While I was walking home from the post office the other day I began to reflect on my career and past managers—not sure why exactly, it must have been that kind of week. As I pondered, it occurred to me that the managers I have admired most had two odd, closely-related traits in common: 1) they had hearts; 2) I could see where their hearts were. In other words, both of these individuals had a knack for communicating and connecting authentically despite operating in complex, demanding environments. This seems like a strange thing to highlight, doesn’t it? In a world that is often ugly, dark, and tough, why would any person, especially a business person, be concerned about something like this?
Let me be frank. I understand that showing your heart, particularly when confronting the everyday challenges of the professional world—figuring out how to succeed, negotiating for what you want, navigating the political and relational landscape of your organization—can be difficult, risky, and even ill-advised. Perceived weakness is poorly received in many settings. However, consider this. There are many of us, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, who are more likely to thrive when we work with people we like and respect. On some level, that’s not surprising. In many parts of the world, connecting with another person’s humanity is a ritualized part of doing business. Even in the US where a direct style seems more prevalent, people still talk business over drinks, dinner, or on the golf course. (Of course there are real costs when this tendency devolves into “old boy” networking, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Now, we all know that working with people you like isn’t always possible. For some, it is downright unlikely, depending on the situation. However, having a sense of affinity for your colleagues makes it easier to be yourself in the work place. This is important because the energy saved from not having to sendyourgame-faced “representative” to do battle every day can be redirected toward solving thorny problems, creating brilliant strategies, and going the extra mile. Perhaps more importantly, if those of us who value authenticity keep our hearts hidden all the time, we are less likely to find similar folks to engage with, professionally or otherwise. That strikes me as both a missed opportunity and a great shame. Granted, this is something I’ve only come to terms with quite recently. I’d always viewed this qualityas a character flaw until I met someone who felt the same way, but did so with no sense of shame or apology. Admittedly, this was a bit of a revelation for me; it’s funny how often you need to meet someone like you in order to feel okay about yourself. But I digress…
Here’s what I’d like to suggest. To the extent that you can, and it’s relevant to you, show your heart—because there are people, unknown to you, who might need to see it. There’s no telling when the smallest bit of honesty, authenticity, or kindness will give someone the strength to carry on, or empower him to do the same. As for me, I will be taking my own advice in the near future.
Wish me luck.