Leaders know that difficult conversations are best accomplished with their head and their heart. They understand that if they aren’t “openhearted,” the conversation can have a life of its own, and often one that isn’t pleasant. ~Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo asks the question, “Have you ever heard ‘I’m going to have a head-to-head conversation’? Of course not, but this is what often happens in our organizations. Having a ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation is what’s most important when the topic is difficult. The words you will say aren’t enough (those come from your head); you need to also have an open heart.”
This idea of being openhearted reminded me of another word I heard someone use to describe tough situations – being tenderhearted. For me, tenderhearted takes it to an even greater level and consequently, degree of difficulty. Tenderhearted is defined by Webster’s as easily moved to love and compassion.
I’m sure I’ve lost a number of folks by now because I’ve taken this to a place of too much touchy-feely talk. Why do we think that when we walk through the doors of our workplace that we’ve somehow left our humanity outside on the street? Our humanity follows us everywhere, even into the walls of our office. And for those of us who tout practices like servant leadership or transformational leadership, we better take notice of what it means to be tenderhearted if we are going to actually practice what we preach.
Let me illustrate. I came across a situation where a leader was berated by a couple of employees in an email conversation that made its way back to the leader. [Don’t you love the way technology has become the number one tattle-tail in organizations today.] The person at fault here openly stated they made a mistake and can point to the exact moment when everything started to head south. She willingly agreed to talk with the leader, apologize, and try to make things right. The leader (as well as the leader’s supervisor) said she shouldn’t have to go through that and essentially refused to accept the apology or make an effort to reconcile the relationship. This offended leader only wants discipline for this employee who is sincerely trying to apologize.
I’m missing the tenderhearted piece in this picture. This is an organization that espouses servant leadership. Wouldn’t that mean not only seeking forgiveness but also accepting forgiveness when someone wants to apologize and try to make things right?
Chuck Swindoll describes this as having a “tender heart and a tough hide.” It could be that having a tough hide is a prerequisite to having a tender heart. And what a great, concise definition of a leader – a tender heart and a tough hide. Swindoll then asks the question: Are you tough and tender or do you become brittle and bitter? Are you a leader of both grace and grit?
Do you have the heart for leadership?