROI. It takes many baby steps and thoughtful reflection and consideration of team members on a daily basis. Results are noticed gradually and over time. Leaders are more gratified by functional goals – familiar territory where material results can be seen and objectively measured.

A leader’s natural focus on functional tasks, to the exlusion of a conscious focus on nuturing interpersonal dynamics, often results in individual team member insecurity and lack of Psychological Safety. The outcome – a trust gap between the team members and their leaders. On more than one occasion, I have heard statements like these from team members:

“I just don’t think [the leader] cares what I do.”  or  “What I do does not seem to matter to [the leader].”

When people think that their leader doesn’t care, it leads to low morale, lower productivity and ultimately high turnover.

If you are a leader that prefers the functional, rather than the interpersonal, you can be assured that people skills can be learned. Here are three things that you can do right away to show appreciation to your team members, and to begin to build and support healthy team dynamics.

1. Incorporate the Feeling Function into team interactions  
Within the Jungian/MBTI® model of psychological type, we talk about the Feeling function as the decision making process that takes into account the importance of an issue to the decision maker and others involved. The Feeling function is a fundamental building block of teamwork because it fosters and supports collaboration and buy-in.

You can begin to incorporate Feeling into team interactions by:

  • Asking for, listening to and considering team members’ feelings about an issue
  • Expressing appreciation for others ideas, actions and contributions

2.  Actively communicate Empathy when discussing issues with team members
Empathy as a part of Emotional Intelligence is the ability to see, understand and appreciate the feelings of others, and to express your understanding to them. Empathy is not about understanding deep dark personal feelings, but at its core, empathy, if expressed, is the ability to see the world from the other person’s perspective, and to take that into account when discussing issues. Empathy builds collaborative alliances on teams. 

You can begin to incorporate Empathy into team interactions by:

  • Listening generously by giving your full conscious attention to another rather than thinking about your own agenda and what you will say next
  • Asking open-ended questions that cannot be answered by either a yes or a no, to really find out where someone is coming from

3.  Express Affection for (be open with) your team members
In the FIRO-B® model, Expressed Affection is how you share your feelings and innermost thoughts during your interactions. In the FIRO-Element B, the term used to define expressing thoughts and feelings is Openness. Teams are built on trust, and being open and vulnerable is a key ingredient. Try being more open with team members, and you might see them opening up to you.

You can practice the process of being open with your team members by:

  • Revealing one thing about yourself to a team member that they don’t already know
  • Watching yourself throughout the day to see if what you are telling people about yourself is what you are thinking about yourself. If you are not disclosing something, such as not being good at something, try to re-align your words with your behavior

Valentine’s Day is about giving those closest to us candy, flowers and gifts. What better time to start showing appreciation to your team members than a day we all recognize as one of giving and caring? This year, consider bringing the sentiment of the day to your workplace by starting the practice of building a true team and fostering a collaborative and trusting work environment.



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