With recent stats showing high employee disengagement (a 2013 Gallup poll found only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work), effective leaders are turning away from the traditional management style of hierarchies and are increasingly embracing leadership strategies that encourage emotional connections.

Encouraging emotional connections between managers and employees is the key to better performance and improved employee engagement, says Susan Steinbrecher, an executive coach and co-author of Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well.

“People work at their very best and their highest levels when they’re committed to an organization, not when they have to comply,” she says.

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To create a connected, relationship-based workplace, Steinbrecher identifies seven leadership qualities of heart-centered leaders:

1. Know thyself. Leaders have to take personal responsibility and accountability for how they act in the workplace. “Everything you say and do has an impact,” says Steinbrecher, who encourages leaders to perform 360-degree feedback assessments to truly understand how their leadership style is perceived in the company. A 360-degree feedback includes direct feedback from employees as well as a self-evaluation and can, in some cases, also include feedback from external sources such as customers and suppliers or other stakeholders.

2. Don’t judge or assume. Instead, come to understand. Too often, leaders judge employees’ actions, without understanding the real problem. An employee who is consistently late, for example, can be dealt with by giving a stern lecture on the importance of showing up to work on time, or they can be spoken to by a heart-centered leader who tries to understand why he is constantly late. “Unless you get to the cause of the behavior, you have no way of solving the problem,” says Steinbrecher.

3. They need what you need. “As human beings, we all have the need to be valued, cared for, listened to, empathized with, [and] empowered,” Steinbrecher says. Recognizing these basic human needs can create a workforce of employees who are committed to working for their leader because of who they are and how they are treated, rather than a workforce that is simply compliant and puts in their hours doing the minimal work required.

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4. Letting go. Empowering employees is one of the best ways to get commitment as it shows them you trust them and will make them work harder to prove themselves worthy of the opportunities you’ve provided them. “Often leaders try to control everything around them and typically when you try to control, the least control you have,” says Steinbrecher.

5. Know your impact. “Leaders often forget they’re goldfish swimming in the glass fishbowl and people can see through that glass,” says Steinbrecher. Employees make decisions based on what they see the leader do, not just by what they say.

6. Associates have a choice. Understanding the difference between followers who want to follow your lead versus feel like they need to follow your lead is an important element of heart-centered leadership. “We’re really driving that commitment-based, highly-engaged workforce who actually wants to work their very best for you,” she says. “As a leader you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

7. Care from the heart. The mental, emotional and spiritual health of the leader is also important. “Those leaders that take better care of themselves have a more positive impact on their associates,” says Steinbrecher. A boss who works long hours, looks drained of energy, and makes a point of constantly telling employees they’re “too busy” might make them feel important, but for most employees the image of the “bled-dry CEO” summons fear and compliance rather than commitment, which is what heart-centered leadership strives for.  

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