Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.
— Carl Jung

I want to be a heart-centered leader. I want to be authentic so the people I lead can connect to my authenticity, not just my words, title, or position. I want people to feel me, not just understand me, so they will be inspired to step into their own authenticity and genius. I want others to live and lead from their heart because I know what’s possible when people experience connection.

The Most Important Leadership Skill of All

Leadership requires effective communication, relationship-building, and presence. Competency in these areas demands high emotional intelligence (EQ). You have a high EQ if you can: identify an emotion (there are four core emotions: anger, sadness, joy, and fear, as well as two hybrids: shame and guilt); realize which emotion you are feeling and at what intensity level (pay attention to your body because it acts as a tuning fork for your emotions); and express a full range of emotions.

When we’re able to read our own emotions, we can read others’ emotions, be empathetic, and connect more deeply through the heart.

Developing our EQ requires some self-hacking and deprogramming. We must unlearn our family’s and culture’s programming about emotions that made them bad, weak, dangerous, or unproductive. Emotional maturity means we have reclaimed access to an instinctive capability and a portal to our life force so we can manage our emotions with minimal reactivity.

The Cost of a Closed Heart and the Risks of an Open One

Leaders who are emotionally shut down or who use emotions to disconnect people from their heart and genius are dull and dangerous. When we stuff our fear, anger, and sadness a little bit, we show up like polite, constricted robots. When we stuff those feelings deep enough and long enough, we become anxious, depressed, and sick.

Despite the cost of being emotionally stunted, we often avoid changing. We resist taking the journey from head to heart because we convince ourselves it’s better to be numb than to feel pain. Yet thanks to high EQ, we know that to access the full amplitude of our most favorite emotion, we are going to have to feel the full amplitude of our most painful one.

Emotional work is hard. Yet if you view leadership as service and see authenticity as an essential way to serve, you are committed to opening your heart. Servant leaders do their “work.” They don’t run from their feelings, they embrace and channel them.

For me, the rewards of heart-centered leadership far outweigh the costs. On the other side of this work lies fulfillment that exceeds what comes from achieving conventional success. When you access your heart, you will realize that the aliveness, connection, and contentment you seek are accessible to you right now.

Three Steps to Emotional Enlightenment

Your emotions are gateways to a life of authenticity. When you’re authentic, your heart guides your decision-making. You’re accountable, transparent, congruent with your values and mission, vulnerable, and powerful.

If you’re ready to lead from your heart, increase your EQ by doing these practices several times a day each day for two weeks:

  1. Feel it. Use the mantra of “in and down” to remind yourself to turn inside to your body (primarily your torso) and notice the nature of your breathing. Is there any constriction? What is your body telling you about your emotional state? You’ll start to notice your body’s unique sensations caused by your emotions. You will notice what an open heart feels like.

  2. Name it. Put names to the physical sensations: mad, sad, glad, fear, guilt, shame—or any words that are variations (higher or lower intensity) of these words.

  3. Express it. Start with your most trusted inner circle and begin to master your emotional vocabulary to determine which words work best for different audiences. “I feel angry.” “I feel anxious.” “I’m sad to hear you say that.”

These three practices may allow you to give the biggest gift you can give to the world: your heart. Do you feel the call to be a more heart-centered leader? We could use you.

Note: The path to emotional maturity can differ depending on your Enneagram Type. Types 5, 6, and 7 (the Thinking Types) must better manage their relationship with fear. Types 2, 3, and 4 (the Heart Types) must manage their relationship with sadness. And the Types 8, 9 and 1 (the Body Types) must manage their relationship with anger.