Too Much Heart In Leadership Will Backfire

Heart and Mind In Balance On A ScaleEach week in these posts, I present examples of how leading from the heart has the effect of inspiring extraordinary engagement and productivity.

It’s my fundamental belief, of course, that leadership fails when it’s over-influenced by the mind and the heart is not consulted.

This week, I’d like to offer some perspective.

Just as leadership effectiveness is upended when the mind runs the entire show, it’s equally flawed if the heart is given top billing.  What’s really needed is a balance between the two.

Since I very often share stories of what goes awry when the brain dominates leadership decisions, I’d like to share a past experience when I let my heart do all my thinking – and suffered a truly regrettable outcome.

The situation was tragic.  Stacy, a long-time and very successful bank branch manager, was at work one Saturday when her husband called with a frantic plea to come home. Their only child, a five-year-old boy named Jason, had suddenly turned blue and stopped breathing.

Stacy made a mad rush to her car and sped all the way.  But in the fifteen minutes it took her to arrive, Jason passed away.

Following the funeral, Stacy went into a deep depression.  While doctors discovered a congenital birth defect caused Jason’s death, she unfairly blamed herself for being at work – and not being with her little boy when he needed her.

To deal with her grief, Stacy requested a two-month leave of absence.  This was a particularly long time for a large branch team to go without their manager, but the circumstances were quite unusual.  And because her employees all wanted Stacy to heal, they committed themselves to supporting her and to taking on greater responsibility.

When Stacy returned, she assured me she was ready to resume work.  This was wonderful news, of course, especially because her employees had grown weary without her steady leadership and now really needed her presence.

But it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t ready.  Some days, she disappeared for hours at a time; on others, she cloistered herself in her office having no contact with customers or employees.

Out of empathy for all she was experiencing, I made the mistake of not immediately confronting Stacy’s performance.   While there was no evidence to suggest things would substantially improve, I failed to hold her fully accountable for managing her branch – a disservice to her and her team.

In the moment, I thought I was doing the compassionate thing.  But I was blinded to how my decision negatively affected her employees.   After coping for so long without guidance and support, they’d grown exhausted.  They were counting on me to find some resolution on their behalf and I balked.  And when I failed to take action, morale declined and performance suffered.

While I wanted to be a caring leader – to come from my heart – in doing so I lost sight of the fact that I also had a substantial business to run.   While these specific circumstances are unlikely to repeat themselves, the experience nevertheless taught me to consult my heart and my mind whenever I’m making important business decisions.

If I could take a do over, I would have taken swift action once I realized Stacy remained in grief.   To effectively run the business, I would have found a new manager to lead the branch team.  And to fully support Stacy, I would have encouraged her to extend her leave for as long as she needed to fully recover.

As tough of as those decisions might have been to make, I know for certain they would have been best for everyone involved.

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By Mark C. Crowley

Mark C. Crowley is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century which has been taught in 11 American universities. He is a global speaker, leadership consultant and thought leader on the topics of workplace culture and employee engagement.