Heart and Head
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
– Nelson Mandela –
I always wanted to be a doctor. My grandfathers John and Ken were doctors. My Aunt and my Mother were nurses, and science and medicine fascinated me. I have clear and vivid memories of my grandfather’s pediatric office with the measuring stick and the otoscope, and when my Mom was studying nursing I delighted in learning the bones of the hands and the feet alongside her.
My father was an architect, and my brother an engineer. Though medicine called to me, it seems genetics skipped a beat with math and physics, which did not prove to be my realm of interest. Alas, my destiny was to study words, and ultimately, to study people in systems and how they “be” together.
I still find myself fascinated with medicine, though, and I delight in engineering and architectural marvels. I love working with people in these fields in part because their brains just think so differently than mine, and also because of the nature of their problem solving abilities. They can tackle really big, hairy, complex problems like how to treat contagious diseases, build bridges, or create the inner workings of the iPhone, the heart rate monitor, and the laptop.
Needless to say, it came as an unexpected surprise to me, having hero-worshiped medical pros, scientists, and engineers for their aptitudes and abilities most of my life, that the very skills I have accidentally developed in my own line of work are ones they crave.
The vast majority of my clients over the past 30 years of professional consulting, training, and coaching, have been cognitive wiz-bangs, with advanced degrees in potent fields full of rigor, technicality, method and data. But, they have sought out our help in activating and enabling their brilliant ideas and innovations to have real, meaningful impact.
Traditional science, medicine, engineering, and technology education programs, and “on-the-job” learning lacks a focus on developing the key traits and skills required for partnership, conflict resolution, and leadership. Now we are talking MY language. In order to make meaningful contributions to the world, these clients must have organizations that function fluidly, teams who build relationships with one another and collaborate, and competent leaders that develop and grow their people. What these clients have taught me over the years is that they are lacking in these key areas.
- A Surgery Center CEO told me he was trained to “cut people”, and that as CEO, he never got to cut people (no longer practicing surgery) and he didn’t have the skills to lead, to mentor, to communicate, and to engage partners.
- A CEO of a small engineering company told me that he struggles today with new engineers because they lack ability to convey empathy and understanding to clients, which then looks like arrogance and causes problems securing contracts.
- A VP of Software Technology broke down in tears as she told me she just couldn’t find a way to get her programmers to work together well, and the project deadlines were being missed over and over as a result.
- A brilliant architect in a large firm failed at his post-graduate school dream job because he wasn’t able to successfully convey to clients that he “got them” and could leverage their ideas into great design.
In the simplest terms, the atrophied muscle in these brain-heavy fields is the heart.Emotional intelligence, the term coined by researcher Daniel Goleman, and the key traits of self- and social-awareness escape these people, and they find that they have little to no readiness to lead, inspire, partner, and drive change, despite often being the very brightest mind in the room.
Developing empathy, practicing vulnerability, inspiring followership, managing ambiguity, listening, and connecting well with others across differences are vital tools for anyone looking to lead, to be a member of a high performing team, or to draw people into their amazing and brilliant ideas.
When will our academic and professional systems and processes stop growing human beings with great big head skills (cognition) and small, atrophied heart skills?
We fail doctors, engineers, architects, and technologists when we do not arm them with a complete quiver of tools – one that includes activating emotional pathways and relationship building skills. By not doing so, we inadvertently undercut their capacity to tackle the big problems only they can solve.