3 Heart-Centered Principles of Leadership

Great leadership comes from the heart.

That will be the central focus of the session my son, Scott, and I will be conducting at the ATD23 International Conference in San Diego this month.

We believe positive outcomes don’t happen by accident; they happen because of good leadership. When things go well, you can bet a good leader inspired that outcome. The reverse is also true. When things go badly, look to the leader and you’ll find out why. That’s why we say, “It’s always the leader.” When you’re a leader, you’re responsible for outcomes—both good and bad.

Here’s a sneak preview of the first three of six enduring principles of heart-centered leadership that Scott and I will be sharing.

Principle #1: Leadership is a partnership.

Many people, when they get into positions where they’re leading others, adopt an autocratic, command-and-control mindset. This top-down leadership style may have been modeled to them by parents or teachers. These leaders feel it is their responsibility to tell direct reports what to do, how to do it, and why it needs to be done.

Research has shown that when direct reports are empowered to make decisions and take initiative, the organization benefits overall. Remember: No one of us is as smart as all of us. When leaders partner with their direct reports on goals, the team achieves better results than when leaders shoulder all the responsibility for success.

The best leaders gain people’s trust and work side by side with them to achieve success. They understand leadership is not something you do to people, it’s something you do with people.

Principle #2: A good leader catches people doing things right.

I’ve said for years that if someone took away everything I’ve taught except one thing, it would be the concept of catching people doing things right.

When I began studying leadership in the 1960s, bosses were widely regarded as people whose job it was to catch their workers doing things wrong. Managers would evaluate someone’s performance, focus on the negatives, reprimand them, demand they improve, and disappear until it happened again. To me it sounded like the opposite of a motivational environment.

As a kid growing up, even when I made mistakes, my parents would tell me not to get down on myself. If my basketball team lost a game, they told me I was doing the best I could, and they would give me a chance to talk. My parents always led with love and encouragement.

That’s where I got the idea of praising people not only for doing things right, but also for doing things approximately right. People don’t have to be perfect to deserve praise. So remember to praise people’s progress as they work toward their goals. If somebody stumbles along the way, listen to their concerns and ask how you can help them get back on the right track.

Principle #3: Leadership is love.

People are sacred and leading them is a sacred responsibility. The best leaders know this. They get their egos out of the way and become servant leaders who treat people with love and respect to bring out their best.

Non-loving leaders—what Scott likes to call “cranky CFOs”—believe people are needed but not sacred. To them, people are more like pawns on a chessboard to be manipulated for the purpose of winning above all else. This approach may work for a while, but in the long run it’s a losing strategy because great results are only sustainable when people feel respected and valued.

Pam Kemp, one of our company directors, is an example of why loving leadership wins in the end. When Pam was working at another company, a recruiter called her about a position at Blanchard. Out of curiosity, she met with one of our vice presidents. During their conversation she said, “Tell me about your team.” Our VP enthusiastically replied, “I love my team!” For the next several minutes Pam listened as he gushed about the people he worked with. It was obvious to her that his feelings were genuine. Later that night she said to her husband, “I want to be loved by my manager!” Because of our loving culture, that company’s loss of a valuable professional was our company’s gain.

You might think the notion of leading with love is too idealistic. What happens when people don’t behave well or financial results aren’t what you need them to be? How can you approach the tough reality of leading people with something as soft and fuzzy as love?

The answer is: by treating people with care, candor, and respect—no matter what. This is the essence of leading with love. Over time it creates a multiplier effect, where those reporting to the leader emulate the leader’s loving behavior and start extending care and respect to others. This results in a culture where people feel safe, seen, and acknowledged. People throughout the organization become passionate about the company.

On the receiving end of that passion are clients and customers, who become raving fans of the organization—often so much so that they publicly express their love to their friends, family, and followers on social media. In turn, the organization thrives.

My wife, Margie, sums it up beautifully: “Leadership is not about love—it is love. It’s loving your mission, it’s loving your people, it’s loving your customers, and it’s loving yourself enough to get out of the way so that other people can be magnificent.”

If you’d like to hear more on this topic, join Scott and me for our 6 Enduring Principles of Leadership webinar on Thursday, May 25th. The event is free, courtesy of Blanchard. And if you’re attending the ATD23 International Conference in San Diego, be sure to drop by the Blanchard booth and say hello!

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Blanchard®, an international management training and consulting firm. Ken is the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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