Being a Leader is Hard. If there is one thing I have learned in the last 16 years of being in a formal leadership role, it’s that it’s really hard to be an engaging and inspiring leader. There have been many times that I have thought I’m just not cut out for leadership. I would get feedback that I’d been too hard on someone and that I’d impacted them with something I said in a meeting. Then I’d hear that I wasn’t holding people accountable or giving too much away to clients – that I was too nice. How can this be? It seemed that my reputation was both that I was too nice and not nice enough at the same time. Time to give up and go back to the simple life of an individual contributor, right?
Finding a balance of Heart and Edge
When my business partner and founder of IHHP – Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry – said in a keynote a few years ago that a leader must balance “heart and edge”, it hit me that was what I was struggling with. Clearly, I had the ability to demonstrate both, but I wasn’t being strategic and purposeful about when I was using either of those approaches. I was doing it by default without thinking – I’d show too much heart by worrying too much about how someone was feeling in a situation where they really needed me to set high expectations for them. Conversely, I’d be too headstrong and sure I was right when the person really needed me to listen to them and value their input.
The key to being an effective leader that can balance heart and edge, is to be aware of the situation, the people involved, your emotional state, and be thoughtful about what is needed in that situation. Lets start by defining what heart and edge are:
What is heart?
In our Leadership Reputation program, we identify three competencies that make up heart:
- Listen without Bias
- Creates connection
What is Edge?
We have identified that people who have Edge demonstrate the following competencies:
- Sets challenging expectations
- Holds Self and Others to Account
- Stands with Conviction
Applying heart and edge competencies
I often mentor new sales people at IHHP. The sales people we hire are experienced, self-motivated and highly competent, but it can still take 12-18 months for them to build their businesses. Invariably at around 9 months, the sales person gets frustrated because they aren’t seeing results yet and they start to question whether all the hard work they have been putting in is worth it. At this point, it’s natural that their sales activities start to decline.
My old approach as a sales manager would be to hold them accountable to the activities and use “Edge” to push them through. The problem is that senior sales people like ours know what they need to do – they don’t need me telling them that. What they need from me is “Heart”, specifically for me to connect with them and acknowledge that what they are going through is hard, and normal. Then let them know I believe in them, that they are doing all the right things and they need to be persistent and patient and the results will come.
Now, if at the 12-15 month mark we can’t see the results coming on the horizon, then I would have to move to employing Edge – setting high expectations and holding them accountable to their activities. Fortunately we’ve not had anyone reach that point.
Of the six competencies that make up Heart and Edge, I think the most important is Humility. The reason is that no matter how hard you plan and try, you are going to make mistakes; you are going to have too much edge when you should have employed heart and vice versa. When you have humility, it means people don’t see you as having to be perfect and they know you will accept feedback and work on changing yourself.
When someone has humility, they are given grace to make mistakes without it having a big impact on their relationships.
Putting it all together
Next time you are in a difficult situation, think to yourself: is this a time when I should listen, connect and demonstrate heart, or is it a time to set high expectations, hold people accountable and demonstrate edge. You won’t get it right every time, but you will get it right a lot more often if you are being thoughtful about how you approach the challenging leadership moments you face.
I’ve been able to be more thoughtful about when I am showing up with heart or edge, and while I still mess it up occasionally, I haven’t had people telling me I’m either too nice or not nice enough. Thank goodness because I was starting to wonder if I could really lead people. Turns out I’m not so bad at it after all!