By Jill Y. Fuson, Ph.D., Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University and Shane Nelson, Faculty Member, School of Business
Leadership is not necessarily just what you can do as much as it is about who you are as you lead your employees to success.
In today’s fast-paced world of business, employees look to their managers for inspiration and leadership. As we look to them for guidance, several questions come to mind:
- How good is my leader?
- Does my leader have the attributes of a great leader?
- What is truly within the heart of my leader?
Many times, these questions are asked about successful leaders and how they were able to inspire their organization. What makes the leader tick and allows the staff to follow? Is it the way they communicate? Is that how they persevere through difficult times?
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Being Caring and Authentic Is Essential for Great Leaders
An important aspect of leadership is the role the heart plays. Such leaders make a tremendous impact on their business as they are generous with due recognition to each individual.
These leaders take the time to know their employees personally. They are mindful, caring and authentic. Leading with the heart is something that leaders cannot pretend to do; it is part of their thinking and approach to life and it shows who they truly are.
Gordon Bethune of Continental Airlines: An Example of a Great Leader
When organizations struggle, they seek an individual to lead and “right the ship.” An example would be Gordon Bethune of Continental Airlines, who was recruited from Boeing Company to turn the ailing airline around to a profitable status. Continental Airlines was losing $55 million a month, their ranking for the industry was last due to late departures, customer complaints and lost luggage.
Bethune recognized the airline industry’s success depended on customer satisfaction. In order to turn the organization around, he took drastic measures by renegotiating debt, eliminating unprofitable routes and placing employees on an incentive plan. The company went from a net loss of $613 million to a net profit of $224 million in just 12 months and went on to win more J.D. Powers and Associates awards for customer satisfaction than any other airline.
Aaron Feuerstein of Malden Mills: Another Great Leader
One such important factor in an excellent leader is the ability to inspire and to do what is best for the organization as a whole regardless of the outcome. Heart-centered leaders focus on their employees. That is different from the leadership concept that places the focus on the organization. When you take care of your employees, they will take care of the organization.
A prime example is Aaron Feuerstein, president of Malden Mills in Massachusetts. In 1995, just two weeks before Christmas, Malden Mills was completely destroyed by fire. Feuerstein announced he would rebuild and promised to keep employees on the payroll during the reconstruction of the plant.
Feuerstein became a national folk hero and in 1996, he reopened Malden Mills. Both Feuerstein and his wife Louise oversaw the $450 million reconstruction and received a prize from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Leaders Should Have Integrity and Avoid Rushing to Judgment
Another important element to great leaders is they are honest and truthful. They do not assume or judge; they understand by asking the right questions, not by rushing to assumptions or judgment.
A leader must be able to make good decisions in times of turmoil while also being the voice of reason and calmness. Heart-centered leaders are able to see the big picture and help their employees to envision how things will be once the difficulties have been overcome. Heart-centered leaders are calm, caring and help their staff to remain calm and sensible.
Great Leaders Help Employees to Grow Professionally
Finally, heart-centered leaders mentor and grow their employees’ value within the organization. By doing so, these leaders inspire their employees who will know that their leader believes in their capabilities. Thus, they will be devoted not only to the organization but also to you, their leader.
Leading with the heart engenders a closeness and dedication in the employees. That makes the work environment an enjoyable place that is dedicated to and inspired by the mission.
About the Authors
Dr. Jill Fuson is a Professor and Faculty Director in the School of Business at American Public University. Her academic credentials include a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from Capella University, a M.A. in Human Resource Development from Webster University and a B.S. in Management from the University of Maryland, European Division. She has been with APUS for 13 years and teaches in the Management program.
Shane Nelson is a professor in the School of Business at American Public University. His academic credentials include an MBA in Sports Management from American Public University, an M.Mgt. from the University of Phoenix, and an M.S. in Sports Management from American Public University. Shane received his B.S. in Business Marketing from the University of Phoenix. He has been with APUS for nine years.
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