Lead with heart. Put people first. Be empathetic. 

These things are easy to talk about, and most of us know a heart-based leader when we experience one. But the truth is, it can be challenging to bring more empathy, compassion, and connection to your leadership when this isn’t your natural style.

Not all of us are born with the natural ability to connect with people easily. Not all of us have empathy as our first reaction to people. And few of us can consistently keep our hearts at the center of our leadership when we’re bombarded with deadlines, challenges, and frustrations.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a natural at heart-centered leadership to get better at it. Even the most prickly among us can learn the skills to connect with others more effectively. Here are three ways to get started:

Notice when you get particularly disconnected

For most of us, our ability to connect with our teams ebbs and flows, depending on the situation, our mood, or the particular people involved. If you want to improve your ability to connect, start by noticing the times you are disconnected. Often, these are times when we are uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or afraid. Maybe we feel like staying connected means we lose our ability to hold people accountable. Or we’re afraid it will make us appear weak or soft. Maybe we’re just distracted and respond out of habit. Whatever your specific challenge, if you can begin to understand the triggers that cause you to disconnect, you can begin to build a strategy to re-engage.

Tap into your compassion

Once you know why you disengage, you’re on the road to responding differently to these situations. But, before you take action, slow down and tap into your sense of compassion – for yourself and your team. Remind yourself that you are only human. You have shortcomings, challenges, and fears just like everyone else. You make mistakes. Then, remind yourself that your team is no different than you are – human beings having a human experience. Softening your approach like this can make all the difference in how you’re perceived by others. It can also help you sustain the changes you’re trying to make.

Get curious

Once you’re in a place of compassion, you can start to take action. First, get curious. Think of yourself as a researcher or a scientist who is trying to uncover why something is happening. You’re not here to judge what’s going on (there will be plenty of time for that) – you’re just here to discover. What do you gain from disengaging in situations like these? Are there other things that could help you engage instead? What is the team’s experience of the situation? What do they need from you right now? These answers will help you further soften your approach and may also help bring a new perspective to the situation you’re facing. 

Leading with more heart doesn’t happen overnight. It requires you to observe yourself, plan out a new response, and take consistent action. It also requires that you step into discomfort and take a few risks. Those things aren’t easy, but they’re well worth the challenge. Over time you will begin to notice changes in the way you relate to your team, how they respond to you, and the satisfaction you feel as a leader.