Leading with Heart

Leading with heart is about engagement. It’s about seeing your people through the eyes of empathy first – then through the eyes of culture, and finally through the eyes of impact.

Leading with heart is different than leading with strategy. Leading with strategy relies on focusing on numbers, tactics, and programs first. Those things are essential, but the difference is in priority.

Leading with strategy puts the “brainy” stuff first.

Leading with heart is different than leading with brains. There’s a heart to your school culture and a brains to your school culture. Being that we’re educators, it’s natural to put the brainy things first:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Curriculum Documents
  • Assessment Results
  • Accountability Ratings

…and so on. Sometimes we forget school leadership concepts altogether and lean into those things that remind us of our PhDs, EdDs, and graduate degrees. Why? Because they make us feel sophisticated.

But leadership isn’t about us. It’s about people. Humans. That’s why leading with heart is the priority.

Leading with heart is about engagement. It's about being an involved principal or school leader. - Mafost Blog

Leading with heart is energizing – for the leader, for the team, for the entire campus.

Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Leading with Heart: Exhaustion

You know those days where you are in meetings, not lecture-based trainings, but meetings with real discussion and decision-making? The all-day kind.

It’s absolutely exhausting, isn’t it?

You leave feeling like you ran a few miles, completed your first cross-fit session, and punched out 100 crunches.

It’s mental exhaustion. And you know how real it is.


On the flip side, there’s another kind of exhaustion.

It doesn’t require long meetings to trigger.

It doesn’t require hard tasks or tough decisions.

It’s the kind of exhaustion when emotional capacity is drained.

When does this exhaustion happen? When change is forced. And when supervision is the cultural norm.

Emotional exhaustion often shows up as laziness, opposition, or resistance. In reality, it’s just exhaustion.


How is it avoided?

By leading with heart. Leading with emotions. Leading with empathy. Leading with vulnerability.

After all, the school is your mirror.

And the school’s culture is a reflection of your leadership.


The school reflects your confidence and passion.

Likewise, it also mirrors your fear and insecurity.

Embrace your weaknesses, build your strengths, and empower your people.

Here’s a bonus episode to stir your thoughts a little more about the importance of leading with heart.


Leading with Heart and Work Engagement

What are the results of leading with heart? How does it impact the work place for teachers, students, and the whole school?

A recent research article showed the results of 270 employees who described their leaders as “transformational”. Overall work engagement increases as managers shift to an approach that values leading with heart:

“…leads to make a positive vision by which, and by setting high standards, challenges the employees and establishes zeal along with optimism for attaining success in works.”

How to Lead with Heart

Leading with heart was the topic of a recent business article. Seven strategies were provided:

  1. Seek clarity on vision and mission.
  2. Listen with openness and empathy.
  3. Celebrate heartfelt participation from teachers.
  4. Encourage work-life balance.
  5. Be creative about increase compensation.
  6. Create ways to have more fun.
  7. Make the link between work and positive change.

“[Leading with heart is]…built on a foundation of strong relationships–both inside and outside the organization. Two-way communication within an organization–opening up a true dialogue with colleagues–is critical. Worker accessibility to top management is more common today than ever before. The best leaders encourage an open flow of ideas throughout the organization and break down the walls that separate employees from one another whenever and wherever they find them.” @bizzwriter

Leading with Brains

As educators, this is the tempting, and maybe default leadership stance. We love learning. We love education, and we value our degrees.

However, these things don’t equal great leadership. And as Howard Gardner points out in Leading Minds, leadership is about influence. It’s about triggering imitation:

…the proclivity to imitate. The decision about which model to imitate and when to imitate becomes crucial. Imitation is almost always unidirectional…however, the choices of behaviors to be imitated are made from a relatively narrow set of options.

In other words, we follow because of who the leader is – what the leader models.

Leading with brains is the attempt to over intellectualize everything. Over-strategizing school improvement makes us feel smart – as if we are beating the game.

In reality, it only makes us feel smart.

It doesn’t mean people are following. It doesn’t mean people are inspired to work hard. It doesn’t mean anyone wants to imitate you.

It is not effective leadership.

Leading with Heart and Narratives

Leading with brains assumes blank slates. People are coming and awaiting answers. But this is not the case.

Your teachers, your staff members, and your community never come to the school as a blank slate. They come with rich experiences, backstories, and emotions about the work of the school.

Leading with heart is about valuing that richness and including it in the school’s narrative.

A narrative is not the same as theme or message. Themes are marketing. They make cute T-shirts and bulletin boards. Messages are an important part of communication.

A narrative is the ongoing story you tell that captures the school’s current reality and moves the school to the envisioned reality. When you lead with heart, your narrative includes:

  • Aspirational Values
  • The School’s Identity
  • Celebrations of Your People
  • A Clear Path to Fulfilling the Mission

Lead With Heart and Maximize Impact

If you care about impact on learning, leading with heart is your priority. Leading with heart will maximize your impact on teacher commitment to the mission. It will empower your school and unite them around the vision and mission. Leading with heart energizes your staff and your own team.

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