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.

57: Leaders With Heart Create Psychological Safety For Their Teams


In this episode, Heather speaks with Melissa Ebert about her leadership style, concepts of psychological safety, why self-care is so important and a few challenges she had along the way.

Key takeaways:

  • Get input from your team to understand where they come from.
  • Seek first to understand.
  • Help your people live in their strengths.
  • Make sure to be specific with your people when letting them know about an expected result. They may not fill in the blanks.
  • Hope is not a strategy.
  • Allow your people the space to decompress.
  • Take to time to rejuvenate so that you can be the best for your people.

Melissa Ebert’s Full BIO

Melissa has been to different places learning and serving her community by facilitating youth activities through leadership conferences and summer camps. She worked four years with People to People Student Travel as Head of Admissions for a six-state area meeting wonderful families and educators. 

She presently serves as the Manager of Sponsorships at FOCUS: Fellowship of Catholic University Students. She’s visited 47 states, 5 continents, enjoys meeting great people, working out and trying first-time experiences. She currently resides in Denver, Colorado and deeply enjoys visiting her parents, three sisters, two brother-in-law’s and one nephew in Kansas. 

Collaborative and Empathic 

I don’t intuitively consider myself a leader in the terms of the typical traditional sense of it. I’ve come to realize that we all do need one in some manner, whether it’s official or not in terms of other co-workers. 

I have leadership experience overseeing teams and individuals and I’m also still growing. I’d say I have come to a new level leadership role from an official strategic organizational standpoint.

I am very collaborative and empathic from a leadership standpoint. I want to get inputs from the team. I also try to empathize and understand where they’re coming from, then lay out the best options for ‘win-win-win’ opportunities.

There's a reason that we seek first to understand rather than be understood.  #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Team Growth

Build rapport and respect with your team so that they will feel safe to be vulnerable. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I think, years ago, I would have been someone who really didn’t want to be leading other people and I would be a better individual contributor. 

But, as I have been getting more experience at taking some leadership roles, I think part of what drives me are the team results. We have accomplished so much more as a team and I am also a team-minded person. Also, you’re building rapport there.

Then the second guiding motivator for me is seeing the growth in the people whom you’re leading. Getting to help them become more in lined with who they’re designed to be and living in their gifts and skills would be a big reason for me.  

To those that I lead, I believe we have enough respect for each other that we know if we bring something up, it’s not attacking the person. It’s actually saying we want what’s best for each other and it’s built on that respect and safety. 

Specifics and Freedom

When I look back over the last 6-8 years of some leadership roles that I have been in, the consistent theme of where I can get better is providing more specific direction and guidance for the requests that I make. 

Sometimes I can be so laissez-faire that I need to be more clear about what the X-results is and maybe providing a little more guidelines along the way.

I found out that there were misunderstandings and a lot of wasted energy on both sides trying to clarify what were needed to be done. It’s a very small thing but it makes sense. 

I think part of that too is, the more specific detail you can give them with the freedom to do it in the way that they need, is more than efficient. Because, if there is something that needs to be done and they’re creative in the way that they do it, then you’re allowing both to happen. 

If there's struggle or a lack of motivation, connect with the why. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Hope is not a strategy. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet There's a reason why we need a mental pause in the afternoon. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn and Twitter

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51: Leaders With Heart Promote Love In The Workplace


In this episode, Heather speaks with Renée Smith, Director of Workplace Transformations for Washington State, about her leadership journey, her innovative approach to infusing love in the government, her challenges as a leader and some very clear ways in which leaders can show more love and care for the people they lead. You wouldn’t want to miss this and you’ll probably listen to it twice!


Key takeaways:

  • Once we decrease fear in the workplace, we increase love.
  • When we bring more humanity into the workplace, we increase performance.
  • We need to invite people to be more real at work.
  • Emotional responses need to be more understood.
  • We need to get comfortable leading our people through emotional circumstances to build more trust.
  • Help your team feel loved and cared for.
  • Help, to create a family atmosphere. 

I love her focus on people and her mission to make government more human. This will surely be a listener favorite!

Renee Smith’s Full BIO

Renée Smith is passionate about making the workplace more effective and humane. She champions the development of A Human Workplace community and commits to Making Work More Human by increasing love and decreasing fear in the workplace.  

Currently, Renée is the Director of Workplace Transformations for Washington State as part of the Governor’s Results Washington Office. Prior to that, she served at the Department of Enterprise Services leading the Organization Development Services division.

She earned a Master of Science in Organization Development from Pepperdine University and received the Governor’s Leadership in Management Award for her original strategy work and Lean culture work at DES in 2014. Renée is a doting mother of four.  

Less Fear, More Love

I get to advocate for a decrease in fear and an increase in love in the workplace to make work more human, specifically making government more human.

I asked my executive, “What do you think is the most important job of a leader in the context of this work? He immediately answered to “eliminate fear from the workplace.” 

It was not a new idea, but it was certainly  a beautiful and brilliant expression of what we have been trying to do, what we have seen our executives trying to do, and what we are encouraged to do through our leadership in the agency.


Fear and love are the two primary human emotional experiences that we have and everything emanates out of one of those. If we want to create an environment where people are going to take risks, be honest about the challenges they face, post their performance date on the walls and talk about problems, if we want them to do all the things, if we want them to empathize with customers and create different kinds of experiences for them, then, we’ve got to create an environment where they can do that, and that starts with love.

There is way too much fear and pain in our work. But I think people are ready for something different.

We need whole, real people in our workplaces. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Better Together

As a young person, I already found my way into leadership roles especially in high school.

Back in the day, I learned about communication, decision-making and basically how to bring people together, help teams to be efficient and be able to have a good time.

I was curious about how we can bring people together so that everyone’s included and create that experience that is high performance and highly human. The more human we can be together, the better our performances.

How do we help and optimize what’s possible but not be so brutal on people? I’m a person who likes change but I certainly had lots of team members who don’t. Most people are freaked out by change naturally, so I love thinking about how to help people get through that in a more human way.

It's not only our brain and body that should be present at work, but also our identities, intuition, spirit, emotions and our connections to each other. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

The Pain of Sitting Still

As I formed my career at a later point in time, I had a moment of being behind. 

I was surrounded by people who had been doing well. I knew I had things to contribute. I knew that my unusual early experiences as an adult were relevant but they didn’t look the same as everyone else’s. I had to figure out the leadership I wanted to bring and how to do that. It took a while for me to figure out exactly how to do that.

People will follow people who are real. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

As my hesitation held me back, I realized that the pain of sitting still and watching other people do the things that I also wanted to contribute was greater than the fear of stepping forward.

I had things I want to say and share. I wanted to participate.

As leaders, we have to lead people through painful circumstances. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Know your people and take interest in them. Help them to learn and grow. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Renee Smith on LinkedIn

Learn more about A Human Workplace

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50: Leaders With Heart Know That Their Lens Impacts Those They Lead


In this episode, Heather speaks with Kristy McCann, Founder and CEO of GoCoach. Kristy talks to Heather about her recent not-so-great leadership moments, her “let the light in” approach when things aren’t perfect, and her ways to connect with her virtual team.

Key takeaways:

  • The lens of the leader impacts those around her.
  • All good people and not-so-good people make us the leaders we are today.
  • Let the team lead you.
  • Understanding your stressors is key.
  • You need to have a bad day to see the blessings in front of you.
  • Our work should be focused on how we can inspire others.
  • We are able to reach more people when we remove the walls.

Kristy’s deep belief in helping leaders grow is really contagious. Don’t miss this one!

Kristy McCann’s Full BIO

Kristy is passionate in helping and educating others to achieve their success. With over 15 years of experience in Strategic Human Resource Leadership, Change Management and Organizational Development, she has served in senior leadership positions throughout her career. 

She is transforming that passion through GoCoach, a company whose mission is to help and educate others to own their career. She brings a big picture perspective and a hands-on, tactical approach to her leadership as its CEO & Founder.

Great Intentions

According to Kristy, anyone who goes into HR has great intentions.

I went in to HR just because I wanted to help a lot of people do a lot of different things. When you go into HR, you have the responsibility of not only all of the people but also the business. You really play as a conduit and make sure that everything happens with integrity and values, which will be pushed down to all customers or anyone who comes in. 

It’s always a challenge. You hired me to keep you honest. You hired me to be the pulse of your organization and I am your true hand. A lot of leaders have embraced that.

We are built to create a safe and supporting environment for everybody to learn. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Never the Enemy

People in HR want to be able to help and it’s about how we work with leaders to be able to do that. I wanted to help people particularly in HR so that they can never be compromised.

The more education that you bring means the more integrity you’ll drive, and the more productivity, empowerment and happiness that the organization is going to have.

You have to get into almost a bad place for the light bulb to go on and realize that HR individuals are never the enemy.

It’s about how they utilize their skills and ambitions to be able to make a lot of great things happen within an organization. But they need the help of leadership.

When you educate leaders as to what integrity really is, rather than just the bottom line, you’d go so much further.

I had to be ugly again in order for me to see the true beauty of what I was doing. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

The Greatest Gift

I have always looked at myself in the lens of how I can help a lot of people do great things and come together. That’s always a part of my natural DNA. I think a lot of it has come from good matriarchs within my family who were always there and helping in so many different capacities. They didn’t even understand the value they are bringing. Also, a lot of it had to do with the struggles that I went and saw other people go through.

I never wanted anyone to hurt like I did. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Keeping that lens on and trying to provide a safe and supportive environment for people so that they can learn well made me into a leader. What really drives me are happy people. What drives me are empowered people. Getting up every single day to my team right now is the biggest gift. Now, I am not the only leader, but I have a great team that is all leading me and keeping me on this. It is the biggest win-win.

If somebody remembers me because I have inspired them, then that's pretty cool. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Pain brings a lot of people together. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Kristy on LinkedIn or through GoCoach!

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