Keys to Great Leadership: It’s About Using Your Head — and Your Heart
By Bob Vanourek and Greg Vanourek
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. — Nelson Mandela
The way most leaders go about identifying and developing talent is utterly insufficient for what is needed to create a Triple Crown organization. They focus mostly on the head and neglect the heart.
They emphasize hard skills and capabilities like knowledge, skills, and expertise. They assess intelligence, education, pedigree, experience, technical competence, skills, and other conventional indicators.
The head is just part of the equation
Of course, those factors are critical, and sometimes raw brainpower is especially important. Princeton’s president, Shirley Tilghman, told us, “Brains really matter. You can’t be a leader here if you’re not smart.” Ron Sugar, former CEO and chairman of Northrop-Grumman (a global provider of military and commercial security systems), told us, “A lot of our work is literally rocket science, so we have 45,000 outstanding scientists and engineers.”
Even in intellectual and technical environments, the head is only part of the equation. Lynn Easterling, vice president and deputy general counsel at Cisco (the global networking solutions company), told us, “I can teach the hard skills, but I can’t teach good character or good relational skills. It’s much easier to find people with the hard skills than it is to find the people with both the hard and soft skills.”
The term “heart” is rich with meaning. Parker Palmer, a distinguished author and teacher, captured it well: “I’m using the word ‘heart’ as they did in ancient times … It meant that center in the human self where everything comes together — where will and intellect and values and feeling and intuition and vision all converge. It meant the source of one’s integrity. It takes courage to lead from the heart.”
Heart includes intangibles such as character, will, passion, compassion, courage, and persistence. Heart encompasses what energizes people, what carries them through adversity, what drives them to win.
Integrating the head and the heart
Palmer observed that people are healthy and whole only when they involve both their head and heart. The Vail Leadership Institute espouses what it calls an “inside-first” leadership philosophy. According to its founder and president, John Horan-Kates, “This whole concept is built around the notion that leadership starts with one’s character, which largely resides in the heart, and emanates out from there.”
Triple Crown leadership integrates head and heart. In his bestselling book, Authentic Leadership, author Bill George wrote that great companies must “figure out how to tap into people’s hearts — their passions and their desires to make a difference through their work.”
Lorrie Norrington, former president of eBay Marketplaces (the global division of eBay that manages its e-commerce sites), told us, “The heart really matters in leadership. Without heart, it isn’t possible to create passion, dedication, and lasting change in your business.”
Heart reveals character within
As we saw with Seabiscuit, heart reveals the character within. People with heart show a fierce commitment to their enterprise, demonstrating loyalty to their colleagues and passion for the group’s aims.
They show a healthy ambition to win and build something enduring and impactful. This fuels their performance and sustains them amid adversity. Football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Heart power is the strength of your company.”
Some leaders say this heart stuff is too soft and fluffy and not sufficiently actionable. We disagree.
Triple Crown leadership proactively seeks, develops, and rewards people with both head and heart. It fills the enterprise with them, transforming both the people and the place in the process.