Our culture tends to define leadership narrowly. The word itself conjures a certain series of traits: bold, decisive, action-oriented, charismatic. It brings to mind a specific type of person.
A person that doesn’t look like most of us.
Many of us try to fit the mold. We take leadership training, we read self-help books and business articles, we practice our power poses. We downplay our weaknesses and try to cultivate the “right” leadership strengths.
But when we do this, we miss a simple, powerful truth:
We are already leaders.
We are quiet leaders. We are leaders who listen first. We lead from the back of the room, we lead by asking the right questions, we lead by holding space for others.
We lead with our hearts.
We may not fit the mold of the type of leader society says we should be, but that is a strength in and of itself. Because life is messy, and the challenges and opportunities that require good leadership don’t fit the mold, either.
Every single human brings a different genetic makeup and different background experience to the table, and every single time there is a place to lead, a different leader might be needed.
We need a broader definition of what leadership is, yes. But more than that, we need more people empowered to embrace their own heart-based leadership strengths, rather than trying to change them.
When we embrace our strengths, we become the type of leader our teams, colleagues, families, and communities need us to be.
Your leadership style is one kind in billions.
It’s time to own it.
Embracing Heart-Based Leadership
It took me a long time to realize I was a leader.
I’m often in the background at Productive Flourishing, the company I run with my husband, Charlie. He comes from a military background, which impacts how he coaches clients and leads teams, and it’s always been easy to compare myself to his style of leadership and notice all the skill sets I’m missing.
It’s been much, much harder to stop focusing on the ways I don’t look like an ideal leader, and start to embrace my own strengths.
I’m a highly sensitive person. I’m an enneagram two — a helper — and super empathic. But I’m also logical, with an academic background and a PhD in Sociology. I’m the CFO of our company, but I thrive in the community aspects, as well. I can be introverted and shy, but in certain situations a part of me blossoms.
All my life I’ve held the softer and harder side of my personality in tension. Like how only one side of a coin can face up, I thought I could either lead logically from the mind, or emotionally from the heart.
For years, I thought to be a leader I needed to elevate the harder traits I saw celebrated in our culture, and downplay the softer traits. I didn’t see the ways in which those softer, heart-based traits made me a leader.
It took getting a concussion earlier this year to break down many of the walls I’d built between these two aspects of my personality, and to help me see that my true strengths as a leader lie in the seeming contradiction between them.
I lead by:
- offering tough love
- firmly holding space for others
- trusting my gut and asking the challenging questions
- empowering my team by asking for their help
Have you been asking yourself what kind of leader you should be? I would answer: The kind who recognizes your own strengths, and leads in your own, powerful way.
Threading the Contradictions
Contradictions aren’t a challenge to overcome for heart-based leaders. In fact, our strength comes from threading those contradictions, and the way we thread those contradictions means each of us will show up as a leader in different ways.
That’s incredibly powerful.
The way you thread each of these contradictions will be highly personal. It may need to shift from situation to situation, from day to day, from team member to team member.
To start, listen with your heart more than your head. Heart-based leaders understand the need to trust their intuition as well as their rational mind. What quiet truths is your gut trying to tell you?
Be firm in your knowing, while open to a new perspective. Trust yourself enough to welcome outside opinions, ideas, and criticism. Invite your team to be open with you and to share their unique sparkle — their different ideas, strengths, talents, and geniuses.
A heart-based leader intuits what level of support their team needs from them. Sometimes your team may need you at their sides, other times they may need you out front, modeling what needs to be done before they are ready to follow. Know when to lead from alongside, and when to take the first step alone.
Leading boldly may mean leading quietly. It may mean asking the hard questions. Facilitating the deeper conversations. Holding space for others to speak.
Stop worrying about how you “measure up” to other leaders, and let action be your magic.
Gain strength by asking for help. Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you need to do everything on your own. Asking for help when you need it doesn’t make you weak. Instead, it gives your team more places that they can step up and shine.
When you lead with the intention to support your community, it allows you to lead with the support of your community. Heart-based leaders find their strength in relationships, connections, and communal sense of purpose.
Know when to pass the wand. Heart-based leadership is a relay, not a solo race. It’s not about being the star player, it’s about tapping into the individual and collective magic of everyone in the team.
And, finally, always be learning, but know you are already enough.
You are a Leader
You are brimming with your own unique mix of contradictions and superpowers, and I have a challenge for you:
Set aside comparisons to other leaders.
Set aside your preconceived notions of what leadership is.
Then commit to fully exploring what makes you a powerful leader in your own, highly personal way.
Join me, and hundreds of others, on this journey to embracing your own heart-based leadership style in the Productive Flourishing Academy.
Wow, this blog post really spoke to me! As an introvert, I had always thought that I couldn’t be a leader because I wasn’t loud, gregarious, or outgoing. But then a few years ago I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts and began to unpack all the baggage around how our culture narrowly defines leadership. This post was a timely reminder as I start on new projects that require me to get out of my comfort zone on lots of different levels. Thanks for sharing.
Angela Wheeler says
Thank you, Erika. I am heartened to hear that this post was a timely reminder for you.
Cristina Kramp says
Angela, you model it well and that gives me permission to lead in my own way. Thank you for such powerful reflections.
Angela Wheeler says
Thank you, Cristina, for the support and love.
Thank you for the encouragement, Angela! I think I’ve definitely downplayed my own leadership skills in a business sense. Raising healthy, happy and functional humans definitely required leadership skills, but for most of life and work, I’ve always preferred to focus on and think of myself in terms of creativity and fun. On the other hand, I also like to get things done! I’m realizing that I’m actually really good at making creative projects and adventures actually happen~ including endeavors involving others~ which is a leadership skill. I also am realizing I don’t have to be either just creative or a good leader. Both can exist simultaneously. 🙂 Thanks again for the reminder!
Angela Wheeler says
Hi, Pamela. Thank you for sharing with us. I’m so pleased to hear that you are honoring what makes you a unique leader. Good for you!!!