Career Guide


Dare to lead from heart

Tips for building authentic and cohesive professional relationships

There's a famous saying that goes: “Nice guys finish last.” It’s widely attributed to a US baseball legend Leo Durocher, who spent many years as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.

It’s a saying that has entered popular lexicon. It implies that to be successful you should only look after yourself. It suggests that for you to win – everyone else has to lose.

It advocates selfish, self-serving and, at worst, narcissistic behaviour.

It’s a sad reality that in organisations you will see some people adopt this style of behaviour.

Everything they do and say is all about them. They are focused on how they can position themselves for success, at the expense of others.

You also see this play out with organisations when they try and squash smaller players in the market, and use their market power to change their rules to their advantage.

This type of behaviour isn’t necessary, nor is it sustainable. You don’t need to step over others and push those in front of you out of the way to be successful.

It’s an old-fashioned and outdated way of thinking.

The sharing economy, which is rapidly growing (to the extent that PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates it could generate US$335bil in revenue by 2025) is making it more important than ever to find ways to successfully work in partnership with people. Companies are discovering that doing it alone is harder, and reputation matters.

At an individual level, being known as “nice” doesn’t mean you are a “pushover” and that you’ll let everyone walk all over you. It means you treat people with respect and act with integrity. You work to build collaborative partnerships with the people around you. You are kind, considerate and co-operative with others. You understand the power of compassion, fairness and, yes, love.

When you genuinely care about your team members and colleagues, you are far more willing to collaborate and work together to achieve jointly successful outcomes.

If you wanted a further reason as to why you should collaborate, research has shown that co-operating with others activates the same reward circuitry in your brain as when you eat chocolate.

Being a leader with heart is simple. And influential leaders know it is the simple things that matter: Being friendly. Saying hello to people in the morning. Celebrating a team member’s birthday. Recognising important milestones for people. Helping others. Remembering it is not always about you.

These actions build the leader’s personal reputation as someone that people want to know and associate with. It creates relationships that are built on trust and mutual respect.

Relationships of this nature are enduring, purposeful and successful. It is relationships like these that can help propel a person’s career forward.

If you are wondering how your leadership style is being received by those around you. Ask yourself:

-What are people saying or not saying to me?

-Am I the last person to find out “bad news” or are people comfortable to bring forward issues to me?

-How engaged is my team? Is it working as a high performing team, where there is strong connection and cohesiveness?

-How productive is the team? Is good progress being made?

-Are there unresolved issues or high levels of conflict in the team, which I am turning a blind eye to?

Answering these questions will provide early insights into elements of your leadership style. But you need to go further. You need to be:


1 Prepared to self-reflect – so that you are able to take the time to see how you are feeling, thinking and ultimately reacting to what is going on around you.


2 Welcome all types of news – even news that is difficult to hear. Not only is your reaction a test of your character, it sets the standard for what happens in the future. If you shoot the messenger, next time an issue arises, you’re less likely to find people willing to alert you to it.


3 Talk to people at all levels of the organisation – Hierarchy can interfere with the information you receive as information can be filtered and sanitised before it hits your desk. This is because people don’t want to look bad and they want to paint the most optimistic picture of what is happening. Talking with people across, and up and down the organisation ensures you have a better handle on what is happening.


4 Beware of gatekeepers – Whilst your support staff will often be acting with good intent, if access to you is so heavily managed that it is impossible for people to see you, you will find it harder to have a realistic assessment of progress and issues.


5 Take the time to walk the floor – Casually walking around the office and incidental conversations can often prove an invaluable way of finding out what is going on. It’s also a great way to build rapport and relationships with people.


6 Don’t silence the dissenters – It is often the person with the dissenting opinion or the person who is asking the probing questions who will help you see the issue from a different perspective. Whilst this can be frustrating, it is usually helpful in the long run as you can take comfort from the fact that you have examined the issue from multiple perspectives.

Embracing these elements takes leadership. Leadership where you lead from the heart, not just the head. The benefit of this approach is that the more you adopt actions of this nature the more engaged your team will be. They’ll know that you have their backs. They’ll recognise that you support their efforts to try new things and to make progress.

So, next time you think you need to push and shove your way to the top, remember that nice people don’t finish last.


Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress. She is the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work. For more information, visit www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com

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