Leaders as Learners: Let’s Start With the Heart
Interview with global leadership consultant, speaker, and author, Lolly Daskal
[Editor’s Note: I first met Lolly three years ago via her online weekly tweet chat, Lead From Within — a forum for discussing emerging and important leadership topics of our time. Here she shares her own thoughts on the nature, role and relevancy of heart-aligned leadership in women’s empowerment.
This interview is the first in a series, designed to take a deeper look at heart-aligned leadership and the role of character as a catalyst for women and girls’ empowerment. Embodying the core principle of learning as a key catalyst for growth, this series invites thought leaders in leadership development to share their own wisdom and expertise on what it means to be an empowered leader and to live one’s own voice out loud.]
(Sharon): Lolly, first let me say thank you for participating in this leadership learning series and for sharing your thoughts and wisdom on heart-aligned leadership.
As a widely recognized and respected leader and teacher of heart-based leadership, what does heart-aligned leadership mean to you?
(Lolly): Heart-aligned leadership is when we lead from the essence of who we are and who we are meant to be. It’s a way of living and leading that has been around for thousands of years, but it has lost its voice and its place.
For me leadership is not just something we do, it is something we feel as part of our desire to create meaning and difference.
The essence of leadership comes from deep within, and it takes wisdom, guts, and clarity to forge forward with its message.
Our theory is that the heart links us to a higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where our spirit and humanity merge. This intuitive domain is large and complex and difficult to grasp. But we can develop our perceptual capacity by doing what sages and philosophers have asked us to do for ages: listen to and follow the wisdom of the heart.
To lead with heart is to lead with reality. For many of us, that means learning to just face ourselves for who we are and to follow the voice of our own heart. We have to let go of the mind and its demand that we be always thinking and perceiving, so we can create uncover our assumptions and create the suspension that leads to awareness and trust.
It can be a difficult leadership path for many, even though it is within each of us, because it means letting go of fear, judgement and cynicism.
To align with the heart is to have the patience and the willingness not to impose established ideas and mental models on ourselves, but to simply observe ourselves. Then we can come to fresh ideas and understanding of ourselves and of others.
(Sharon): How does it differ from traditional notions of leadership?
(Lolly): The traditional leadership model is based upon the mind, logic, reasoning. Heart-based leadership is based on trust, intuition, observing, and allowing—surrendering to the heart and trusting that it will lead you to the perfect solution.
It means aligning the heart to the mind and not the other way around. Our ancestors understood the heart’s wisdom, and conveyed it in poetry and esoteric philosophy. Today, sadly enough, it survives mostly as metaphor, in phrases like speaking from the heart or follow your heart.
Since then the heart has been reduced essentially to either a simple pump or a sentimental valentine. But research shows that it is actually filled with intelligence—and this intelligence communicates to our mind and body. It was long thought that the heart was controlled entirely by the brain through the autonomic nervous system. But surprisingly, transplant science has shown the heart does not need to be connected to the brain to keep beating.
As far back as the 1970s, physiologists John and Beatrice Lacey of the Fels Research Institute realized that the brain doesn’t call all the shots. They found that while the brain does send messages to the heart, the heart does not automatically obey.
Instead, they found, it responds as if it has its own distinctive logic and reasoning. Its response depends on the nature of the particular task and the type of processing it requires. They also learned that the heart sends back messages to the brain, and that the brain not only comprehends but obeys. What they discovered within the heart was an intelligent language that influences how we act and react within the world.
For many years now we have been led by the notion of the mind—the brain—which is designed to seek, search, hunt, stimulate, perform, execute, implement, and accomplish. It keeps us on the go, and this perpetual motion causes us feel overtaxed, overworked and overextended. In essence, we have allowed our brains to hijack our lives. The heart gives us a reprieve from chaos and takes us to composure. As we have become less connected within ourselves we must seek heart-aligned leadership more than ever.
(Sharon): What is the difference, if any, between character and heart-based leadership?
(Lolly): In short, there is no difference between character and heart. Character is a foundational element of the heart. Character represents who we are and reveals our core convictions, beliefs, and values. Character is from within and it is from those elements that we lead forward.
Character is not only for empowerment, it is the stamp of who we are; it allows others to trust us.
(Sharon): Tell me a little bit about your own journey…. You started your career as an artist…a painter. What led you to teaching heart-based leadership? How has heart-aligned leadership shaped your own journey?
(Lolly): I always wanted to be an artist, and fought hard and sacrificed a lot in my life to become an artist. Sometimes to follow your passion you must give up parts of yourself; for me it was giving up a life I was familiar with and a life I knew.
As an artist I found that I was expressing stories of my heart, and when my patrons would come to the studio, I would listen to their stories, their tribulations, their struggles. To listen to another is have your own story being reflected back at you.
Heart-aligned leadership was not something I just decided to do one day. I feel that I came into this world with its language and teaching. It was only when I found the science to back up what I already knew that I could go out and share it with leaders and organizations.
But among individuals, when you speak from the heart people are touched, they are moved, they are inspired. My work, my mission, is just a way of remembering and reminding us of something that has been around for years. The more people I can reach, and the more people I can help to find that spark within and to see themselves and their relationships, the more meaning it brings me.”
(Sharon): How does heart-aligned leadership enable us to break down barriers for women?
(Lolly): Heart-based leadership is not emotional leadership. It is actually the hardest kind of leadership— to live with the essence of emotions and move forward takes courage. Many people feel when we speak of the heart it’s a woman’s leadership, but actually it is a human leadership. Sometimes we find women in the workplace go as far from their heart is possible because they don’t want to be seen as weak or vulnerable. But it is those women who stay heart-focused who are most successful, because they are leading from their essence and are not trying to something they are not. The barrier to break down is the idea that you have to be a man to succeed in leadership.
(Sharon): What role does heart-aligned leadership play in women’s empowerment and global development?
(Lolly): Women who get the heart, understand its power, and know it’s a game changer, know that it can actually change and inspire the world—women who lead with heart— are the quiet warriors of our world today. They know that what they say speaks of truth and peace and love. It is the mind that gets us in trouble by speaking of war, hate, and separation. How can we empower women? By showing them how to lead with heart. How can we create global development? By following the heart.
(Sharon): What advice do you have for other women and girls who are struggling to find and own their own voice in this world?
(Lolly): Life is about struggle and seeking ourselves. The conversation we have with our heart is continuous; it is not a one-time monologue or conversation but the continuous journey within.
Keep asking, keep exploring, keep diving deep, because the more you ask, the more you seek, the more you will find. All that we need we already have, all that we question is already answered. But we must ask the questions so the answers can present themselves, and then we must be silent to listen.
To journey within the heart is to find out your purpose and bring meaning to this world. Your unique voice is so important.
Stop looking at what others are doing and listen to your own heart, which is saying you are a masterpiece, in charge of your own destiny. The only way we can live is by growing, the only way we can grow is by changing, the only way we can change is by seeking, the only way we can seek is by questioning, and the only way we can question is to know there are answers to be gotten.
Every profound innovation, creation, creativity, and leadership is based on an inward journey, going to a deeper place where knowing comes to the surface.
We are all connected and we are here to help each other grow. So go inward and start leading with the answers from the voice of your heart. It’s saying that we need your significance. We need your talents, we need your smarts, we need your gifts. You matter, because you are here to serve and to inspire the world.
(Sharon): Thank you so much for your leadership, Lolly, and for sharing your heart-centered wisdom with each of us!