This is the second part of a blog. You can find the first part here.
Leading from the heart
After the meeting with Mr. Jacobs, Phindile reflected on their conversation. She thought about her behavior as a leader. She realized that in her pursuit to be successful, she has lost touch with people. Yes, she did talk to them when she met them in the passages. She also held monthly meetings with them. But she never really connected with them. She realized that she doesn’t know the people she works with. They also do not know her. She knew that if she connected with them, they will learn to trust her again and give her honest feedback.
She remembered a story she read about a young gifted tenor who auditioned for a song, but was rejected. The success of the audition depended on understanding the degree of sadness, vulnerability and loss. The singer was too perfect. He missed the emotional expression of the song. By wanting to sing a perfect song, he failed to connect with the listener.
Phindile knew that if she wants to be successful in leading from the heart, she needed to use the power of HIV (Humility, Interdependence and Vulnerability).
The Power of HIV
Humility and vulnerability are noble qualities. Due to childhood conditioning, some leaders do not want to be associated with them. Growing up, Phindile was taught to be “humble”. She was expected to be unassuming and never to talk about accomplishments. She would be viewed as arrogant. This conditioning has led her to see humility as being unassertive and timid. At work she saw others being hurt by people they have opened up to. She vowed never to be vulnerable. To protect herself at all costs. Phindile saw vulnerability as a sign of weakness. As she thought about her mentor and what he has taught her throughout the years, she saw that he was successful in leading people because he was an embodiment of these qualities.
She remembered that at some point in their interaction, Mr. Jacobs’ daughter was very sick. His family found it difficult to deal with the sickness. It was taking a toll on him. One day during their mentoring sessions, he shared with her the emotional and physical strain that he and his wife were experiencing. He showed humility and vulnerability. She saw that he was a human being. He also encounters challenges in life. From that day, her respect and appreciation for him grew. He showed that he also needed her. He showed genuine appreciation for her words of comfort. He taught her that they need each other
She now understood why most employees could relate to him. He never wore a mask. He was honest with his challenges. He also actively listened to people. He was fully present. . Hence employees would never want to disappoint him.
Phindile learned that being HIV is far from being unassertive, timid or weak. Her mentor was one of the most confident and shrewd business people she knew. Yet he displayed all these virtues. Being HIV is about self-acceptance, having a positive self-regard, and being enlightened. Leaders that are HIV understand their identity. They do not desert their post and give up their leadership badge.
Through her conversation with her mentor and the subsequent reflections, Phindile resolved to:
- Have a mentor and or coach: Leadership positions can be lonely. The pressures and expectations can be overwhelming. Without the right support structure and team, leaders often make hasty and uninformed decisions. A Coach and mentor will help Phindile to reflect on her experiences, thought processes and behavior. She will get expert guidance and advice. She will also learn new skills and knowledge to help her become a great leader. Mentors and Coaches are objective and will give her honest feedback.
- Connect with people: Employees listen to the words, how they are said and body language. They want a leader who shows belief and passion in what they are saying. Not a mechanistic leader who just tick boxes. Leaders also connect with people by showing them respect. Respectful leaders treat employees as human beings. They do not consider rank or level. Such leaders interact and listen to all employees with genuine interest. They acknowledge their contribution. Hence employees feel cared for.
- Being HIV: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus was viewed by many as a death sentence. People were afraid to disclose their status for fear of being stigmatized. Many have found their life’s purpose and meaning by accepting their status. They have become activists. They teach others how to live meaningful and productive lives. They wouldn’t have been able to do so if they were HIV negative. Phindile needs to learn to remove her mask and open up to employees. They will see who she really is. They will be able identify with her and learn to trust her.
- Set aside time for reflection: Leaders need to create time for reflection. It enables leaders to get off the dance floor for a while. To sit on the balcony and observe themselves interacting with others, making decisions as well as mistakes. It gives them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. They are able to come back on the dance floor refreshed. They are calmer, think clearly and able to make improved decisions.
- Ownership: Employee engagement is a leaders’ responsibility and not only the Human Resources departments. Most organizations conduct annual surveys but the engagement does not improve. This is due to some leaders’ failure to implement the recommended interventions.
- Balance operational requirements and people issues: Organizations need good systems and processes as well as the right people to do the job. In some cases, leaders bow to the pressure of making profits. They do this at the expense of their employees. Great leaders are those who understand the importance of engagement, and are able to balance soft and hard skills.
“The real measure of any leader is the ability to leverage relationships to influence others to embrace accountability”