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Titanium Strength Leadership Comes from the Heart

Every now and again I read a line I wish I had written or said first.

Today’s example comes courtesy of an anonymous CEO who was having a conversation with Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, the co-authors of such great books as All In and The Best Teams Win.

“As leaders,” the CEO told Gostick and Elton, “it’s time to remove our bulletproof vests.”

The CEO was speaking metaphorically, of course. Unless you lead a government, a crime syndicate, or a police department, it’s unlikely that you feel the need for that level of physical self-protection. The CEO’s real point was that leaders no longer can pretend to have all the answers. We are no more immune to uncertainty than anyone else. 

“We aren’t superheroes,” Gostick and Elton explained. “We must be more vulnerable, admit our anxieties, and display empathy for our people’s concerns.”

Uncertainties are nothing new in the business world, but they’ve spiked to record levels in 2020 with the global pandemic and widespread social, political, and economic dysfunction. Leaders are dealing daily with challenges like how to pivot their core business strategies, how to adjust to a more remote working environment, and how to ease employees’ concerns about job security.

In All In, Gostick and Elton looked at what successful leaders did during the Great Recession and found that the companies with the best financial results had employees who felt engaged, enabled, and energized by their leaders.

“These leaders made the human challenges of the crisis their highest priority,” they wrote.

That conclusion aligns perfectly with my experiences as the CEO of Prologis during the recession and with the leadership approach I outline in my book, Transfluence. I took over Prologis when it was floundering near bankruptcy, and our leadership team was able to restore the company to its place as a financially thriving, industry leader in the global warehousing business.

One of the core reasons for our success was a commitment to what I call the core value of “heart,” which is all about treating people with dignity and respect.

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Leaders who are consistently focused on self-protection – the ones who wear that metaphorical bulletproof vest – see everyone as an enemy, and how we see people defines how we treat people. These leaders are unable to tap into the hearts of the people they lead and connect with them in empathetic ways because they lack the transparency required to earn trust.

Transfluent leaders, as I describe in more detail in my book, lead with heart in three primary ways, none of which can be accomplished effectively with a defensive mindset.

  1. Trust others. Release tasks or projects to your team.
  2. Serve others. Take care of the people around you.
  3. Recognize others. Share the glory that comes with victories.

Prioritizing those approaches leads to decisions, policies, and communication that honors people, supports people, encourages people and ultimately helps them deal with the anxieties that come with uncertainty so they can be more productive and fulfilled in their work. And guess what? If people are satisfied in their work, especially during uncertainty, they’re more likely to support and protect their leaders.


  1. Gregory E Scott

    Harvard Review has stated that the top characteristic of a leader is empathy. That is exactly what you are saying. It is incumbent upon us as leaders to “feel what our teammates are feeling”. To put our feet into the shoes of our teammates. We must realize what their concerns a fears are in order to help steady the ship and help them understand what is real and what is “fake news”. Thank you for your observations!

    Reply to Gregory E Scott

    1. Walt Rakowich

      I agree, Greg. Removing your armor is about vulnerability, which helps you on the road to empathy, and ultimately, acting in the best interest of others and not just yourself. Thanks for reading and responding!

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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