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Heart-Based Leadership Makes People and Businesses Come Alive True leadership is about leading yourself first, knowing your impact and taking responsibility.

By Melissa Dawn Edited by Heather Wilkerson

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Trying to live up to something external, rather than living as who you are meant to be, is exhausting.

Most of us are brought up to go against our natural flow. Whether it comes from family, community, religion, education, colleagues -- somewhere along the way, we're taught to live up to something outside of ourselves. We're given a set of values, beliefs and expectations, rather than encouraged to connect with, and develop, those that are naturally within us. No wonder we're all exhausted.

Related: How to Be a Big Fish in an Even Bigger Pond

For anyone in a leadership position, this becomes even more exhausting. Why? Because how can we bring out the best in others when we are disconnected from the best in ourselves?

Leading to please.

Leading to please makes gaining the acceptance or approval of others a top priority, which takes energy and focus away from developing your best self, and bringing your best self to your role.

It also splits your focus. Instead of aligning your focus and personal values with the values, purpose and objectives of the organization, you are tied up with anxiety over how your efforts are received by others.

Sometimes, without even realizing it, this anxiety can take the form of:

  • Taking full credit for the work of your team
  • Mistaking fear for respect and leading with an "iron fist"
  • Making decisions based on what makes you look best, instead of what's best for the team or business
  • Undermining or ignoring the unique strengths of team members
  • Failure to learn from mistakes or acknowledge them
  • Distraction
  • Feeling overwhelmed by expectations
  • Over-competitiveness

This doesn't mean you're a bad person. Typically, these behaviors come from over-personalizing your role and results. Instead of accepting yourself as you are, you seek acceptance externally, giving everything around you a lot more power over you.

When you need outside approval:

  • Mistakes are personal failures instead of opportunities to learn
  • A team member's strength is a personal threat instead of an asset to the team
  • Image has priority over growth
  • Personal success has priority over team or company success

When this happens, there is no trust. There are no shared values within the team. There is no true leadership. The team becomes dysfunctional and blame becomes the norm.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

True leadership.

True leadership is about leading yourself first, knowing your impact and taking responsibility. This might mean unlearning who you are -- or who you've always thought you need to be -- and learning who you want, and have the potential, to be.

Through self-acceptance, you can drop the anxiety and gain the clarity and confidence to lead from your heart, inspiring and guiding those around you to do the same.

Think of a horse jumping over a fence. The horse throws its heart out front, so the rest of itself must follow. Throw your heart out front. Be vulnerable. Be real. Be open to your own strengths and weaknesses, and you will empower your team to do the same. You will build trust. You will establish a culture of growth. You, your team and the overall organization will begin to come alive. And together, you will move forward.

Heart-based leadership.

This approach to leadership is sometimes called heart-based leadership, and it's a powerful way to connect across age, gender and culture. But it requires you, as a leader, to work on yourself first.

Do the work to get in touch with what you need to improve, then be open about it with your team. Talk about what you want to work on, how you will do it and what end result you want to create.

You don't have to dig into deeply personal details. Instead, say things like, "I've realized that I tend to over-personalize feedback. I've started working with a coach and learned that I need to develop my inner strength and self-acceptance in order to take feedback less personally. I'm going to continue working on this with my coach with the goal of becoming a more supportive leader with whom you all feel comfortable speaking openly."

Open up, share, and ask others how they feel. Co-create together at a heart level; at a vulnerable level. Be willing to put yourself out there. Don't hide. When you do this, you create power in your world. You activate it within yourself, and it spreads out to others.

Related: How Being Vulnerable Can Make You a Stronger Business Leader

Why this matters.

Vulnerability is hard -- for everyone. But vulnerability is the starting point of growth. All it takes is one person to start it -- to be the leader -- and others will follow.

When that happens, amazing connections are made. People let their walls down and start supporting each other, collaborating and helping each other succeed. They come alive in ways that feed the life of your business. Instead of competitiveness, bickering, defensiveness and lack of motivation, you get cooperation, progress, engagement and joyful energy that propels everyone forward.

So, are you ready to lead from your heart? Can you really afford not to?

Melissa Dawn

Coach and founder of CEO of Your Life

Melissa Dawn is a coach and founder of CEO of Your Life. As a life and business coach, she helps entrepreneurs build a business that fits their values and creates the lifestyle they crave. Her specialty is helping people transition out of their day jobs and into building businesses they are orgasmically joyful about.

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