I don’t remember when I first heard the phrase, “Your have to put your heart into it.” It was probably when I was a kid growing up–likely something to do with sports. We encourage kids to throw themselves into whatever it is they are doing. We try to teach them that the only way to really be exceptional is to put everything you have into everything you do. As a child, putting your heart into it means giving 110% effort and focus.
As we get older, this becomes more complicated. We become masters of effort. School teaches us how to put in effort, even when we could care less about the thing we are working on (hello history class). Somewhere, as we transition to adulthood, putting your heart into something becomes about passion and belief. It’s no longer about giving effort, because we all know how to do that even with our brains and hearts turned off. Heart becomes about inspired effort–doing things that are remarkable.
I have learned personally that I am capable of doing some really great work if I’m inspired. When I am in love with my work and believe that it matters, some magic can happen. That’s what having my heart in it looks like for me. When my heart isn’t in it, I get twitchy, distracted, and increasingly frustrated over time. The heart is a pretty important part of the equation.
It’s been my experience that this true for most people. And if that is true, then the role of a leader seems to be all about heart–helping others put their heart into their work. That sounds awesome, powerful and like a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense all at the same time. I think that when most organizations talk about employee engagement, this is really what they are hoping for. Almost any leader worth his or her salt is at least privately wishing that everyone in their organization would put their heart into their work. We intuitively know that our heart leads us to do good and to BE good (at least more times than not).
But, what does this mean to help others put their heart into their work. I’ll say again what I said before, I think it’s about belief and passion. Do people believe in their organization, their ability to contribute, their leaders, and their co-workers? If not, then that’s a place to start.
Belief leads to passion. In my first job out of college, I sold copy machines. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. But, I believed in our product. I was convinced that I was selling THE best copiers on the market. I also believed in my sales manager and as a result I trusted the process he had taught me to sell. So, every day, I would get up and get dressed and head out to make 20 or more face to face cold calls every day. And, when I got home from doing that, I would bore my family and friends to tears talking about the copier business. I was filled with belief-fueled passion. But, then my organization lost my belief by treating me poorly and losing my trust. No belief. No passion. No heart. Everything changed.
Belief is fragile. I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to belief, but here are a few elements that I think are critical to creating a team who has their hearts in their work:
- Trust. Belief can’t exist without trust. If you don’t trust your leaders and colleagues, it’s nearly impossible to believe in them–particularly when times are tough. Not only that, I’m not going to put my heart into the care of someone who I don’t trust to take good care of it.
- Purpose. We all want to do work that matters. This is the most consistent thing I hear from people when we talk about their work. Organizations and teams need to be crystal clear on their purpose. And I’m not talking about “maximizing shareholder value.” No one cares about that except the shareholders. I’m talking about a purpose that is worthy of my heart. Why does our work matter? No purpose, no belief.
- Transparency. There are no secrets anymore. There are only truths that are not yet known. The days of smoke and mirrors are gone. For me to put my heart into your organization or in you as a leader, I need to know that you’ll tell me the truth in good times and bad. Transparency is how you show me you trust and care about me.
- Integrity. This is closely linked to trust, but goes a little further. Do you do what you say you will do? Can I trust you to walk in alignment with your stated values and mission? Are you consistent? These are important questions to answer correctly if you expect to be entrusted with a person’s heart.
Are your employees putting their heart into their work? Are you?
Here’s the thing about hearts. Where our hearts go, the rest of us follows. So, becoming a leader or building an organization that is heart-worthy might be the most powerful competitive advantage you can create.