Most leaders and organizations focus on the head and ignore the heart of leadership. Actually, successful leaders “know” in a variety of ways if they are fully aware. Certainly we learn cognitively. The skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are important. But comprehension and understanding require more. Simply being cognitively smart is not enough.
The main thesis of the book The Best and the Brightest is that the best minds can get us into quagmires and extreme difficulty because being quantitatively astute and having analytical data are not sufficient. Compassion, empathy, intuition, and moral “sense” are also essential.
Leaders need a “feel” — those street smarts and intuitive insights that can create greater understanding of events and develops an intangible “sense.” Feel is one of the “soft” virtues that good leaders have. Many smart people fall short on “feel” even though they are bright and good thinkers. They trust their minds, but not their emotional intuitive or other sense.
Feel is related to intuition. It involves the heart and spirit because even when we do not have facts, knowledge, logic, or reasoning we get an intuitive sense of circumstances and what is the right and wrong action. Basically, intuition is ‘knowing your job’ in a deeper sense than simply understanding or analyzing numbers and procedures. It involves the subtleties and intangibles of emotional energy, feelings, and fields.
Peter Senge wrote: “People with high levels of personal mastery do not set out to integrate reason and intuition. Rather, they achieve it naturally—as a byproduct of their commitments to use all the resources at their disposal. They cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, or head or heart, any more than they would choose to walk on one leg or see with one eye.”
The world is not always a rational place, and we certainly need our heads and hearts to try to understand it. We also must better understand the concrete, emotional, and abstract aspects of our relationships, environment and reality.
We need to grasp the chaotic nature of the systems in which we live. Disequilibrium flows around us and is inevitable at times in our personal and organizational lives. More than logic or data influences our behavior. We have all been bitten by so-called data that was inaccurate, wrongly focused or simply deficient. We are not simply technocrats trying to engineer commitment and change in a rational universe.
Heart is always mentioned in discussions of great leaders because it drives focus and commitment. They are passionate and committed to serve. Emotions are always a part of life and leaders who are emotionally distant generally cannot connect with people. Indifferent rationality can be tone deaf and can destroy a leader’s credibility, no matter how intelligent they are. Leaders cannot help people without compassion, and cannot right wrongs without emotional fervor and indignation.
Heart is the foundation for courage, sometimes moving us from comfort to the edge of pain. Our heart directs us to do what is honorable in the face of jeopardy and commits us to great causes when logic and odds may dictate otherwise. Our hearts helps us to see compassionately and to lead by outrage when injustice and tyranny are present.
Finally, inside of all of us lives the human spirit. People long for creative, imaginative, inspired, resourceful, compassionate, and innovative leadership. Spirit, however, also speaks to goodness, promise, and meaning. Our spirit opens us to what is new and to let go of things in order to pursue virtue in life.
The heart and spirit calls us to honorable and noble causes and moves us to do something good and meaningful with our lives. Isn’t that why we want to lead? To live a life of purpose and promise as a human in being is the key to personal fulfillment and happiness – and passionate leadership.
See the book, Soft Leadership for Hard Times