As leaders, we underestimate the impact that we have on others. Our team members observe everything we do and say. Based on their observations, associates make decisions, judge, and -- sometimes hastily -- draw conclusions about their leaders. As leaders, this can be a very challenging position to be in, for we are human. And humans are fallible. We make mistakes.
We often equate the role of a leader in an organization or business to that of a fish in a fishbowl. The leader swims around minding their own business and doing what they need to do. Meanwhile, the rest of the world views them through the perfectly translucent fishbowl. As a leader in the proverbial fishbowl, your actions are magnified or possibly blown out of proportion. Your associates rarely see things from your perspective, and, in this era of rapid change, we are experiencing a shift to increased transparency as employees and customers alike demand truth and honesty from their leaders and the people they do business with.
In our new book Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well, we discuss one of the key principles, Know Your Impact, which is the ability to see things from the viewpoint of your employees. Every day, leaders subject to the "fishbowl effect" must confront a multitude of thorny issues. The true heart-centered leader doesn't stay in the bowl. Instead, he or she gets out often, mingles with employees, studies the day-to-day operations and ultimately acts upon the situations affecting their employees and their customers. In other words, they lead with more authenticity, integrity and "heart."
In our business culture, and society in general, the image or metaphor of the heart is often associated with yielding, kindness -- or, perhaps, weakness. Yet, I'd like to remind you that the heart is also strong and powerful, as well as the driving force of life. Remember, the heart -- and this time I'm referring to the physical heart -- does not work alone. Rather, it supports, and is supported by an entire circulatory system as well as sharing life-critical connections with every other system in the body (nervous, lymphatic, respiratory, muscular). Taking this metaphor further, leaders and managers who truly know their impact and lead from the heart take into deep consideration the connections between their behaviors and the point of view of their associates.
I believe that an unbalanced connection with the heart underlies at least some of the current crisis in business ethics. Leaders who show genuine care for their employees and their clients embrace the notion that their ability to act with truthfulness and integrity is more important than achieving success; yet leaders who have the vision and inspiration to practice this type of heart-centered leadership almost always achieve success far beyond even their own lofty expectations.
Ultimately, knowing your impact has to do with your willingness to put your power needs aside for the sake of having genuine influence on others. At the end of the day, it's not about coercion. Your associates will choose freely to either get on board with you or not. When you are caught up in having things your way -- when you feel that you can't let go -- it is probably a signal that you do not understand the impact that your actions have on those around you. Leaders must make a fundamental decision to get out of the fishbowl, act in accord with deeply held values, practice what they preach and have the foresight to think through the consequences of their actions.
Effective business leaders who have developed valuable heart-centered attributes, such as an awareness of the impact their actions have on their team, understand that people have the need to be valued, respected, listened to and involved. Acknowledging and honoring the "human element" will arm heart-centered leaders of the future with the wisdom and capacity to positively transform any organization and run extremely successful and profitable businesses.