The Heart Matters

In the end, whether a leader couches self-examination in terms of motivation, commitment or heart – is far less important than developing the habit of interrogating the basis of decisions and behaviours continuously. For me it is a heart issue.

In my last post, “The Problem with the Concept of Motivation”, my theme was when leaders apply motivational theory to their leadership practices they may also adopt manipulative strategies associated with motivational theory. These become what lie at the heart of leadership decisions and – heart matters. These strategies are aimed squarely at advancing the goals of the organisation. What lies at the heart of leadership decisions and behaviours is often, thus, not the best interests of team members but the productivity and performance of the organisation.

Heart Matters © | Dreamstime.com

Heart Matters
© | Dreamstime.com

I do not really have a problem with the word motivation when it is used in the context of identifying what purpose lies behind a leader’s decisions and behaviours. My friend Dr Stephen Fyson, in his comment on the previous post, suggested that commitment might be a better word to use. His comment is thought provoking and adds much to the discussion. He may well be right. I will leave it up to you to decide.

I am going to stick to the concept of heart.

I believe heart matters.

Let me try to explain why.

When my son was born in 1986 my wife and I decided it was time for me to do something about life insurance to secure my family if something unexpected happened to me. Part of the process was a health check. I passed with flying colours (not so hard to do when you are young!). In the process the Physician uncovered a small heart murmur which he identified was an issue with my mitral valve. As I was born 8 or 9 weeks prematurely it was thought the murmur was a previously undetected birth defect. I was told it was minor, nothing to worry about and would have little effect on my life at all. But – as we know, the heart matters.

In 2008 a routine health check showed the murmur had become a shout! Stress, blood pressure and the life of a busy executive had conspired to worsen the problem and it needed to be corrected. We all know, in the context of the human body, as in the context of leadership, the heart matters. So, I had open heart surgery. The mitral valve was replaced with a metal valve. The whole experience was redolent with rich personal and leadership lessons, many of which (like this one) will probably end up in this blog at some point. I have a permanent reminder of these valuable lessons in the perpetual ticking now emitting from my chest! It serves as a daily reminder to me, from both health and leadership points of view, the heart matters.

I was blessed to have a fantastic heart surgeon who checked on me every day. We shared some interesting conversations on a range of topics. As I was recovering from the surgery I went to see him. I asked him to explain to me what a “normal” recovery from such surgery looked like. He hesitated to answer this question. As I pressed him he told me a lot of variables meant “normal” was difficult to describe. The experience was different for each individual. I told him of a few of my experiences. While obviously interested in my stories, he did not seem at all surprised. He explained there just seems to be something different when it comes to the heart. When Doctors “play” with the heart it has effects on people which seem beyond those easily explained by science and medicine. More evidence that the heart matters.

…. there just seems to be something different when it comes to the heart.

We know the use of the heart as the part of the body we associate with emotions and things at the very core of our beings, originates in the mysticism surrounding the early understandings people had about this amazing organ. Intellectual thought processes were perceived to originate in the mind, while emotions and feelings were ascribed to the heart.

Even today the term ‘mind’ does not just equate to the brain, but rather to the whole picture of how a person thinks and views the world. Similarly, the heart refers to that which governs our feelings and emotions. While our mind, the combination of our experiences, environment, upbringing, culture and circumstances, is what communicates to us our sense of what is right and wrong, the heart is where we feel and communicate emotions such as joy, appreciation, and love.

The heart matters – it really does.

Yes, the physical organ of the heart matters. Beating around 100 000 times a day to pump oxygen rich blood and remove waste around our bodies. Science is showing that the heart is more than just an amazing group of muscle cells. We now know that there are over 40 000 sensory neurons in the heart which communicate information from the heart to the brain. The heart communicates to the brain and the body through the nervous system, via hormones the heart produces, using blood pressure waves to transmit biochemical information, and by information encoded in the heart’s strong electromagnetic and electrical fields. In fact, the heart emits more electrical activity than the brain! So strong are the messages emitted by the heart they can be measured in the brain waves of another person.

Examine Your Heart © | Dreamstime.com

Examine Your Heart © | Dreamstime.com

My proposition, that the heart matters, argues it is what lies in the heart of a leader which determines whether or not leadership decisions and behaviours are truly other focused. This argument exploits the mystery surrounding this amazing organ. While it is true much of who we are as leaders, as people, is a product of our circumstances, environment, upbringing, culture, and experiences, it is not true that who we are is predetermined or unchangeable. Who we are is also a product of the choices we make every day. We can be deliberate about our choices. When we understand the heart matters, we can choose to examine our hearts, to nurture an ‘other’ centric approach in our hearts, to guard our hearts to be able to remain true to the mission of being a Fourth Question Leader – a leader who chooses to put the interests of others before their own. I hope you agree – the heart matters.

In the end, whether a leader couches self-examination in terms of motivation, commitment or heart – is far less important than developing the habit of interrogating the basis of decisions and behaviours continuously. For me it is a heart issue. Heart matters and what is in my heart matters a great deal to me, as I am sure what is in your heart matters to you.

 

Takeaways

  • When leaders apply motivational theory to their leadership practices they may also adopt manipulative strategies associated with motivational theory.
  • It is what lies in the heart of a leader which determines whether or not leadership decisions and behaviours are truly other focused.
  • The core principle of Fourth Question Leadership is – it is only when the motivations behind your leadership decisions are selfless, completely other focused, that care is enacted towards those you lead.
  • In the end, whether a leader couches self-examination in terms of motivation, commitment or heart – is far less important than developing the habit of interrogating the basis of decisions and behaviours continuously.

Additional Resources

Difference Between Heart and Mind

7 Scientific Reasons You Should Listen To Your Heart (Not Your Brain)

7 Keys to Leading With Your Heart

Motivation is Overrated and Relying on It is a Bad Thing

Moral Motivation

Achieving Peak Motivation

Motivation is the Heart of HRM

6 Types of Motivation Explained

5 Leadership Lessons: The Heart of Leadership

7 Keys to Leading With Your Heart