Leading with the Heart and Not Just the Head

Posted 02.11.2009

OK, I promise that I’m not going to turn this blog into the internet’s number one site for Obama groupies, but I have to share and briefly comment on this video clip from the President’s town hall meeting in Ft. Myers, Florida yesterday.  

One thing that these tough economic times guarantee is that leaders will frequently have to either deliver bad news or demonstrate compassion for people that are suffering.

During the Q & A segment of the President’s town hall yesterday, a woman named Henrietta Hughes made a plea for help so that she could get her family out of the small car they've been living in and into a safe home with a kitchen and some of the other basics of life.  Take one minute to watch this video clip of Ms. Hughes and notice how the President responded to her.

What did you notice?  Here’s what struck me:

Acknowledgement:  With unwavering eye contact and by asking her for her name, Obama acknowledged Ms. Hughes as a person.

Respect:  When he learned her name, he didn’t call her Henrietta, he called her Ms. Hughes.

Connection:  By walking toward her and bending over to kiss her cheek, the President established a connection with Ms. Hughes.

Relevance:  It would have been easy for Obama to just talk about the need to help all of America’s homeless, but he went beyond that to make a commitment to do what he could to help Ms. Hughes specifically.

All of that was conveyed in 60 seconds.  Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that the answer for leaders supporting people in tough times is to always walk over and kiss them on the cheek.  What I am suggesting is that, especially in the midst of emotional times, it is vital to slow down, really listen and respond and communicate with your heart and not just your head.   Sometime in the next few days or weeks, you’re going to face a tough communications challenge that is focused on helping real people with real issues.  Be present for them and yourself and respond accordingly.