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4 Ways to Make Leading With Your Heart a Reality Instead of Talk

I’ve come to see leadership as influencing others to do great things. That’s at the heart of my message about transformative influence, and it aligns perfectly with Tommy Spaulding’s message of heart-led leadership.

Tommy and I have been friends for years, and he’s one of the people who inspired me and encouraged me to write Transfluence. He has written two great books on heart-led leadership, and his third book, The Gift of Influence, is due out in September. So he has no shortage of great ideas about how to make this type of leadership a reality.

He joined me not long ago for a LinkedIn Live conversation, and, of course, he shared several big ideas that I believe can absolutely transform the positive influence you have on others. The entire conversation is worth your time, but here are four things we discussed about leading with heart that stood out to me:

Love yourself.

When Tommy says leaders should love themselves, he’s not talking about ego-driven, narcissistic self-love. Just the opposite. He’s describing a healthy understanding of self-worth that frees you to make leadership about helping others rather than just feeding your selfish desires.

“If you don’t love yourself, if you don’t have self-confidence, if you don’t believe in who you are,” Tommy said, “then you really can’t serve and love people. … You can’t love others because you’re always going to want the attention. You’re always going to want the recognition. You’re always going to have that empty hole in your heart to fill with the corner office, with all the acknowledgements. And when you truly believe in who you are in God’s eyes, then you truly can live a life of servant leadership.”

Reprogram your heart and mind.

People are born selfish, so it takes intentional effort to see relationships as something more than transactions that result in us getting things we want for ourselves. We have to “reprogram” our hearts and minds, Tommy said, to move from traditional self-driven “networking” to unconventional others-driven “net-giving.”

“No one admits that they build relationships that are just transactional,” he said. “But studies show that most relationships we have are transactional. We want things from people. And I think we have to work really hard to humble ourselves and enter every relationship with a mindset of what can I do for that person? How can I serve that person? What can I learn from that person? How can I pour into that person? How can I bless that person? When you live a life of serving others and building authentic relationships to help other people, you really have a blessed life. And, by the way, you can have a really incredible business as well.”

Love through your actions, not your words.

Tommy frequently shares stories about his maternal grandparents, Helen and Anthony D’Aquanni. They were Italian immigrants who both worked as hairdressers in New York. They were married 57 years. And they set the example for Tommy for demonstrating love with their actions.

When Helen suffered a severe stroke, for instance, Tommy’s grandfather would show up every morning at 7 a.m. to be the first person into the nursing home so he could spend the day helping with her physical and speech therapy sessions. Anthony was there so consistently – seven days a week – that the general manager eventually gave him his own key.

Later, when Anthony was on his deathbed and surrounded by family, Tommy’s grandfather summed up his approach to life with a challenge: “Don’t tell me you love me,” he said. “Show me you love me.”

It took Tommy some time to fully appreciate how powerful that is when it comes to leadership.

“We are really great about words, aren’t we?” he said. “In this country, in this world, we say a lot of things, but the real servant leaders just shut up and they show their actions to their teams, to their employees, to their customers. And that’s what heart-led servant leadership is really all about.”

Show strength through vulnerability.

The idea that leaders must have all the answers is as false as the idea that the Earth is flat.

“The most beautiful thing a leader can say is, I don’t know that answer,” Tommy said. “I don’t know, and I need your help to learn it.

Leaders who are vulnerable and authentic generate trust, which is essential to having a positive influence in today’s organizations.

“It’s just a new way of leading,” Tommy said. “The old command-and-control, know all the answers, never shed a tear, and running things like a ship – those days are over. The organizations that are really thriving in the world are really run by women and men that are heart-led leaders that are totally vulnerable and real. People want to follow those types of leaders.”

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These are messages Tommy shares regularly with executives through his writing, speaking, and coaching business. But they also are messages he shares with next-generation leaders through a non-profit that serves high school students.

Tommy has always known that the two areas of his work are related in purpose, but he was at a Denver area Mexican restaurant the first time he remembers putting words to how they are connected. Tommy was hosting a Christmas party for the staff and volunteers for the two organizations, and the spouse of one of his employees asked him about working with such different groups – high schoolers and executives.

“I was on margarita number two, so I wasn’t feeling too profound,” Tommy said. “But it really made me think. And I basically said, ‘Well, if we do our job right at the National Leadership Academy and the Global Youth Leadership Academy and really teach heart-led servant leadership to high school kids, I wouldn’t have to write books and coach corporate America because they would already know it by the time they got out of college.”

Until then, Tommy will keep preaching and teaching servant leadership to leaders of all ages.


  1. Dawn

    Thank you for this. I’m walking away with several pearls. 👍

    Reply to Dawn

    1. Walt Rakowich

      I’m so very glad this helped. If you find yourself using any of these pearls, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading.

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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