If you were to ask a leader if she was a heart leader, she might look at you skeptically. She might want to know what a heart leader is. Or she might want no part of being a heart leader, because of the assumption that this type of leader is frail, weak, and lacks the ability to discipline.

The heart is assumed to be disconnected from the head. It is presumed to be illogical or irrational. After all, the heart has no facts to back it up; it is based on emotions, invisible guidance and intuition. It is associated with something more mystical than scientific.

The head, on the other hand, is supposed to be this powerful system of connecting thoughts where decisions are based on sensible and wise facts.

With the idea that the head is stronger and more rational than the heart, then most of us would not want to be a heart leader, but the truth is that the heart leader is connected to a different kind of strength.


A heart leader is:

  • Conscious and aware of her surroundings.
  • Connected to others through empathy but does not allow sympathy to be part of the process.
  • Vulnerable in terms of showing her humanness, but shows strength in being able to overcome her mistakes, not allowing them to destroy her.
  • Open to criticism and does not take it personally.
  • Impeccable with her honesty, yet discreet in how she approaches sharing it with others.
  • Willing to forgive and forget but knows where to draw the line, and when a team member needs to be shown the door rather than another chance.
  • Eager to hear others and gives them a voice.
  • Prepared to provide instruction with the freedom to fail and try again.


When you care, you are leading from your heart. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Many people fail to connect with their heart when leading, but the heart is the center of the ability to hear, to understand, to provide, to forgive, and to love. It is from this place that your staff members will give you their support, energy and creativity.

When I was training for the 1984 Olympics, I had a coach who stood inside the gym with a stopwatch in his hand while we ran outside in the freezing snow for three and a half miles. When we returned, he was drinking a cup of coffee and eating a doughnut waiting for us at the top of the steps. We came huffing up the steps, with frozen fingers and toes, our faces red from the snow and the wind. When he urged us to run faster as he sat eating and drinking, we refrained from shooting him a one-finger salute.

Our coach never understood why we wouldn’t run harder for him and why on the court we often looked uninspired. He could not grasp the concept that he didn’t show us how much he cared. He was using his head to convince himself that if we ran the mileage every day that we would be better athletes regardless of how he acted. He missed the boat, which unfortunately meant we sank with him.

The difference between the heart leader and the head leader is that the heart leader knows that sometimes facts don’t matter. Statistics on a sheet can never convey the effort given by individuals. This is what a heart leader understands. She knows that if she inspires others, she will receive her gift back threefold.