On Character, Compassion and The Heart of a Leader

The Heart of a Leader

The heart has been written about thousands, if not millions, of times over the years. We are fascinated by the emotion that comes from that place deep within us.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the source of your soul, emotions, wisdom, memory, and personality.

That’s a lot for such a small thing to do! They spent much more time studying the heart than they did the human brain.

Understanding Emotions

Our hearts have always been at the center of our emotions. Heck, we still tell people to “follow their hearts” instead of their heads. As a leader, we are challenged to lead others from our hearts. That’s because leadership is a people business, not a task business. People respond when emotion is involved.

Sure, there are some people who respond well when given a task list and they can knock it out one by one. But give that person some emotion behind what they are doing, and their energy for the tasks will be limitless.

People want to feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. They want to know that what they do makes a difference, and you can’t get that by checking a bunch of boxes on a piece of paper.

“What is in your heart will show from the start.”

Controlling Your Emotions

We all have to be aware of what emotions we allow ourselves to feel because they spill over into everything that we do. “Control our emotions?” you ask?

Yes, leaders must be very aware of their emotions and learn to control them – especially the negative ones.

It’s very easy to be upset by a situation and translate that emotion onto your opinions of the people involved. As an example, let’s just say that you were up for a promotion and the decision came down to you and one of your colleagues. Despite the fact that the two of you are very good friends, you feel a sense of anger toward him when he gets the job and you don’t.

Why? Because you were first upset that you didn’t get the promotion.

That’s where it could have ended, but we naturally want to place blame on the people responsible, so you move the object of your anger from the situation and onto your colleague. It’s not fair to him, you, or your relationship to do this. However, it is natural for us to make this leap.

These are the times where leaders have to be able to recognize their emotions and determine where they come from. If you allow those negative feelings to dwell inside your heart, you will put your relationships at risk. This is why we must always be aware of what is in our hearts, because what is in your heart will show from the start.


A leader’s character is the single-most important factor of his success because character is what guides relationships. Whenever people are working together, they are constantly asking themselves, “Can I trust my leader?” If a leader has a trustworthy character, people won’t ever second-guess his intentions and their focus can remain on moving forward.

If you want to be a leader that someone wants to follow, be aware of the character that you store in your heart.

Work on solidifying it into one that people want to follow. Be that person. For more on character, please see You Are A Role Model.


When people talk about compassion, what is it that they always say? “He has such a great heart for others.” Compassion and heart have been synonymous for many years. People that are compassionate are filled with love for others. That kind of love is something that can’t be faked; it has to come from a very real place inside the heart of a leader.

Showing love for each other was the greatest commandment in the New Testament. It is also the difference between effective leaders and those that use position to force people into following.

Mother Teresa said this:

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  

Keeping compassion in your heart will spill over onto the people around you and make a great difference in your effectiveness as a leader. After all, leadership is about the people around you, it’s not about you. Doing small things with great love will lead to great results.

Keep strong character and compassion in your heart. What you keep inside is what spills over to the people around you. So work hard on guarding what is in there. You never know when it’s going to come pouring out.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Rich Bishop
Rich Bishop is President of Bishop Coaching & Consulting Group
He takes a hands-on approach to your Development through Coaching & Training
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. An Urban Mystic on May 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks Rich, inspiring post and plenty of food for thought.

    • Rich Bishop on May 8, 2013 at 4:52 am

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Bill | Leadership Heart Coaching on May 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

    The Heart of the Leader was a title that definitely resonated with me – probably because of the name of my practice -:). With that said, this was a great article.

    You wrote how important it is for leaders to understand and control their emotions. During graduate school for a leadership degree, the first class we all took was one on emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is so fundamental to effective leadership.

    • Rich Bishop on May 8, 2013 at 4:51 am

      Bill – First of all, you have a great name for your practice! So much of what a leader does comes from their heart. Self-awareness is hard for most people to learn because it requires a great deal of reflection. We have to constantly look in the mirror and take accountability for our actions. To me, this is probably the biggest difference between strong leaders and those that just want to be.