We often talk about leaders supporting their teams. The focus is on developing ourselves as leaders and how we can effectively serve others. There are thousands of articles on how leaders might be better at leading, communicating and driving performance. In fact, I’ve written a few.
Yet, we cannot be good leaders if we are serving from an empty cup. If, as leaders, we haven’t taken time to reflect and look after ourselves, then our levels of energy deplete, leaving us in no place to serve. The past year has increased the demand for leaders to support their team’s mental health. Yet, support for leaders is one of the first costs to be slashed under challenging times. With this in mind, my business partner, David, and I have developed the Heart-Centred Leaders programme to provide this much-needed support to leaders.
In this blog, I’ll share some of our research on ‘What Leaders Need’ that we did as part of launching our Heart-Centred Leaders Community last year. I’ll also touch on how our new programme aligns perfectly with my work at Fearless Edge.
Heart-Centred Leadership – Our Focus
In June 2020, David and I launched the Heart-Centred Leaders Community. A place for leaders to connect with other like-minded individuals, share experiences and receive group coaching. Since then, we have gathered through our research and our work with leaders that leaders need vital support areas. The outcome of our study is the Heart-Centred Leaders Programme – an alternative leadership development programme focused on critical elements such as:
- How to support yourself as a leader
- Developing relationships with your team, your clients and other stakeholders
- Building the skills to manage self-leadership and team leadership
We recognise that good leadership starts with the leader. So, we naturally put leaders at the core of our research.
Over a hundred business leaders took part in our research. Some of the leaders were business owners that didn’t have direct responsibility for a team, but they manage stakeholder relationships. Leadership isn’t only about leading a team. It’s also about serving others in your network and your community.
Heart-Centred Leadership – The Results
In our search for what leaders need, three themes emerged. They are connection, community, and self-care.
Leadership can be a lonely place. Notably, for business owners who don’t have a leadership team to bounce off ideas and share challenges, lone leaders have a real need to connect with other leaders. A deep need for connection plagued leaders in small businesses, where leaders in larger organisations, with leadership teams, were less likely to cite “feeling connected” as a need.
The leaders we spoke to also craved community. Building on the connection theme, leaders seek out people with similar experiences, responsibilities and challenges. In the last year, the need for community is more significant than ever. Still, leaders struggled to find community in their quest to combat the upheaval that is COVID-19. We often have sales networks or industry networks, but there are very few leadership communities.
Most leaders will tell you that they struggle to take time out for themselves. But time is crucial to switch off or to spend on personal development. Time is a leader’s scarcest resource. The commitment and time required for lengthy leadership development programmes is something that most leaders don’t have. We found a strong need for self-care – for the wellbeing of leaders and their ongoing development.
So, our Heart-Centred Leaders programme and the Heart-Centred Leaders community provide a space for focusing on these themes in bite-size chunks. We desire that leaders get the support they need in the time and space that is right for them.
Heart-Centred Leadership – Energy on Demand
Failure to address the need for connection, community, and self-care lead to burn out or, worse, a total lack of motivation in your professional and personal pursuits. These three elements can pile on top of each other to compound the problem. As a leader, knowing what energises you and what drains you is key to making a comeback or alleviating the “leadership challenge”. You’ll get a sense of your “energisers” by the things you enjoy, what you dread and what leaves you feeling inspired. There are things you look forward to and others that you put off.
As a leader, become aware of how your energy ebbs and flows. Energy awareness allows you to schedule a time to do the things that bring you energy. Those things might be work-related activities such as talking with your clients. It could be making those connections that help you feel supported. If you enjoy creating a strategy or doing analysis, make time to do that! A good understanding of what brings you joy and making time for it will help you fill your “bucket” back up.
You can use tools like Emergenetics to identify where your energy lies. Also, consider your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy. Research by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their Harvard Business School article, ‘The Making of a Corporate Athlete’, revealed that the capacity to mobilise energy on demand is the foundation of what they called ideal performance state (IPS). The authors define IPS as the capacity of athletes and executives to bring their talents and skills to full ignition and sustain high performance over time. You can do a free energy assessment based on Jim Loehr’s work at the Human Performance Institute here.
Heart-Centred Leadership – Lessons Learned
The past year has taught us that the outcome is more important than presence. People don’t need to be in the office 9-5, Monday to Friday, to do a good job. The focus should be on the whole person – mind, body and soul. Lines between work and home are blurred. There are mounting pressures on leaders and employee alike. Leaders can only support their teams effectively if they are supported themselves. Support includes helping leaders find a balance to be energised and be an energiser for their teams.
Leading a remote team brings more challenges. If you’ve been used to working in the office every day with people, remote leadership has been recent over the last year. It’s crucial to manage your expectations of yourself and your expectation of your team. Have open conversations with your team. Be clear on roles and responsibilities. Then, work towards a shared understanding of what you’re all trying to achieve as a business. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by expressing how you are coping with the current restrictions. You’ll feel less pressure, and your team will see that you’re struggling (if you are!) as they are. That’s heart-centred leadership!
What Leaders Need – Top Tips
So, what do we know? We know what leaders need, i.e., connection, community and self-care. Here are a few tips for leaders:
1. Schedule time for self-care. For instance, I have a recurring meeting in my calendar that says have lunch and walk the dog. So, I know that I’m going to eat and get outside for some exercise every day because I’ve scheduled it. It helps me to stop and have that time for myself.
2. Be aware of your energy levels. Remember what I said about filling your bucket? Notice what energises and do more of those things. It does wonders for your mind and allows you to be the best you.
3. Role model the types of behaviours that you’d like to see in your team. Whether that is switching off at 5 pm or encouraging open conversations, be the first to show the right behaviours, and your team will follow suit.
4. Don’t come into conversations focused only on results. Ask how people are feeling, find ways to check in on your team beyond the work tasks.
5. Find your community. If you don’t have people around you to share experiences with, try our Heart-Centred Leaders community. Any leader can join! Check out our Heart-Centred Leaders members group too.
If you’d like to find out more about how I can help you develop further as a leader, get in touch on 07980 838945 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.