Guide your team into a learning state by making space for connection and understanding.

A team’s work style shapes organizational culture. As leaders, we’re responsible for helping people to be their best. We’re also responsible for allowing them to be human. Developing your role as a leader is a learned process. Self-awareness is at the core of it. We’ve addressed self-awareness and the power of community, True leadership follows the pursuit and extension of those by leading from the heart.

An environment that welcomes innovation and diversity of thought requires emotionally intelligent leadership. 

If you’re looking to realize success as a leader, however, you define it for yourself, leading from the heart should be a priority for you. It’s undervalued in many workplace environments, but it produces significant results.

Why should you be thinking about leading from the heart? How does this approach build your reputation as a leader?

The pursuit of true leadership requires empowerment and compassion, cultivated by leading from the heart. As leaders and facilitators, it starts and continues with us. Not only do we need to lead by example, but we also need to support others through their own experience and proactively build camaraderie.

In reframing our ways of leading, working, and collaborating, we’re able to tackle obstacles as opportunities for innovation. Let’s begin leading from the heart by addressing the following.

  • What does it mean to lead from the heart? 
  • What is the purpose of leading from the heart?
  • How do we build a safe environment for learning and collaboration?
  • How do we balance goals and innovation?

What does it mean to lead from the heart?

In order to feel invested, employees must feel valued as individuals within the context of the team. Leaders must convey respect, integrity, and care for employees. 

Pursuing good work requires a learning state of mind. That’s often an overlooked reality. Giving power to pressure and stress leads to stagnation while giving power to individuality produces creativity and innovation. 

Leading from the heart isn’t a timid approach. It’s a proactive one. It’s the act of maximizing individuality through learning and engagement. It means that you value diversity of thought and intercommunication. That’s the purpose of having a team in the first place. 

You’ll learn more about yourself through others than you will on your own. People learn, think, and communicate differently. Showing respect for those differences is important. Be sure to convey your interest in others’ opinions through listening. Show care and empathy for humanity and personal growth, and offer yourself as a resource. 

With time, the team will learn how to work with communication differences. When we’re able to see each other’s value, we can amplify the positive within the team dynamic and bring our strengths to the surface. That’s the power of positive deviance.For example, the person who’s constantly generating ideas and gets sidetracked in meetings might need you to pull them in to contribute. When you’re fostering an environment for people to be vulnerable and approaching differences with softness, the team feels more connected. That takes extra attention in a virtual environment.

How do we build a safe environment for learning and collaboration?

To start, assume positive intent. Assuming negative intent introduces animosity and barriers before you even begin. Think about what might result next time you’re on the other end of it. What are the consequences?

Emotions are very human reactions, and while it’s appropriate to regulate our own, we also must make space for them. By choosing to acknowledge rather than avoid emotions, we create an environment that’s accepting of human nature. People sense emotions, good or bad.

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Build in the practice of taking a pause. As people are communicative about how they work and think, the team dynamic develops. When you get heated for whatever reason and positive intent is assumed by all present, it’s safe for a teammate to check-in or nudge you to take a pause. Knowing how you operate, your coworkers can prioritize curiosity rather than judgment in asking why something triggered you, and you can talk through it.

How you define a pause is up to you as a facilitator. Different solutions work for different people. Some might need to walk around the block. Others might need to talk it through on the side. Test things until you see what works for individuals, and make sure they’re also working to understand that better for themselves. 

This kind of environment lends itself well to collaboration and innovation. As you learn to approach such instances with curiosity, you’ll build trust as a team and learn how to work more effectively with each other.

Take a pause when something’s asked of you. Practice tuning into yourself and determining your own needs before delivering answers. This comes back to the idea of self-awareness. 

Work environment is also a crucial topic. Individuals are designed to work differently. By designing an environment where teammates can focus and work creatively, you’re fostering a sense of safety. Creativity thrives when individuals know they’re cared for. As a leader, ask these questions of yourself and teammates:

  • Where do you work best? A coffee shop? A library? Outdoors? Do we offer options that satisfy these environmental needs?
  • Where do we collaborate best as a team? Do we need to keep that consistent, or change it up?
  • How can we enable people to thrive?

Curating this environment is imperative to progress as a team.

How do we balance goals and innovation?

We often hear the question, “How do I nurture innovation, and give space for creativity, while keeping my team goal-oriented?”

Let’s reframe how we think about goals. Performance is maximized when people feel comfortable. People feel comfortable when there’s psychological safety and confidence in their own habits and processes. When there’s a mutual understanding there, it becomes easier to focus on work rather than the end goal(s).

In our recent conversation with Emily Elrod on Control the Room, we discussed the value of psychological safety in the workplace, and how her definition of work enhances chances of success with what many call “goals”. She’s eliminated that word from her work vocabulary and replaced it with “experiments”. She exemplifies her approach below.

Hey, this is just an experiment. We’re going to see. It’s fluid, it’s agile. We can move, we can bend with it. But this is what we’re saying with the best amount of knowledge that we have to date on what we think will get us where we want to go. And throughout the process, we’re going to keep looking at it. We’re going to hold it accountable, but we’re going to keep looking at it and change when needed.

Leaning into progress instead of perfection aligns with this experimental approach to work. When there’s less pressure to achieve a goal over a set period of time, or we at least know that there’s room to rework it, people naturally unlock ideas and think creatively.

Telling the story of your ideal achievements before they happen is another important practice. With a collective vision for the future of the company, there’s more value attributed to the work. That includes getting clear on a definition of success and the team’s vision. With resources considered and experiments defined, you can get to work with confidence in your efforts. Of course, let’s also stay in tune with when we need to reassess our track.

As a leader, it’s vital to hold the team accountable to this mentality and support them along the way. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who’s working on this project, and how can I best provide support?
  • How does each individual learn and work best? Do they need specific resources ahead of or during meetings to deliver or participate in collaboration?
  • When do I chime in for support, and when do I ask something of them?

A supportive environment should be a consistent focus if you intend to develop organizational culture and prioritize innovation.

Looking for guidance with first steps? Our Leadership Development Programs exist to make you a better leader and facilitator. We work with you to better understand yourself and the current culture of your team, then design and implement practices to develop the team dynamic. 
Reach out to us at with questions about the right place to start. Consider also exploring our downloads to support facilitation.

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