Do you date someone with whom there is no chemistry because they receive a checkmark in every category on your spreadsheet? It’s easy to do when you are prone to lead with your head.
When your friend tells you that it is silly to apologize because it won’t be appreciated, do you still do it for your own peace of mind? It’s a natural reaction for someone who leads with their heart.
There is an old saying, “Follow your heart but take your head with you” which essentially recommends finding a balance between using your head and your heart when making important decisions and interacting with others.
The most successful leaders do this by using their heads to analyze the external business environment while listening with their heart to their stakeholders. By building relationships they reach their goals proving the value of using both.
The heart allows you to see connections between seemingly unrelated events while the head likes data to work out solutions. The heart relates to people through shared emotions while the head loves rules, logic and order. Neither are wrong and both serve important functions. The problem comes if we use one in the absence of the other. When that happens ‘too much of a good thing can become a bad thing’.
Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes
I observed this with a CEO I once worked with. He had a serious shortage of empathy for others, which resulted in him alienating one individual after another. As senior executives in the company, we used to joke amongst ourselves that “if Bob hasn’t pissed them off, it could only be because he hasn’t met them yet!” Consequently, we were always cleaning up after his encounters.
Unfortunately, he didn’t see his inability to identify with others’ feelings and emotions as a shortcoming. Instead, he viewed himself as someone who was totally rational, skilled at itemizing and weighing the pros and cons of every choice. What he didn’t see in himself was the overall lack of respect he demonstrated toward others when their opinions and judgments didn’t align with his.
I remember a specific incident when we were traveling to call on investors and were joined by another member of my department, a talented young woman named Cheryl. She had just returned to work after time off for maternity leave. My husband was also with us on that visit. The car trip was long and naturally we talked about our families. Cheryl mentioned how disappointed she had been that due to a medical condition, she had been unable to nurse her baby.
It was obvious to me that this was a painful topic for Cheryl and that she had a hard time coming to terms with what she considered to be her first ‘failure’ as a parent. Both my husband and I tried to reassure her that many children grow up to be healthy adults without this start. Our CEO, on the other hand, chose to launch into a lecture regarding the many reasons why this was clearly a maternal shortcoming and how it would ultimately be detrimental to the baby.
He explained that because his wife had insisted on breastfeeding he had healthy, well-adjusted children. While Bob never explicitly said that Cheryl should have tried harder, the implication was clear.
I could see her wilt under the weight of his comments. A well-educated woman, she was aware of the rationale of the evidence he was touting. Moreover, as her company superior, his words carried importance for her.
Humour is often the smoothest way out. Seeing Cheryl’s suffering, my husband, always the champion of the underdog, chimed in, saying to our CEO, “Bob, don’t tell me that you’re now an effing expert on breastfeeding too?” That broke the tension, and everyone laughed.
Had our CEO chosen to insert a little empathy in his rational thinking, he could have avoided others disdain and improved his relationship with the three of us.
On the flipside there are those who become people-pleasers, always worry about how other people feel. They can become too empathetic, internalizing and imagining the feelings of others.
Empathy (using your heart) is a valuable tool to cross the void and appreciate another’s position, but it must be balanced with rational thinking (head), which confirms the old adage, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Becoming Aware and Inserting the Other
Even though you lead either the head or the heart, it doesn’t mean that the other is off-limits for you. All it takes is some awareness and practice to introduce the other and become a well-rounded human being.
For example, if you lead with your heart you likely rely heavily on your feelings to decide what you think about something. You may exclaim with great disgust, “The restaurant was horrible,” while a head centered person would likely say, “The restaurant was overbooked and understaffed.”
Practice using your head by speaking only facts for one day each week. Instead of saying, “It’s nice outside,” say, “It’s twenty-three degrees Celsius outside.” Providing information accurately will not only give you confidence it will also create valuable insights.
If you lead with your head you are more likely to take an impersonal, objective approach to most things. You run the risk of treating others like problems to solve rather than people to relate to. Those who lead with their heart connect with others and know the value of supporting the human who is having the problem.
Develop your heart by letting go of the need to fix another’s problems. Rather than automatically offering solutions, empathize and reflect back what others are feeling. This will show that you care.
Only by bringing together the knowledge of the head and the wisdom of the heart can each of us rise to accomplish professional achievement and personal satisfaction (while pissing off fewer people in the process). To learn about this and more, pick up a copy of my book, “Gender Physics, Unlock the Energy You Never Knew You Had to Get the Results You Want”.