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The HEART of the Matter

May 19, 2017

We are often asked about aXcelerate’s H.E.A.R.T. values, and the meaning of the acronym. Literally, it refers to the values of Honesty, Empathy, Acceptance, Respect and Trust — and volumes could be written about each of these. Symbolically, it represents that which gives life and maintains rhythm, warmth, circulation, connection and unity.

Bringing the two together, we believe that values are what determine the health of any organisation: whether it has an open flow of communication or hardening arteries and worn valves; whether there is genuine caring, encouragement, support and acceptance or an unfriendly, antagonistic stoniness; and whether all parts of the system flourish with fresh ideas and inspired action, or wither and fall off along the wayside.

Traditionally, references to the heart were more commonly associated with romance and perhaps the more frivolous, less cerebral aspects of life. There was no place for “warm fuzzies” and excitement in the world of handshakes and the stiff upper lip. We are all familiar with phrases such as “weak-hearted”, “soft-hearted”, “big-hearted”, “faint-hearted”, “heart flutters”, “heartfelt”, “hearty”, “heart rending”, “heart of gold” and so on, and their not-quite-pragmatic implications.

Words like love and happiness have traditionally had a hard time fitting comfortably into business and the workplace. They implied softness, weakness and a lack of backbone and focus. “Hard-nosed” and “bloody-minded” on the other hand have usually indicate a no-nonsense, serious determination by someone who means business.

More and more, however, the business world is beginning to recognise that in order to innovate, inspire and orchestrate successful business outcomes, the intellect and the heart must work together. They are no less interdependent than heart and lungs. Dualities such as male and female, yin and yang, heart and head merge into synergistic holism.

There is also greater recognition that the health and wellbeing of individuals and their relationships with one another contribute to the overall health of business and achievement of successful outcomes.

Over the past 30 years, Daniel Goleman — author of Emotional Intelligence¹and other acclaimed works — has highlighted the importance of EI and EQ alongside IQ, increasing the respectability of emotions in the boardroom. Business becomes humanised as its people and the relationships between them are valued equally with, if not above, inanimate systems and other resources. Emotional maturity and positive connections with people are the lifeblood that keeps those systems alive.

Poor communications between people result in a breakdown between elements of the system and lost productivity. Ineffective leadership results in a loss of rhythm, cohesion and momentum and contributes to divisiveness, a lack of direction, motivation and cooperation, and problems with retention. High staff turnover results in a continual leaking of energy, knowledge and skills, weakening the overall system and undermining results — including profits.

Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge² and Encouraging the Heart³, claim that people are not motivated by money but rather by a leader who cares.

Through their research on best-practice leadership, they found that exemplary leaders who achieve extraordinary things do the following:

-Challenge the process

-Inspire a shared vision

-Enable others to act

-Model the way

-Encourage the heart

It is no surprise that they had difficulty finding resources that give practical support to the fifth practice, “Encourage the heart” — hence, their book by that name. In fact, they even found resistance to the terminology and its association with “softness”.

The authors take a very hard line with regard to this practice however and firmly assert:

…we not only demonstrate that encouraging the heart is not soft; we show how powerful a force it is in achieving high standards and stretch goals. If you’re after results, then you’d better start paying attention to encouraging the heart (p.xiv)

Encourage the Heart outlines the fundamental principles for engaging, motivating and inspiring the commitment, cooperation, contribution and retention of staff. It could probably all be summed up quite simply in a rather “soft” statement:

Make each person feel special.

Kouzes and Posner outline the Seven Essentials for Encouraging the Heart and 150 practical ideas for achieving these.

Yes, people need money. But moreover, they need to be appreciated as individuals, recognised for their unique contribution and achievements, encouraged to take risks and aim high, and always treated with respect and dignity.

Kouzes and Posner admit that encouraging the heart and learning to lead in an exemplary way is not easy. It goes beyond technique, training, copying and advice, and requires a type of purification through fire. It requires “surrender … exhausting experimentation and often painful suffering … [to discover] an expression of self that is truly your own … to emerge into the light, where you find your own true voice” (p.148)

Finally, they draw on the words of John H. Stanford, a former US Major General, who claims that “the secret to success is to stay in love”:

Staying in love gives you the fire to really ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that helps them to get ahead and lead others and to achieve. I don’t know of any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and more positive a feeling than love is. (p.150)

¹ Goleman, Daniel ( ) Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ,New York: Bantam Books.

² Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. The Leadership Challenge, San Francisco: John Wiley & Songs, Inc.

³ Kouzes and Posner (1999) Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.