Heart Based Leadership
When I signed the loan documents in 1988 to purchase my company, I was terrified. I now owed more money than I could ever contemplate earning, and with my Dad co-signing the loan, I had visions of usurping whatever generational wealth he had created and putting him at financial risk for his retirement.
This began a twenty five year journey for me of owning and operating a company, growing it from a small boutique with two employees to an eight figure yearly revenue generator with forty employees, a mid market status, and a best in class service reputation.
We began a process of rapid debt repayment, and renegotiated the loan and took my Dad's liability away after three to four years.
However, the fear of that first signature and the debt I incurred, and the ramifications of failure left a stain on me, and left me to operate the company from attitudes and beliefs that never really aligned with who I was.
I knew next to nothing about running a business in 1988. I had no MBA or accounting degree and was ignorant to employee relations, company handbooks, legal protection, accounting procedures, IRS audits, corporate liability and even basic communication.
My skills were in sales, where I used a sarcastic and offbeat sense of humor to disarm people, mathematics, where I could look at any one of 2000 accounts and quickly size up any variances in monthly income, and in being in dizzying, constant, whirlwind action.
As a business owner, I was a leader. But in looking back, my leadership was flawed. I was a bottom line guy, and everything the company did, was measured on how it affected our profits. I was analytical, but also autocratic. An out of the box thinker, but usually believed my idea was the best solution, and didn’t need to be debated. I had high expectations and high standards, but was not great at communicating them. I cared about our people, but rarely expressed my appreciation at their efforts. My focus was often at what was wrong, and not what we did well, which was prolific.
In assessment, I led by action. By always being in motion, always producing, being the rainmaker, motoring the company forward, I believed I was leading. I had it right. I had it wrong.
What was missing was leading from the heart. Really understanding what my purpose was. What the mission of the company was. Heart based leadership would have been really taking time to connect with our key employees. Taking one on one time to have coffee or lunch with them to see what in their work life was important. What was feeding them? What was leaving them cold?
At times, I did make efforts, but when they didn't pan out the way I had hoped, I threw my hands up, and went back to growing the company. I was leader by proxy, but not by heart.
Heart based leadership might have been to choose a mission based 501(c) 3 and match donations to them. It might have been to really forge solid relationships with vendors, and not always feel we were getting the raw end with them. (Ironically, in some key cases, we were.)
Leading from the heart would have meant finding ways to really celebrate the wins. We had many of them over the years. Where was the joy? It wasn’t coming from the bottom line, analytical side I was leading from.
Heart based leadership encompasses the joy of business. The joy of success. The joy of connection. The joy of making customers happy. The joy in sharing with your customers. The joy of authenticity.
Reach for the heart. It is a worthy organ to stretch to.