A long time ago, early in my management career, I was told to “stop wearing my heart on my sleeve”. I was shamed into hiding my natural empathy for my co-workers; my desire to connect, to care and to nurture them professionally and personally. In fact, my ability to care for others in the professional space was cited as the reason I didn’t get a promotion that was rightfully mine – because I was (to quote my boss) “All Heart”. I was left to retreat and reflect, tending to my bruised and battered ego in the career naughty corner. Naughty, naughty emotions. Stay there until you can learn to behave!

This bothered me immensely – and even in the depths of my disappointment, I realised it was about more than just the personal hurt of not getting something I wanted. There was a sense of injustice that reached far beyond my personal story and right into the core of what it means to be a Leader in the professional world. I believed that the ability to care, to connect and to have empathy – were the very qualities that were most desirable in a great Leader. I was bewildered about how I should transform myself to continue my career journey. Did I need to cut off my emotions completely and start acting like I didn’t care at all about the people whose lives I shared, day in, day out in that business? If so, what did this have to do with being less “girly” (this made no sense at all – I knew plenty of caring, empathetic men!)? Why were those parts of my character that others in the business valued so much, so undervalued by the people above me in the hierarchy…and was this the end of my short-lived management career?

Now, many years later, after striking out on my own in business and training thousands of business professionals from all walks of life, I have come to know a couple of things for sure.

Those who are “All Heart” are rightfully nature’s true born Leaders.

Emotional Intelligence is THE Leadership capability that underpins the success of all others.

Leaders with heart enjoy deep trust, loyalty and camaraderie with their team and can always lead them further, faster than those who push and prod their team from a safe distance. Power-driven, authoritarian Leaders may look like the giants of history but they lead through fear, a reflection of the fear that in fact resides inside of them. They don’t tend to last for long and suffer greatly while they wrestle with their fears as well as with everyone around them. The days of command and control are over. The new wave of Leadership firmly values human connection, human qualities, “soft skills” – and Emotional Intelligence. I am so glad that I listened to my deepest intuition and refused to become one of them; preferring instead forge my own path, guided by my true compass – my wobbly, never-quite-logical but always reliable heart.

Leaders with heart are not mushy push-overs; they are fierce and passionate people with deep reserves of courage to draw upon when tough decisions must be made – and make them, they will. But they will make them with heart. They will care. They will suffer and toil alongside their people. Ultimately, they will triumph, winning through the combined efforts of their loyal team who are returning the care that has in the past, been shown to them. Their commitment, their care and their inspiring presence etches itself on our spirits and minds and we gladly allow them to light the way for us. After all, where the true Leader goes…the team follows.

I have come to see that the characteristics that I was told made me too “girly” were nothing to do with gender; they are far more to do with connecting at a deep level with my own personal strengths, my uniqueness, my humanity – and connecting in the same way with others.

So I’m throwing down a challenge. I invite you to Lead from the heart, more often. Stand up for the very human parts of yourself you have been led to believe don’t belong in the workplace. Wear your empathy, your care, your compassion, your desire to connect – your HEART – on your sleeve with pride. Not only are these traits necessary for great Leadership; they are crucial for the betterment of our world and the creation of a fairer, more just and heart-centred society for us all.



Catherine Bell is the Director of Bell Training Group, specialising in Change Programs, Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Development. Working with diverse organisations across the private and public sectors, Catherine is committed to using the science of Applied Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence to help your people shine!

Catherine will be hosting a round table discussion on Emotional Intelligence at the Wellbeing @ Work event in Sydney on 26 September. For further details on the event, go to the event website here.

Catherine Bell

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