Mark C. Crowley is man on a mission. His ambition is to fundamentally change how people are managed and led in the workplace. Sound a bit daunting? Um, yes, we’d say so. But he’s up for the challenge and ready to share his belief – which just happens to be backed by scientific data – that once leaders and managers start “leading from the heart,” employees will thrive, productivity will increase, and most importantly, profits will rise.
What you should know is that leadership, which goes hand in hand with corporate culture, clearly needs fixing. Job satisfaction scores in America have been on a steep and steady decline for over a generation, and employee engagement has never fallen so low in the modern era.
But say the word “heart” in the context of the business world, and most people will raise at least one eyebrow. Encouraging emotion in the workplace or leading with any degree of heart has long been perceived as a weak and soft approach that’s guaranteed to undermine performance.
However, Mark’s extensive research proves that is wrong. Recent medical discoveries show that feelings and emotions drive human engagement; therefore a corporate culture celebrating leadership practices that make people feel valued, respected, developed, and cared for inspires uncommon loyalty, initiative, and achievement. Ironically, pay now ranks fifth in importance to people across the globe as a motivator of engagement.
We all know how the business world operates. Company culture linked closely to leadership styles and behaviors are defined from the top down. So in order for Mark’s theory to become a reality, we need the C-suite to embody a culture that celebrates managers who care, inspire, and mentor employees. With today’s lack-luster levels of employee engagement, now seems to be the perfect time for leaders to make caring about employees an everyday practice and not the occasional occurrence. And if Mark is right, this type of culture will deliver benefits worthy of making any CEO happy – better performing and more committed employees … and better bottom lines to boot.
Mark had a highly successful career for more than 25 years as a senior leader in the banking and financial services industry. But things weren’t always so rosy. Mark was burdened with a less then desirable upbringing (and that’s putting it mildly), which included the death of his mother and subsequent rearing by an emotionally abusive father who appeared to intentionally want to do more harm than good. Yet, instead of becoming someone full of angst and bitterness born from the lack of love and support received while growing up, Mark persevered. After being emancipated days after his high school graduation, he never looked back (or went back for that matter). Instead, he attended college. He got a job. He got promoted. He excelled.
And anyone working beneath Mark excelled too. His teams performed with a level of dedication and passion that peers and others in authority positions noticed. A few honest colleagues even approached Mark to tell him that his management style was noticeably “different” compared to others in the corporate world. Mark was caught off guard. This management style was all he knew; he knew it worked, so he never questioned it. Until then, he assumed everyone else was leading this way too.
After pondering this feedback for quite some time, Mark ultimately realized that, all along, he subconsciously had been giving people what he’d always wanted growing up: support, encouragement, validation, and motivation. But, don’t label him as a softie. Mark is demanding and driven. He has always held himself and his employees to the highest expectations, and his teams routinely scaled mountains for him.
So, was the emotional support he was giving really working? Yes – and he now has science to prove it.
For the past two years, Mark has been researching and writing a book, Lead from the Heart, in which he talks about how we biologically respond to how we’re treated.
As far as the business world goes, Mark tells us that employees need to feel appreciated, be nurtured, and receive the support necessary to reach their full potential. Forget scare tactics and stone-faced impersonal interactions; the manager who establishes an emotional connection with his team is the one who will see the best engagement and performance from his employees. Why? Engagement and performance soar when people feel they matter.
We had the opportunity to ask Mark a few questions to dig deeper into the reasons why “leading from the heart” isn’t already a standard practice. Here’s what he shared.
Why do you think that so many leaders are afraid to let their heart get involved with their leadership?
MCC: I think we’ve taught business leaders to focus much more on the numbers than on people; we’ve also influenced them to believe that making closer connections with employees is the road to ruin.
Many men in leadership roles believe they must keep their feelings in check at all times so as to never reveal any kind of weakness. Ironically, study after study proves what workers want more than anything else is for their bosses to be more human and authentic. I’m certain that many managers fear being exploited or taken advantage of. My experience, however, is that people work much harder for bosses they relate to more personally and therefore trust.
I also think that there’s a scarcity mentality that’s pervasive in business. It tells leaders to hold back recognition and to effectively compete with employees. So, once we reward managers for advocacy – for growing and developing their people – we’ll see a lot more heart on display.
What advice do you have for leaders who want to lead with their hearts but don’t know where to start?
MCC: A recent survey showed nearly one-third of all US workers believe they work for a bad boss. So, an important part of my message is that you should give to others the kind of leadership you want – the kind that draws out one’s personal greatness, whether you’re being led this way yourself or not.
While my book defines four specific practices of leading from the heart, my advice for getting started is to ensure you’re consistently giving your people appreciation and recognition. When people are made to know their work is significant – that their hard work is noticed and valued – indescribable fireworks go off in the hearts of people and inspires them to want to do more. Conversely, few things are more destructive to human beings than working hard to meet deadlines or finish big projects and the boss failing to acknowledge it. The way to sustain high achievement is to consistently show people your gratitude.
If you could give business leaders one tip on how to make a positive impact on their company culture, what would it be?
MCC: I’d start by redefining the requisite qualities, values, and characteristics for all people selected for management roles.
To effectively lead from the heart, you must first care about other people, their growth, success and well-being. Over the years, I’ve seen way too many leaders – at all levels of companies – who were far more interested in themselves and, therefore, had little inclination to support the deep human needs in the employees they managed.
Consequently, we need a balance between mind and heart in leadership going forward. We should look for really smart and ambitious candidates to fill every management opening. But here’s what I absolutely know for certain: the best leaders going forward will be the ones who also love their people.
Leadership consultant and speaker, Mark C. Crowley, is the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century. He’s a frequent contributor to Fast Company, and formerly was Senior Vice President and National Sales Manager at one of America’s largest financial services institutions. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and at his website, markccrowley.com.