In 2010, I wrote a bestselling book called “It’s Not Just
Who You Know,” about the power and importance of building
lasting, genuine relationships both personally and profes-
sionally. I’ve been amazed and humbled by the reaction to
that book, and I’ve learned a great deal from the hundreds
of stories readers have shared with me. The last chapter
of that book ends with these words: “It’s not just who you
know—it’s who you are.”
I’ve come to realize there are countless dimensions to
those words. The impact of “who you are” goes far beyond
relationships or the ways in which you connect with people.
Who you are goes to the very core of how you live and lead.
If you want to grow as a leader—if you want to make an
impact at home, in your community and in your work—then
nothing is more important than the journey from your head
to your heart. This 18-inch journey will define and refine
who you are. And if who you are is servant leader, or
what I call a heart-led leader, then you, your teams, and
your organization can move beyond ordinary success
to success that really matters.
There are ways to make money, build businesses,
and achieve goals that don’t involve leading from the
heart. But if that’s who you are, then you’re missing
the real meaning of life and limiting your impact on
Heart-led leadership is more sustainable, more
rewarding. It leads to everything any business leader
would want—higher sales, better employee engagement
and less turnover, stronger teams, greater efficiencies,
Leading from the heart transcends numbers and spreadsheets. It also inspires, encourages, develops, and influences
the world for the better. And that leads to even greater results,
because it creates passionate teams—teams that believe in
the mission, that provide discretionary effort (effort beyond
what’s required of them), and that model heart-led leadership
and pass it on to others. Heart-led banks—as well as other
organizations—build cultures of committed employees, earn
loyal customers and clients while increasing long-term profits.
So what is heart-led leadership and what is this 18 inch
The heart, of course, is nothing more than a wonderful metaphor. For centuries, the muscle that pumps blood
throughout our bodies has also been known as the keeper
of our emotions. When our hearts are in a good place, we
care deeply about serving others, about selflessness, about
We live in a society that emphasizes what we accomplish
and undervalues the kind of person we are.
doing the right thing
even when it’s difficult, about developing empathy and demonstrating generosity, about all
those ideals that seem “soft” but that allow us to live and
lead differently. The impact we hope to have on our families
and friends, our teams and our communities matter more
than any title, corner office, service award or company pin.
That’s heart-led leadership.
Help others rise
In today’s business world, we look up to leaders who are
intelligent and articulate and resourceful—who are head
smart—and yet we tend to underestimate those who are
heart smart. We live in a society that emphasizes what we
accomplish, and undervalues the kind of person we are.
You can see it everywhere. In our individual lives, we
stress the importance of our resumes, awards, titles and
accomplishments. In our schools, almost all of the focus is
on grades, test scores and trophies. In business, shareholder
value is measured largely on bottom-line results and quarterly
profits. In politics, nearly every decision is made based on
how it will influence the next election. Nonprofit directors
often are evaluated by the amount of funds they raise. Even
in religion, leaders frequently are judged and celebrated by
the number of followers they attract.
One of the few places where we actually emphasize the
“who” over the “what” is in our homes with our families.
Only among loved ones, it seems, do we feel safe enough to
truly live and lead with our emotions, with empathy, compassion and love.
What if we flipped the script? What if we led with our
heart (and our head) at work?
Leaders who are heart-led help others rise with them
rather than trampling others on the way to the top. They
see the highest potential in others and help them pursue
that potential. They serve others. They see and value the
uniqueness in others. They make smart decisions in caring,
compassionate and empathetic ways.
This journey isn’t about developing specific traits in your
life—things like authenticity, empathy, transparency, vulnerability, curiosity, generosity, humility, gratitude or love. Instead,
it’s about the experiences that create those traits.