Improving your leadership style makes employees feel valued and drives performance.
The deadlines, the pressure, the numbers, the meetings — all of it puts you up in your head and disconnects you from your heart. Then, at home, you’re still thinking about it, so you’re on your phone, responding to more demands. Sound familiar?
It’s easy to understand why CEOs struggle with understanding the suffering of others and taking the time to be present with it. Put simply, the ego (the false self) does not care. The trouble with this, of course, is it pushes people away. You may find yourself losing key players and most likely don’t get honest feedback about why. This is the vicious cycle caused by a CEO who doesn’t appear to care, but deep down, is just deeply disconnected.
It’s hard to be compassionate if you’re not connected to your body, so the first thing you need to know if you’re serious about shifting your leadership style is to start to become aware that you have 18 inches of work to do every day — and that’s from your head to your heart.
One of my clients, we’ll call him Mike, is the CEO of a $30 million-per-year communications company with around 200 employees. He came to me because he was burned out, felt like he wasn’t caring about his company anymore, and the relationship with his partner was falling apart. Critical A players were leaving the organization, and he felt stuck.
“Mike had lost respect from his team, but why?”
He said to me, “Simon, my employees, they just don’t listen to me, and I’m getting so frustrated.” Mike had lost respect from his team, but why?
Mike did not have a deep connection to his body, and therefore, he was unable to listen to what his body was telling him — to take time off and recharge himself. He made demands of his team from his head, and as a result, they were shutting down. They were working, but they were not connected to their CEO because the “boss” was not connected to himself.
To develop Mike’s compassion, emotional intelligence and, ultimately, connection with others, I put Mike on a structured six-week leadership-specific meditation protocol that built up daily. This was part of a routine that had him start his day from a different energetic place, one connected to himself. It’s very common for CEOs to start their days completely in their heads, operating like robots from the moment they connect with their devices, but this becomes very dangerous, as an unhealthy disconnection habit compounds over time and becomes normalized. You have nothing to compare it to; it becomes who you are, your identity.
“Mike found it very hard to calmly communicate his feelings to his employees”
As Mike started to trust me, he started to open up about some of his other challenges, and one of those was substance addiction. It’s not uncommon for CEOs who are up in their heads to need either a substance or other dopamine hit, like porn, to relieve the stress, tension and pressure from their body. It’s because they don’t know any other way to relieve the pressure. Since the opposite of addiction is a connection, once Mike became connected to his body, he failed to need the drugs he was taking and quit within a short time.
As we started to work on his self-expression, heal his past and look at his belief systems, I started to learn that Mike found it very hard to calmly communicate his feelings to his employees, and because of the pressure and build up from being in his head every day and not in his heart, he came across as aggressive. Being calm in his body, vulnerable and authentic was not something that came easily to Mike; he had never really experienced that in his life because of his childhood and upbringing.
As Mike started to open up and speak about what was really happening in the company and be vulnerable, he started to discover what was really happening versus what he was being told because his team felt safe to do so. Something magical happens when we take the first step to open up: People relax and start to talk about what’s real. From here, you can truly solve problems and make powerful decisions, and everyone comes together to get the company where it needs to be because they care more. The CEO must care about more than the numbers and targets though. Being attuned to others and sensing that something is up is key for the conscious CEO. But once again, if you’re not connected to your body, you simply can’t be in tune with others.
“Heart-based business and conscious leadership start at the top”
People walk away from companies for many reasons, but when you lack compassion, you will lose people for the wrong reasons. If employees don’t feel free to express their struggles because of potential emotional backlash from their CEO, then they will eventually walk and find a leader who wants to understand, listen and communicate in a healthy way.
If you struggle to feel your emotions and connect with others, just know that you can — you’re just not accessing it yet. Once you do, your new behavior will have your employees desiring to work above and beyond because they can sit on a Zoom call or in a room with a CEO who gives them present time, understanding and seems genuinely interested in what’s going on at home.
Heart-based business and conscious leadership start at the top and spill through the core of a company. In the end, you will be a happier person because we all crave connection, even if we don’t always know how to go about getting it.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor