Balancing Act: Head and Heart


Last week I attended a farewell event for a leader in the public sector who was moving on to another job. He’s somebody that I’ve come to know well over the course of several years; I’ve also had the pleasure of working within his organization with many of the outstanding leaders he’s hired and developed. At the event they spoke of the joy in helping him celebrate his next career step mingled with the sadness of his leaving.

This leader’s ability to assure that his organization and municipality were well run and financially sound was beyond compare. But the stories told about him by those in his organization weren’t about that. They were about how he’d touched them emotionally by checking in with them when they were working on a tough assignment, expressing gratitude for the work they’d done or simply letting them know that he was there to help when they needed it. He balanced his leadership with head and heart.

Have you noticed that leaders seem to be more talented in either using their head (logic, facts) or their heart (emotions, intuition) in their daily work life? Head-based leaders are skilled and knowledgeable in their fields, but at some point they recognize that something is missing. If they look hard enough, they’ll discover that they must also learn to lead from the heart. Likewise, heart-based leaders can allow their emotions to block them from moving forward with toughness when necessary. These leaders must also learn to lead from the head.

Overuse of either logic or emotions can get in the way of your ability to take balanced action. Logic prevents you from seeing that there might be other ways to move forward and emotions can overwhelm, preventing the ability to reason. Yet the best leaders I know have made a habit of consciously assuring that they check in with both their head and their heart before moving ahead.

In my experience, the heart is more likely to get the short straw in leadership. Maintaining a sense of equilibrium between your head and your heart isn’t easy, but with attention to both, you can be successful. When you lead at your best, you balance:

Knowledge with Compassion: It’s important for you to have facts and data before moving ahead. You also must make sure that you are paying attention to the people around you to assure that their needs are being met. Who can use your kindness?

Logic with Intuition: The ability to make judgment calls using logic is indeed a wonderful skill. Not everyone can easily sift through specifics to come up with the answers. However, you must also do a heart check – does the action you are about to take feel like it’s the right one? What does it mean for those around you?

Control with Collaboration: Some actions you take require you to tightly control them. The power you have to be in command can sometimes be intoxicating; be aware that an excess of control has the potential to be your downfall. Who do you need to partner with? Who else needs to assist in the decisions and actions you need to take?

Producing Results with Appreciation: If you didn’t produce results, you’d be asked to pack your bags. You also need to remember that you don’t achieve results in a vacuum. Take a moment to think of all those around you who’ll need to assist in the work to be done. Who needs to know about how grateful you are?

When was the last time you checked in with both your head and your heart?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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