How Holistic Leadership Shows You Care

In my upcoming book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I speak to the importance of leading the whole person, and not just the face value of the employee that shows up to work every day. Often I witness managers “handle” employees through a narrow lens of their performance inside the workplace without ever considering them as whole people and their lives outside of work. But to truly elevate our leadership game, we must take into account the mind, body, spirit and emotions of those we lead.

This approach of leading the entirety of your employees is often referred to as “holistic leadership.” Why exactly is it so critical for employee engagement and organizational advancement?

In a nutshell, leadership that only addresses workplace concerns doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of how employees actually function. It’s simply unrealistic to think we check our personal worries, excitements, and challenges at the door when we enter the office. What happens outside of work impacts our energy levels, sense of control, and ability to feel engaged and productive. As a leader, asking your employees to constantly separate parts of themselves establishes an emotionally repressed environment, a lack of confidence, and true disconnection. No team or organization can weather that.

The caring leader knows that maximizing their relationships with those they lead means purposefully integrating their employees’ lives in total—including what’s happening in their personal lives. That can look like many things: regular check-ins before meetings begin in earnest, sending birthday cards/memos, respectfully asking about family matters, or providing emotional support and project flexibility in times of personal crisis. However you choose to demonstrate empathy and compassion, the most important aspect is to visibly show you are comfortable meeting your team members in the fullness of their identities and experiences.

As with all management strategies, however, there’s a careful balance to strike. In my personal crusade to empathize with others as best as I can, there have been times when I became too close to someone else’s pain and overly zealous in trying to alleviate it. As you try to lead the whole of someone else, don’t lose sight of your own wholeness along the way. Holistic leadership requires not only a broad awareness of others, but a deep awareness of yourself and your emotional boundaries.

Cultivating that balance will take time, but I genuinely believe the payoff is worth the effort. Leading the whole person cleanses the guilt of authenticity, and creates a foundation of trust you can leverage in future collaborations. Especially as the emergence of remote work has blurred the boundaries between professional and personal spheres, holistic leadership is needed now more than ever to integrate all parts of ourselves in a safe and inclusive manner. If we can honor that truth in our employees, they will honor it in us in return.

125: Leaders with Heart Course Correct Themselves and Others with Care

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In this episode, Heather interviews Curtis Martin, CEO of FOCUS about his drive to lead, his leadership style, his struggle with patience, and a time when he took his eye off the business and abdicated responsibility.

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t abdicate responsibility but be there to guide people.
  • Show the balance of care and strength. 
  • Take the long view when leading so that you can create tension for the long term goal benefits.
Don’t miss this insightful episode!

Curtis Martin is the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), one of the fastest-growing college outreach apostolates in the Catholic Church. 

FOCUS was founded in 1998 as a national outreach to college students on campus. Starting with just two missionaries on one campus, FOCUS now has hundreds of full-time missionaries serving tens of thousands of college students on campuses throughout the United States. FOCUS is working to play a vital role in the New Evangelization called for by Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Curtis Martin holds a master’s degree in theology and is the author of the best-selling book, “Made for More.” Curtis is likewise the co-author of “The Real Story: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible” with Dr. Edward Sri and “Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue” with Dr. Tim Gray.

In 2004, Curtis and his wife, Michaelann, were awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Saint John Paul II for their outstanding service to the Church.  In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Curtis as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization. Curtis and Michaelann live in Westminster, Colorado. They have been blessed with nine children.

The Prodigal Son

The story that Jesus told of the prodigal son was my life. I was blessed to have parents who love me. The table is set for me. It was a great life, but I wildly squandered it growing up. I was a train wreck when I was 18. I realized that I have only one life and I can live differently. So, I decided to come back to my center and live.

Sometimes people walk through life saying, “I could do whatever I want. I’m not hurting anybody.” In truth, you might not be hurting anyone but you are supposed to do something to help people. 

I cannot fix everything. But I can fix something. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Ripple Effect

The key is create a ripple effect of impact by God’s grace—not just setting things better for others, but to teach them how to do it for others whom could also be taught how to do it for their people. 

With this, you’re also able to impact people you’ll never meet by paying it forward. This is a better way to live life than simply avoiding hurting people.

Some people believe in life after death, and some people don’t. But whatever it is, you’re done. All you have is a memory, but that memory lives on.

We live in a world with radical poverty. There’s breakdown of families, and marriages and children are in need. There are more people in slavery right now than ever in the history of the world, whether it is the typical slavery of work, sex slavery, or drug abuse.

You could spend the rest of your life addressing these issues and making people’s lives better, or walk through life hoping not to hurt anyone. I think that the former option, choosing to live for others is such a compelling invitation to form meaning and purpose in people’s lives. That’s a really exciting way to live and to help other people to live.

People start to come alive when they realize that they could walk through life and set things better. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Friendship is a wonderful ointment—in the midst of life, you are sharing life. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

On Friendship and Parenting

I’ve worked to establish friendships with the people that I lead. It’s been an honor to not just work with them but also to be invited to weddings and to their homes. You may throw an elbow or step on a toe unintentionally, but friendship is an ointment that heals that wound. I’ve been blessed to work with great people

Many of us are parents. I am working with a 12 year old, and I have an impatience with parenting. It’s a slow walk, and I know they’re not going to be living in a mature life overnight. 

My goal is not to be a buddy, but to be a coach. We can be buddies 20 years from now, but I want to be friends with you a million years. So, I do not care whether I lose a little bit of credibility because I take phones away.

As a father, I have to play the long game all the time. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, one step back, and that’s okay as long as we continue to make progress.  But remember the goal we’re aiming for.

We are patient with one another, even in failures because we’re willing to lose our battle. This is not a war against people. We aim to win people’s minds, hearts, and trust to care for them and help them overcome obstacle that keep them from experiencing lasting joy.

Great vision and great investment covers for impatience and imperfections. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

We're always grateful, but never satisfied. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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105: Leaders With Heart Understand That If Their People Fail They Fail

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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks with Dr.T. Renata Robinson, Chief Human Resources Officer at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, about the complexity of leading an organization that serves the poor and at times, employs the poor. She also shares a story of her leadership mishap and some key ways to thrive as a leader.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand that often, we encounter our people in their brokenness.
  • Humility is the highest honor.
  • Admitting your mistakes as a leader is a sign of strength.
  • You must build relationships first before strategy.
  • Provide your people the right resources to do good work.
  • Allow autonomy to those you lead.

This episode speaks straight from the heart. Listen and learn!
T. Renata Robinson’s Full BIO

Dr. T. Renata Robinson is a professional of many firsts. She is currently the first Chief Human Resources Officer of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, as well as the Principal and Chief People Officer of her consulting practice MeekAdvantages, LLC. Dr. Robinson was the first Chief Diversity Officer for the City of Boulder, CO, and Director of Organization Development and Talent Management for Total Long-Term Care Solutions. She has been Vice President of Human Resources for Teach for America Colorado and the Human Resources Manager for Comcast. 

Dr. Robinson spends her days cultivating an inclusive culture, bolstering employee morale, and developing leadership skills in others. She has been consistently successful in creating and implementing inclusive human resource programs and initiatives. Having extraordinary change management and strategic leadership skills, she is a high-energy people leader with 15+ years of success in building top performing diverse teams, increasing employee engagement, and developing culturally action-oriented organizations. Her unique approach to innovation, engagement, and culture has improved communication between teams, stakeholders, and executives in non-profit organizations, fortune 100 and 500 companies. 

In her free time, she is a wife and mother of two, and she gives back to her community through coaching, mentoring, and helping individuals design and accomplish their career path goals. She teaches youth workshops on public speaking skills, how to become bully-proof through confidence building, personal branding, and interviewing skills. 

Dr. Robinson’s educational background consists of a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Art in Organizational Management, and an Educational Doctorate of Organizational Management.

Accomplish More

I have accomplished a lot of things I wanted, but there’s so much more out there. I’m still on a journey to accomplish more. I have more to give back and to help people, as well as to develop personally and to grow professionally. Even though I might have accomplished some job positions I aimed for, that’s not necessarily the whole reason I’m here.  

I think about life as that dash in between; I look at every morning and ask myself what I do and why I am on earth. I am in a place of wonder, growth, development, and I pull people along with me on my journey. 

As a leader, you have to understand that it’s not all about you. It’s about the people around you, helping you to get there. 

As a leader, you’ve got to have great relationships. You need to know how to communicate. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Results Driven

I am results-driven person, but I am not the type to just run over someone to get the results. To me, the result is not always winning and success, because sometimes, you fail.

Bottomline, you must ask yourself: Did you try? Did you do your best? How did you get there? If you hit your head, let’s not hit your head again. Let’s figure this out. As a leader, that’s how I lead my team. I am flexible and open.

I really care. I know there always different analogies on leadership. But, I would define myself personally as a caring leader because I actually care about my people. It is important to build relationships that support people to get the results. 

Understanding relationships is so significant. Afterwards, we need to communicate the plan, be aware of what is happening, and provide the resources needed to get the results. I am very results driven, but in order to get there, I look at three levels: how I look at my relationships, how I communicate, and how I create access. 

Finally, the fourth most important thing to me is autonomy. The worst thing a person can do to me is to micromanage me. I don’t believe in micromanagement as a leader. I believe in people giving people the autonomy to do their job. 

That also means you have to hire right. You must ask the right questions. Find out what a person can or cannot do. Remember you’re hiring for their strengths and not their weaknesses. You have to make sure you’re placing people to right positions, too. 

Failure leads to success. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If my people are not successful, then I am not successful. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Take Time Out

If you’re having a tough week, you just have to pause. Often, we feel like we should have all of the answers in the moment. But the reality is, you don’t have all of them.

You also have to reach out to your peers, take a moment, give affirmation, and come back with more insight in order to drive forward. Remember that you just need to take time out for you. Take an emotional day-off of work to recover.

If you’re finding yourself in a challenging place, sometimes you’re in there because of pride. While you don’t want to be wrong, and you’re fighting everyone to be right, the truth is, sometimes you are dead wrong.

It’s not about you. It’s about perspective, and how to shift the narrative. Pause is so important. Get away from the office. Sometimes, the best time to work is when we are not in a building, we are away where we can have transparent conversations, and strategic planning.

Leaders are not perfect people. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

HR is one of the hardest areas to lead in an organization. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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96: Leaders With Heart Understand That Leadership Is About Courage And Vulnerability

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Cori Burbach, Assistant City Manager, City of Dubuque in Iowa about her drive to lead, a back drop to the type of leader that she is and her compelling story of a time when she was not the best leader she could be. 

Key takeaways:

  • Stand out. Be the leader who rolls up your sleeves and gets into the trenches with those you lead.
  • Understand that what you do or fail to do, and what you say impacts those you lead.
  • There are some workplace issues that cannot be fixed with just reading an article or changing a policy.
  • Focus on doing organizational knowledge transfers so that your learning is not lost on you.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable if you want to lead.
  • Make your relationship with your people personal and not robotic.
  • Figuring out what your employees want and helping them is not just good to do. It is also strategic, as unlocking their potential helps meet their vision faster.
  • Find a mentor or a coach on this journey.

Note that this has racial undertones, but you will surely be inspired as you listen. Don’t miss this gem of an episode!
Cori Burbach’s Full BIO

Cori Burbach is Dubuque’s assistant city manager since 2017.  Prior to that, she served as the Sustainable Community Coordinator in 2009.  

As assistant city manager, she assists the city manager in directing the day-to-day operations of the City government and plays a key role in creating a more data-driven, high performance organization focusing on outcomes, including cross-departmental cooperation and integration with performance measurement and evaluation.  

Cori received her Masters in Public Administration from the University of Delaware and worked for local and state governments in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Iowa before coming to the City of Dubuque.  She is a member of the International City/County Management Association, and Dubuque Young Professionals. Her community involvement currently includes serving on the boards of local nonprofits such as DuRide, Creative Adventure Lab, and Operation New View community action agency.  

She is a mom to two beautiful children, Xander and Zoe.

Great Curiosity

I am at a point where I feel like, “Now I know the things I don’t know.”

I have worked with inspirational mentors. Also, I had the chance to do projects that have stretched me around emotional intelligence and leadership development. I am at a place where I have opened my brain up to the things I want to explore and allow to grow within myself. Right now, I am figuring out what to do next, and how I can make those things happen. I’m in the middle of this great curiosity.

It’s important to have a clear vision. More importantly, I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get the work done alongside the people, doing whatever we need to do to make an impact.

Sometimes, as leaders, we feel all of the pressure to be able to stand up in the middle of the room and have the right answers. - Cori Burbach #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Parental Instincts

I was the weird kid in my freshman year in college who declared that I wanted my major to be public administration. My professors looked at me and said, “People do not even know that this is a major.”

I always knew that I had this drive for public service in local government. Now, I have this opportunity to be a leader not just for my organization and for the city, but also for the community.

When I think about the community, I think about every community member almost in the same way I think about my kids. 

What kind of community do I want my kids and other children in the city to grow up and live in? That is what drives me even in the hardest days. I am very lucky to be in this position. Many people do this through volunteer work, but I do them through my job. How cool is that?

We have about 700 employees and they feel like family to me. Most days I spend more time with them than with my own family. 

I think it is something that parents give a lot. It’s almost a maternal or paternal feeling of how to help the community, particularly helping the people to show up and serve every day.

Especially in the public sector, most of our employees have that kind of parental instinct. They show up because they want to make a difference too. So, how can I help them do that?

It is hard for most leaders to come from a place of vulnerability. - Cori Burbach #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Growing Pains

We have been a primarily white organization and community for many years. Just like other communities, we are experiencing growth and diversity which is awesome. Now, we have been really working hard to recruit and retain that diverse work force. Also, that means a lot of growing pains.

We’re going through trainings. We’re working on relationships. One of the topics we have been recently working on is about micro aggressions. It’s an idea of a “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Someone might not say something that is explicitly racist or sexist, but they do not even know that how or what they are saying is impacting somebody.

If we’re going to make an impact on racial and gender issues in the organization, you cannot just read an article and have a policy in it fixed. I realized that when I say things related to these issues on whatever intent I have, there are physical, mental, and emotional processes they go through.

Leadership is about vulnerability and about being brave. Even when you don’t know how to react when comments come up, you have got to say something.

We’re going to make mistakes. But that’s how we grow in our relationships and in our leadership. - Cori Burbach #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet How comfortable do your people feel around you? - Cori Burbach #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet We live in a world where the majority of the people do not trust the government. - Cori Burbach #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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93: Leaders With Heart Model Good Leadership

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Brent Stockwell, Assistant City Manager of the City of Scottsdale about his leadership style, his development of a personal purpose statement and his experience when he fell short in his leadership role and how he admitted his mistakes.

Key takeaways:

  • Create a personal mission statement to keep you focused.
  • A leader’s key responsibility is to model great behavior.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and do everything you can to make things right.
  • Help others to accept, learn, and grow from failures.
  • Be approachable.
  • Be passionate.
  • Be open to share all you have. Don’t hoard.

Surely our leaders with heart will enjoy this one. Listen and learn!
Brent Stockwell’s Full BIO

Brent Stockwell is the assistant city manager at the city of Scottsdale, Arizona. 

He has worked in Scottsdale since 2002 in various roles and currently oversees the administrative services and community and economic development divisions. With Brent’s leadership, Scottsdale was recognized in 2019 as a Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “What Works Cities Silver Certified City”, a national standard of excellence in city governance. 

Brent earned his degrees from Kansas State University and the University of Washington. He’s happily married with three kids and a mini-golden doodle.

Pass It On

At times, I feel that I have learned so much that I really want to spend the time to pass them on to others. I wanted to develop people early in their leadership journey to help them be successful. 

I have greatly benefited from other leaders and mentors. Throughout my life, they  took the time to invest in me, care about me, and help me be successful. So, when I reached this stage in my leadership journey, I really felt compelled and honoured to pass my learnings along. 

I rarely turn down people who has reached out to me for coaching and mentoring. I can’t even think of a time when I turned down someone who wanted to talk about their career vision and plans.

Performance equals capacity minus interference. - @brent4cities #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Purpose Statements

I am one of those folks who takes the time to really think critically and cut through the core of who I am. This way, I can figure out what I need to know and do. 

My purpose statement is I communicate clearly, think strategically, provide excellent response, serve with compassion, advocate for others, and connect to people with resources to help them succeed.

As I am making decisions, I think about, “Is this an opportunity for me to be a resource connector?” Is this a cry for help? Is this something where I need to be a compassionate advocate? Is this a role that needs strategic thinking or is this an opportunity for me to come in and help with clear communication?” These help me be in front of issues all of the time.

Above my monitor is my purpose statement. To the right of my monitor is our organizations’ strategic plan, goals, and objectives to help me think proactively. To the left of my screen is the summary of the four components of a leader: clear communicator, strategic thinker, compassionate advocate, and resource connector

While I am doing work, I am so intentional that I surround my environment with my purpose statements to keep my focus. - @brent4cities #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Becoming a Family

My drive to lead comes from two things.

First of all, I am an adopted kid. It’s a part of my identity, and I get reminded of it every time. Though, I wasn’t born into my family, I became a part of my family. In essence, that is how we are in most organizations. 

We become part of it. That is why on-boarding processes and leadership are so critical. That is also why it is so important to help people grow into what they want to become.

We need to have that love and care for organizations to help the people we work with be successful. From that background, the compassionate advocate in me was born.

Second, early in my career, I also worked for successful female leaders. I am thankful for that opportunity. As a leader, it shaped me to become stronger, more adaptive, and more emotionally intelligent. It is also one of the reasons why I am committed to push for more women in leadership roles. 

With them, I think we would have better and stronger organizations as results. Hence, I really work for that passion. These events have really impacted my leadership style.

Just as parents and families do, we need to have love and care for organizations to help the people we work with be successful. - @brent4cities #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet My role is to help remove interference so that capacity results in higher performance. - @brent4cities #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Working with successful female leaders shaped me to become stronger, more adaptive, and more emotionally intelligent. - @brent4cities #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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92: Leaders With Heart Know That Spending Time With Their People Drives Business Results

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Ron Alvesteffer, President and CEO of Service Express, about his leadership style, his engaging way of meeting his team members, his pearls of wisdom, and his unique way with his direct reports that sets him apart and brings him closer to them.

Key takeaways:

  • Spend time with your people.
  • Self-reflect on who you are as a leader. Do you inspire?
  • Go to work for your people, not the other way around.
  • Make sure your team knows that you care.
  • Lead with the relationship first, then metrics and results second.

This episode is full of wisdom. Hope you don’t miss this!
Ron Alvesteffer’s Full BIO

Ron Alvesteffer has helped Service Express define its market and create a unique performance-driven culture for employees. As a result, Service Express has been named one of the Best & Brightest Companies to Work For in the Nation 8 years in a row. In 2019, Fortune magazine certified Service Express a winner of their Best Small & Medium Workplaces.

Under Ron’s leadership, Service Express has averaged double-digit revenue growth year over year and has expanded the geographic footprint nationally. Ron implemented Service Express’ Performance Measurement System (SR5), which tracks monthly and quarterly goals and results.

Ron also authored the eBook, The Service Express Way – values and principles of a growing company. In it, Ron shares the beliefs and philosophies, along with real-life stories from the field that have driven these remarkable results.

Helping Others

I urge all of my leaders to always learn, grow, and strive to be the best they can be.

I like to be in control and be out in front. I believe what Zig Ziglar said, that you can get everything you want in life if you help other people enough to get what they want. That really is the heart of my leadership style, our company, our cultures, and how we hire and promote leaders. 

I get my greatest joy and satisfaction when I help other people achieve their goals through coaching, mentoring, feedback, and connections. I am overjoyed to know and really see them come to life. It truly does happen. You can get everything you want. 

I am where I hope all of my leaders are: always learning, always growing. - @RonAlvesteffer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Caring for Others

The byproduct of my career and all of the positive things in my life have come from helping other people achieve their goals. - @RonAlvesteffer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

John Maxwell noted that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. With that, I think my team would echo that because I am all in for them all the time.

Showing people that you care and truly caring about them could be the most important thing that you do as a leader. I hate to rank because people would question their value. But it is true. If your team doesn’t really know and believe that you care about them as a person, everything else will fall flat. 

The more you care, the more you can challenge your people when it is appropriate. It’s a balance between encouragement, coaching, challenging, and all of those great things. We love our children. Don’t we do that to our children?

I care about my people because they are my work family. That is part of my role as the coach and guide. I’ll help them along the way. I will let them fail and learn from that. But, if they are going to fail where it hurts too much or it would hurt someone else, we’ll correct that. It’s built out of caring about my people and seeing them develop as functional individuals.

Working for Others

During the time when I was not the best leader, I did two things.

One, I had lead with my relationship with my team first. So, instead of picking up the phone or sitting down for a meeting and getting right into the numbers, the deals, and the harsh feedback, I’d put all of that on secondary. 

Two, I started asking, “How are you doing? How are things going for you? Where can I help you? How can I be of help?”

Instead of telling them what they needed from me and dictating them what I thought they needed, I asked them what I could do for them. These are subtle shifts, but they are powerful.

When you become a leader, the role is how you can help. Go solve problems, and help them solve their problems. Remove their roadblocks and go to work for them. As a leader, you work for your team.

Sometimes, people who are trying to be great leaders miss the point of correction. - @RonAlvesteffer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet If your team doesn’t really know and believe that you care about them as a person, everything else will fall flat. - @RonAlvesteffer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet When you become a leader, don’t start telling everybody what to do. - @RonAlvesteffer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Three ways to conquer low morale

In a 2017 study, prominent researchers found a statistically significant correlation between low morale and motivation on employees’ productivity & competitiveness. The effects of low employee morale in the workplace can be devastating to organizational and team success. Here are three ways organizational leaders can conquer low morale and overcome any productivity perils:

What have you done for me lately?

According to TINYpulse’s 2019 Employee Engagement Report, 75% of employees feel like their organization fails to recognize them for the work that they bring to their organizations. On the flipside, Globoforce found that 55% of employees said that they would leave their organization for an organization that values them.

This is a problem. It is also the #1 way to conquer low morale. Employees need to consistently feel like their manager, team and organization appreciates the work that they do.

Meaningful work is what contributes most towards a positive workplace sentiment. Therefore, organizational leaders who curate a culture of appreciation ensure a positive workplace sentiment. In doing so, they bust through low morale and experience higher levels of productivity, engagement and loyalty.

What was that? I can’t hear you!

As soon as we enter this world, we require attention. We long for our parents to hear our cries and come to our crib to comfort us. Wanting to be heard is innate. A critical way to conquer low morale is to listen closely to your employees.

When I refer to listening, I mean the acts of both listening and acting upon what you hear. Most people hate employee surveys. This is primarily because they never hear anything back on their grievances or suggestions. They feel like their voices mean nothing to those who have the power to change their workplace experience.

When organizational leaders act on one-on-one feedback, on survey feedback, on performance review feedback, they say to their employees, “You are significant.”

Want to conquer low employee morale? Listen and act.

Lift me up please!

According to TINYpulse’s 2019 Employee Engagement Report, only one in three people strongly agree that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential at their organization. In that same report, when they asked “what the main reason would be if they were to leave their organizations, a staggering number of workers pointed to a lack of growth opportunities as the most likely cause.”

Employee want their leaders to lift them up. When they don’t feel like they are being lifted up out of complacency, we see low morale take shape.

Some practical ways to do this? Make sure that they feel like they are stretching outside their current roles, make sure they know what career paths are available to them and how to access them, include them in cross-functional teams focusing on solving business challenges.

If you do not create a fertile place for them to grow, employee morale will continue to take a deep dive. Lay plenty of seeds and water frequently!


Many organizations struggle with low morale. What I have found is that they often ignore the signs and the solutions. If you can manage to focus on showing sincere and consistent appreciation, listening to them and acting upon what you hear and lift them up by helping them grow, you will conquer low employee morale once and for all. Remember, none of this is a one-and-done scenario. It takes consistent attention and watering to make it take root.

82: Leaders With Heart Live True Servant Leadership

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks, and author of The Magic Cup and It’s Not About the Coffee. Howard talks about his perspective on servant leadership, his Starbucks insights, his accountability as a leader, and his idea of a “board of directors” in the context of our different mindsets. He also shares his experience when he was not the best version of himself.

Key takeaways:

  • Read about your role models and don’t be afraid to emulate them.
  • You don’t always have to be original; rather, find out how others do it.
  • Focus on conscious competency so that you can learn and teach about it. You don’t have to be an expert.
  • You can practice servant leadership in your small team.
  • Be willing o bet your job everyday on the things you believe in.

This episode is one for the books. Listen and learn!
Howard Behar’s Full BIO

Howard Behar‘s career in business spans over 50 years, all in consumer oriented businesses covering several industries. After 21 years, he retired from Starbucks Coffee where he led both the domestic business, as President of North America, and was the founding President of Starbucks International. 

During his tenure, he participated in the growth of the company from 28 stores to over 15,000 stores spanning five continents. He served at the Starbucks Board of Directors for 12 years before retiring.

Howard now serves on several boards, including iD Tech, Education Elements and the advisory board of Anthos Capital. He has non-profit commitments to the University of Washington Foundation, UW Business School mentoring program and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation as a trustee. 

Howard is committed to the development and education of our future leaders and has been a longtime advocate of the Servant Leadership Model. He has also authored two books on leadership titled It’s Not About the Coffee and The Magic Cup.

Always Learning

I am where I have always been—learning and trying to figure out things.

I learn whenever I get the opportunity to talk with people like you and I also gain knowledge from the students I’m mentoring.

But I am sure about one thing: servant leadership is my model. I have grown into it. I’m 75 and I started learning about servant leadership 50 years ago.

I am still on that journey, figuring out what servant leadership really means, how it works, and how to get other people to look at it, adopt it or to teach me more about it. 

At 75, as you continue to learn, you also start to come to a conclusion about what really matters to you and what you believe really works.

I am a true believer in servant leadership. - @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Servant Leadership

The biggest issue is when things get tough. That’s when we fall back to our natural ways, which are autocratic. - @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

My definition of servant leadership is this: Leaders are there to serve their people and their journey of accomplishing the organization’s goals.

The people aren’t there to serve the leader. It’s the opposite of what we might think. Particularly, in the politics of today, the thinking is, the people are there to serve their leader, but it’s not. The leaders are there to serve their people.

By doing that, we allow and help our people grow. We also help our people achieve the things they want in their lives. In doing so, they help us achieve what we want in our lives, too. It’s simple.

Servant leadership is really about growing people. It is about helping our people become all that they can be, so that when they leave your organization, they leave as much bigger people than when they first joined your organization. Not only that, they also go on to change other organizations. For me, it’s the “be-all, end-all.”

At my age, I have worked for a number of organizations and I have reported to an array of different people in my life. So, I will tell you, without a doubt, it works much better than any other system. It’s much better than an autocratic system, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a time for a leader to be autocratic particularly in times of danger. But, 95% of the time we don’t need that.

I have been in organizations that were autocratically led and they blew up. Why? The people didn’t put their trust to their leader because they didn’t feel like they were growing as human beings. They didn’t feel their leadership cared about them.

Back on Board

We make lots of mistakes. 

Starbucks made lots of mistakes along the way. I considered Starbucks a servant leader organization but that didn’t mean we’re always servant led. There were times when we made mistakes, and we had to get back on board again.

We had to figure out where we were headed, and our people held us accountable, which was what has to happen. That’s when you know that the servant leadership model is really working—when the people of the organization have the ability to hold their leadership accountable to servant-leadership; they have the ability to speak up and speak out, hold their leaders accountable, and their leaders listen and take action.

If you look at organizations or businesses around the world, you can tell the difference between the ones that are led by servant style leaders and the ones that are not. It shows up on a daily basis.

Servant leadership is really about growing people. - @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWhen the people of the organization have the ability to hold their leadership accountable, that's when the servant leadership model is really working. - @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetNow, conscious capitalism is really taking hold. You see it everywhere. - @howardbehar #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Who is responsible for employee engagement?

This last week I was a keynote speaker at a human resources (HR) conference. I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who made an argument for why HR is not responsible for employee engagement.

You might be wondering how this came up. Often, boards of directors and leadership teams look to and point a finger at HR when employee turnover is high. Many senior leaders expect that HR needs to “own” the employee experience and employee engagement. This kind of conversation always generates great emotions on all sides. After thinking about this conversation more deeply, it is critical that we start this conversation more broadly.

What am I referring to when I say, “employee engagement”? I am referring to the point in time when an employee feels so valued, so listened to, and so respected that they go over and above for their team, their manager and their organization.

Here are five schools of thought regarding who is responsible for employee engagement:

  • Human resources (HR)

The most prevalent opinion is that HR “owns” employee engagement. For those making this argument, they make it mostly for the obvious reason. They are “human” resources. In this argument, they are responsible for anything that goes wrong with any of the employees inside or outside the organization.

To the contrary, the gentleman to whom I spoke at the HR conference argued that employee engagement is not the responsibility of human resources (HR). In his opinion, HR should be focused on tactical things like payroll, benefits and workplace conflict. He further posited that HR doesn’t really have the tools or knowledge base to lead this effort.

While I believe that everyone inside the organization has a role to play in employee engagement, HR must play a leading, or at a minimum, partnering role by virtue of their intimate knowledge of the human capital ecosystem. They must be fully supported in this area. They deserve a seat at the table.

  • Executive leaders (including the board of directors)

Another popular opinion is that the executive leadership team, along with any boards of directors, are the key architects of employee engagement. This position points to the fact that the most senior decisionmakers in an organization navigate the organization in one direction, or another, and determine where to direct resources.

I do believe that the executive leaders in any organization are crucial in employee engagement efforts as they must approve budgets, remove barriers, act in congruence with stated visions and norms and demonstrate high levels of enthusiasm around all efforts. They must also ensure that HR and other stakeholders are empowered to do what is necessary to improve the experiences for employees.

  • Employees

In the work that I do, I often hear the argument that employees are responsible for their own engagement. People who make this argument point to self-reliance in that they believe that employees must create their own happiness, their own positive view of work, and their own opportunities.

There is some validity to this argument, but what is overlooked is the imbalance of power between employees and management. There are many examples of a lack of empowerment, micromanagement that stifles any creative thinking and even sabotage.

Having said that, employee engagement is impossible if employees don’t provide open and honest feedback, aren’t flexible through change initiatives, or they become apathetic and siloed. They are, indeed, the critical piece of the employee engagement puzzle, but cannot fully direct their own experiences.

  • All supervisors and business unit managers

Many believe that employee engagement is the responsibility of the “boss”. I have written extensively about this both in my book, The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty, and in past articles. I do believe that all levels of management drive the kinds of emotions that make employees want to stay or leave an organization. This directly connects to their level of discretionary effort. I will continue to surface additional ways that managers can produce these emotions and drive higher levels of engagement.

For now, we must not leave management out of the employee engagement discussion.

  • Everyone

There is a newer discussion that everyone owns employee engagement-from the janitor, to the supervisor to the CEO to the members of the board of directors. Some may argue that this is a cop out in that if everyone is responsible, no one is responsible. If no one is responsible, then nothing gets done.

This is a valid point. We need to make sure that there are measurements and accountabilities associated with any employee engagement efforts. If not, it will only be a conversation. We need to be specific about who is responsible for what and how them accountable for results.

My thoughts

While I do believe that managers have the biggest opportunity to create fertile ground for engagement success, employee engagement is not possible unless all stakeholders are bought into the need for it and their roles in it. I think we need to continue to look at all the models and ideas to decide which governance model is best. No matter what, this is not a “one and done” scenario, nor should the good or the bad be placed on the shoulders of one department or person. This a hefty load that must be carried by many.

Please lend your voice to this conversation. Leave a comment with your perspective. Do you feel strongly on one side of the other? Share it with others who can add value.

63: Leaders With Heart Know That They Need Followers Before They Can Lead


In this episode, Heather speaks with Steve McIntosh about his leadership style, a very engaging story of his early leadership challenges and some powerful tips for all leaders. 

Key takeaway:

  • Always seek feedback from all around.
  • Leaders don’t realize that in order to lead, you must have followers.
  • People want their leaders to take them somewhere they want to go.
  • Provide a setting that allows your team to see the good and bad of leadership by giving them more responsibility.
  • It can be lonely as a sole leader. Do it with others.
  • Leaders are not superheroes.

Enjoy this conversation with a gent from Scotland who currently resides in the Cayman Islands!

Steve McIntosh’s Full BIO

Steve McIntosh is a business owner, chartered accountant and HR professional. 

Born and raised in Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland, he graduated from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, where he studied accounting and psychology. After starting his career with global accounting firm KPMG, Steve qualified as a chartered accountant (ICAEW) and transferred to the Cayman Islands in September 2001. In 2004 Steve founded financial services recruitment firm CML which grew to become one of the most successful recruitment firms in the Caribbean region. 

Today, CML provides recruitment and HR services to many of the world’s best-known professional and financial services firms. Inspired by a passion for helping people and companies perform at their best, he dedicated himself to the study and practice of Human Resources, qualifying in 2013 as a Global Professional in HR (GPHR, HRCI). There’s no zealot like a convert, they say. 

These days, as CEO-at-large, Steve spends most of his time working tirelessly to help his clients build great teams; his candidates and staff, great careers.

Never Quite There

You never quite know where your leadership journey is going to take you. Now, I find myself right in an interesting crossroad. It’s almost like being at the start of a new path. I just think, in leadership, every day is a new learning experience and you’re never quite there. But I love to challenge myself and I love to learn. I read a lot and I love talking to other leaders.

Like anything else, you learn from your mistakes. No one had a conversation with me to say, “You’re a leader in this organization and here’s what that means.” 

Looking back, I really wish they had. I’m not sure I would have listened, but I wish they tried, because it may have helped me avoid some of the mistakes I did.

The day you reach the end of your leadership journey is the day you should retire. - @cml_steve_mc #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Agree What Needs To Be Done

Leadership is changing. - @cml_steve_mc #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I thought, my transition as a leader was a well-trodden path because I started thinking about my job as a manager and as a boss who tells people what to do. 

But it dawns on you eventually that that approach just doesn’t work. 

So, my approach to leadership these days is not to tell people what to do but to agree what needs to be done, to make sure they have the resources and the support they need to be able to do it well, to continue the conversation with them about what their goals are, and what we can do as an organization to help them achieve their goals.

I think, if you do that, then, they start happy in advancing their careers, in developing professionally and in mastering their craft. Those are the things that make people happy. 

I don’t get hung up on how people do things anymore. I don’t try to enforce standards on people. We agree on results at the highest possible level. I help them reach that target.

Command and Control

The command and control style of leadership worked one time in the boomer generation because people have seen tough times in the society. 

They’ve gone to war and they’ve been used to some level of adversity. They’ve been used to following instructions. Maybe education was slightly different so it doesn’t encourage as much freethinking as it does today.

But know this: today, people come out of the university and they’re very smart. They have been taught to think freely, and they expect to do that in their jobs

If you just go and try to tell people what to do, they might do it in the short term, but it’s going to lead to all kinds of problems and conflict.

With a lack of autonomy, people are just going to leave. 

Whereas, if you just agree on what needs to be done and let them get on with it, it doesn’t always work out, but at least when it does work out, they’re happy. Over time, you end up with a team that is high performing.

Step up and make it happen yourself. - @cml_steve_mc #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
The entire value of our company is driven by our people. The more successful they are, eventually, the more successful we’ll be. - @cml_steve_mc #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Your bosses are just humans, not superheroes. - @cml_steve_mc #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Steve on LinkedIn and Twitter

Grab a copy of his book here!

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