To be an open leader, listen to your heart

Relying on snap judgements and purely rational decisions isn't the best way to cultivate trust, empower people, and create open environments.
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Hearts, stars, and dollar signs

Allowing talented leadership to excel in a more open organizational structure can determine a young company's success. But in order to transform into a more open organization, you'll need to provide that space for talented leaders to grow.

This doesn't always come easy to leaders. Ultimately, however, the only way to do it is to begin with yourself—and to address the issue not only your head but also your heart, your feelings.

You might do this in a number of areas, but in this article, I'll focus on how you currently make decisions in your organization.

Conditioned for constant action

As human beings, we have been conditioned to make primarily rational choices (that is, to make choices primarily with our brains). Most of the time, however, this mode of decision making is instinctive and quick. So when we're facing decisions in our organizations, that means we're most commonly opting for quick, short-term, results (the results we can deduce and "process" the fastest).

But that emphasis on rationality means that we don't often see in advance how our decision will influence our employees or make them feel. It also means that we leave precious little time to involve others in our decision-making practices.

In short, the essential balance between people and business gets lost in the need for speedy calculations.

This is a painful flaw in the current organizational model. It has a negative impact on employee motivation and engagement—precisely the effect we don't want to have if we're trying to build an open organization that depends directly on increased employee motivation and engagement!

That emphasis on rationality means that we don't often see in advance how our decision will influence our employees or make them feel.

We need to break this habit. Building an innovative organization requires tapping the creativity and resourcefulness of the people that make it up. But that will mean engaging in some different kinds of decision-making.

Listen to your heart

You can break this pattern for overly rational decision-making so that everyone will benefit, especially up-and-coming leadership talent.

The solution is actually quite simple: Ensure that when you're making a decision, you're involving your heart as much as your head. By this I mean: assess your feelings as much as your thoughts, and take your time before rendering a final decision. This really starts with getting capable of entering "at ease" or "relaxed" mode much quicker than you currently do. In fact, you can practice this (it starts with breathing from your belly). If you're in constant "action mode," there is hardly ever time to allow any other information into your decision-making process—and certainly not your heart and feelings.

Consider your body:

  • Are you relaxed and is your whole system relaxed or at ease?
  • Is your breath in your belly?
  • How does the decision actually feel to your body?
  • Do your temperature or heart rate change when you think about the outcome of the decision you're making?
  • Is your breathing different? What does your gut tell you?

If your head (your rational conclusion) and your heart (your emotional "gut") seem to give you the same response, then your decision seems clear. If not, keep listening to your body to discover if there is any other information you should be paying attention to in this case. Your head may tell you something completely different than what you feel and "actually know."

This gives you the space to think about the influence your decision could have on teammates and employees before you make it. Decisions that you make slowly, deliberately or even inclusively, using a combination of your heart and head are so much stronger than the decisions you make solely based on rationality.

This is an extremely powerful way to have a positive impact on people's motivation and commitment.

Your leadership core

If your head and your heart seem to be in agreement, then your decision likely involves a sincere intention. You'll radiate a different energy (both verbal and nonverbal), giving congruent and honest answers. People around you will notice. And when people sense the decision you've made isn't sincere (is too hasty, doesn't align with your values, their values, or the organization's values), they'll feel a different energy.

The information teammates and employees glean from this feeds their feelings of confidence in your decisions and, ultimately, in you as a leader. Initially, these impressions will leave only subconscious traces and impressions, but eventually, they'll begin affecting your employees' conscious behaviors and decision-making. And your most talented team members become aware of this more quickly (and more eagerly) than anyone else in your organization.

If your head and your heart seem to be in agreement, then your decision likely involves a sincere intention.

For many of today's seasoned managers, however, breaking with head-driven, rational decision-making styles will be challenging. Breaking these patterns and habits of thought can be challenging because it involves going against some deeply ingrained conditioning. It might also feel like breaking organizational norms (it's still somewhat "taboo" to express your feelings and talk about the "spiritual" side of decision-making in the workplace). It involves adopting different behaviors and attitudes and making decisions with a different level of conscious awareness. It involves becoming more sensitive to what your heart is telling you—that something is "off," undesirable, and possibly even destructive. Closed environments make this more conscious kind of thinking more difficult. Open environments seem to offer more space for it.

But this is also a huge opportunity—one that deserves your attention because it impacts your ability to nurture and foster up-and-coming leadership talent. A core tenet of leadership development in open organizations is providing space and context for leaders to learn and grow on their own, to extend their intrinsic passions and talents. You can't do that if you're not slowing down to include others in your decisions, or making purely rational decisions that don't take the needs and desires of junior leaders into account. Think of yourself more like a coach, a mentor, creating open environments to nurture talent. These are the kinds of leaders future-proof organizations will need to be sustainably successful.

I'm not suggesting that we "lose our heads" to become better leaders, or to build better leaders in our organizations. I'm advocating for balance. On the one hand, we will have to hold on to the benefits of powerfully rational thinking but balance those with new ways of thinking and behaving.

So what will you choose?

Will you continue to lead with your head alone, or will you open up?

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Jos Groen, The Netherlands / Transformational leader towards Open Organizations
Jos is a Transformational leader and coach, passionate about the open culture and open organization approach. Jos´s ambition is for transformative organizations to be open organizations, and his mission is to give the organization back to its employees.

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