Inviting Your Leadership from the Heart

For some this is a great time to network —  reconnecting or creating new connections in our professional networks – even remotely. Expanding my professional network is a 2020 goal. So in January, I reached out to John Brewer. Part of my LinkedIn Network,  I had never actually had a conversation with him. An unexpectedly lively conversation unfolded.

John describes himself as a conference designer, business poet, event moderator and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methods facilitator and the Owner of Idea Exchange. I would describe John as a resilient visionary who personally cares about his work and those around him. We share interests in organizational culture, mental health and diversity. He generously shared his knowledge in each topic with me. He’s genuine and honest – perhaps a little no bullshit.

Leadership from the Heart: Being, Becoming, Belonging

I took notice of John’s work when he hosted a successful inaugural conference last year in Toronto focusing on heart-based leadership. He walks his talk; the Leadership from the Heart conference raised a healthy donation for Mount Sinai Hospital’s Cardiac Research initiatives.

Like many of us, he experienced an unanticipated personal event that cultivated a need for change in his own life – a heart attack 11 years ago. That event sparked a desire to re-examine and reconsider how he spent his time personally and professionally. It fueled a hunger to experience and to explore what it means to lead with heart.

When I invited him to explain his definition of leadership from the heart, John reflected on what he believes to be three leadership pillars:

  • Being: What makes you unique? Leadership starts with self-awareness. We are all unique, with our own personal talents, gifts and experience. Do you know what your personal triggers are and how they show up at work? How do you navigate change and uncertainty?
  • Becoming: What is your purpose? Setting organizational vision, facing uncomfortable truths, and defining a shared purpose that resonates with others both within and beyond the organization is how we become meaningful to others.
  • Belonging: By fostering a culture that invites connection, demonstrates compassion, fosters trust and provides people with the support required to make an impact for others — leaders create a sense of organizational belonging. Learning how to create a safe space for others to be heard without judgement is a critical leadership skill.

Horse-Inspired Leadership: Heart Connections

My own interest in heart-based leadership is fueled by the power of our herd as horses invite individual, authentic leadership and connection from a place of heart. As I witness clients working with our horses, it becomes very clear very quickly who the natural leaders are – and it has nothing to do with title, age, or profession. If a horse detects a lack of confidence or someone who is being false, their behaviour will reflect this incongruence. With this absence of felt safety, the horse will move away or if on lead, will stop and refuse to move forward.

In his book, The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life, Dr. Robert Cooper, a neuroscience pioneer and leadership advisor, shares that research shows that your heart energy is the most powerful energy emitted from your body.

“People’s emotions are influenced by the bigger energy around them. When you believe in something you become passionate. Your passion – your heart energy – becomes the dominant energy. It’s contagious and draws others in. When you practice ‘authentic sales’, you are engaging your heart energy. You know the value that your product or service provides, you believe in it, and you’re excited to share it. Proof of its value is found in feedback and testimonials from happy clients. You have positively impacted their lives. You invite others to try it with confidence. When you practice ‘authentic sales’ what you think, feel, say and do are in harmony. You are congruent in your head, heart and gut – this makes you powerful,” Cooper says.

Experiential Learning and Emotional Intelligence

Research also now supports the notion that horses can increase our leadership skills and our ability to understand ourselves and others better. Working in relationship with horses supports our development of the four areas of emotional intelligence. These are the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Ultimately they teach us to be better, kinder human beings. They teach us about leadership from the heart because a horse will only follow your lead when your head and your heart are completely aligned.

In his book Lead With Your Heart, Lessons from a Life with Horses, Dr. Allan J. Hamilton, a neurosurgeon with a love and appreciation for the wisdom of horses notes: “Horses challenge us to undertake the journey of mastering our selves rather than everything around us. Teaching without preaching, horses lead by example and employ the lessons of experience. They epitomize immersive learning at its best. They challenge us through their formidable size and strength to bring results though collaboration rather than by force.” Learn more about Dr. Hamilton’s work in this video.

We don’t need a title to lead from the heart. We are all natural leaders. I am so inspired by the creativity inherently shared by people who are using this time to teach others, invite new learning and create a sense of connection. Perhaps this current situation is an invitation for you to share your own knowledge by writing or hosting a webinar on information that will help others better understand their own uniqueness or path in life.

As we have all experienced the unfolding of COVID-19, this is a good time to reflect on how we can invite more leadership from the heart into our professional and personal lives going forward. I am grateful for people like John and many others who have stepped up as natural leaders to navigate the uncertainty of the current situation with authenticity and compassion for others. I am also grateful for a herd of horses who continue to teach me to appreciate my own natural leadership skills and who invite me to listen to my heart.

About the Author

Jennifer Garland is the founder of The Mane Intent Inc. offering equine-assisted learning programs including Health and Wellness Workshops, Individual and Team Effectiveness Coaching and Leadership Development. Jennifer provides coaching, counsel and support to individuals and groups  from all walks of life to create opportunities to build productive relationships, facilitate learning and to embrace change.  Learn more about Jennifer’s professional experience, lectures, awards and publications here.

For more information or to book a private virtual session with Jennifer, please call 705-295-6618 or email

The Mane Intent

April 27, 2020

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