Leading Your Business with Heart: A Deeper Understanding
Updated: Aug 2
As a leader and CEO, I have navigated diverse terrains to get to where I am in my career, starting as early as the very start of my government work that began through a welfare-to-work program. After serving three Texas icons – Ann Richards, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and then George W Bush both as governor and then as president when I joined his White House team – I ventured into the private sector. Eventually I co-founded my own company, AvantGarde, now a thriving 120+ employee consulting firm providing a full range of integrated human capital (HC) and human resources (HR) solutions. These experiences gave me unique insight into leadership positions and today I want to provide an in-depth discussion on the intricate and powerful concept of leading with heart, and how it will drive growth and organizational success.
Cultivating Authentic Leadership
While working under the wings of such powerful women and later under George W Bush – one of the greatest leaders I was honored to have served – I realized the power of authenticity. Authenticity is not just about being genuine; it is about aligning your values, actions, and leadership style. Witnessing the leadership quality of loving your people while leading with transparency and authenticity is what helped to shape my own leadership style. In the more than 12 years I served Governor-then-President Bush, I saw first-hand the power of this principle at work. My two top mentors Donna Reynolds and Clay Johnson also put a tremendous focus on leading their teams with love and authenticity. They both genuinely cared for me the individual and my individual success, not just the performance of their organization or team. Authentic, raw, transparent leadership became a foundation for my learning.
Tip: Engage in continual self-reflection and identify your core values. Integrate these values into your leadership style. Communicate openly and honestly with your team, and most importantly, be consistent in your actions; even when you mess up, OWN it. As a leader who is under tremendous pressure, I may lose my cool or drive performance hard; however, my teams know I care about and love them. When I take a step back and listen, it forces me to shift my approach and demonstrate genuine care for what they may be going through that may be affecting their performance. People want to know you care before they care to perform. The loyalty you will gain will last a lifetime.
Investing in People, Your Greatest Asset! A Strategic Approach
As CEOs, we understand the importance of making investments. If you are a numbers person like I am, you often see investment in terms of dollars or return of those dollars. However, the greatest asset you hold as a CEO or leader is your people. Therefore, the best investment you can make is in your people. I have found that investing in developing the skills and capabilities of your team is directly correlated to organizational success and ultimately growth.
Tip: Establish a regular rhythm for getting involved in your direct reports’ “world”. If needed come to their level to listen, learn, and show empathy. Also ensure as an organization you duplicate yourself and establish a comprehensive learning and development process. At AvantGarde, every single one of our project managers and senior leaders knows the “Rebecca DNA” for loving and investing in time with their people. It is the biggest investment of our time and 110% worth it. Monitor the ROI of your human capital investment through productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention rates. For example, our last culture and climate survey at AvantGarde in January 2023 collected feedback from all employees, who offered 95% positive responses about the company’s culture, leadership, work-life balance, and benefits. The culture survey is just one of many indicators I use in assessing AvantGarde’s human capital investment, as well as an essential component in ensuring employee voices are heard.
Harnessing the Power of Empathy
Empathy is the cornerstone of leading with heart. Through my journey – not only in government but in the last thirteen years of leading and growing AvantGarde – I've learned that understanding and acknowledging the emotions and perspectives of your team members can build a more cohesive and motivated team. Empathy and emotional intelligence are powerful tools in your CEO tool box; leverage them and use them. I have found when people are struggling or having issues with performance this may be a sign of something else going on in their personal life. At AvantGarde we try to ensure all of our managers keep a “pulse” on our people through regular check ins and conversations that happen organically throughout the performance cycle and year vs a “one-off” at performance cycle process. No one wakes up to say, “I think I will have performance issues today” or “this week I will suck at my job.” Everyone wants to be successful so let’s listen, lean in, and pivot to address human wants and needs, or help them make adjustments to improve. This should be the first step, long before we assume they are not performing because they just don’t want to be high performers.
Tip: Implement a bottom-up approach occasionally to understand the challenges your team faces. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to discuss not just work but also personal growth and well-being. Integrate emotional intelligence into your leadership. Don’t wait to have meaningful conversations in the annual performance cycle, but adopt meaningful input and feedback continually throughout the entire year.
In Closing: Create the Symphony of Success
Leading with heart and loving your people is like conducting a symphony; each element is a different instrument that you must master and harmonize. From authenticity and human capital investment to empathy, these elements – when synchronized – create a melody of success that resonates not just within your organization but the world at large.
I encourage fellow CEOs and leaders to embrace the art of leading with heart. I certainly have much yet to learn and grow in this area but strive every day to ensure I keep my pulse and focused on what is most important. It’s a lifelong journey that demands dedication, but the reward is an immeasurable and lasting impact. Let us cultivate a legacy of leadership that transcends profits and becomes a beacon of positive change.