Leading with Heart – John Baird and Edward Sullivan Book Summary

Leading with Heart – John Baird and Edward Sullivan | Free Book Summary

Leading with Heart – John Baird and Edward Sullivan

Leading with Heart is a book by executive coaches John Baird and Edward Sullivan that dives deep into the power of open-hearted conversations for unlocking creativity, purpose, and results in the workplace.

Through hundreds of hours of research and interviews with leaders from all walks of life, the authors explore the key elements of successful leadership, and how they can be used to build a culture of trust, respect, and engagement. By the end of the book, readers will have a clear understanding of the power of open-hearted conversations and how to use them to drive success in their own organizations.

Subscribe to Miniwise Newsletter (Free!)

Miniwise newsletter brings you one great bite-sized idea every day, curated from world's best non-fiction books, articles, podcasts..and more. An entire new world in just 5 minutes!


What do you need to be at your best?

Leading with heart is hard work, and we need to have our needs met to do the emotional labor that is required to thrive and show up as heart-led leaders. Aside from our very basic needs to survive, we all have needs that must be met for us to thrive. These fall into three categories: physical, emotional, and environmental.

If we pay close attention to how we feel in certain environments, around certain people, and when eating or drinking certain things, we can develop a very clear idea of what we actually need to feel resourced and creatively alive.Free book, podcast summaries

Needs not being met

Getting our needs met on a regular basis requires discipline and rigor. Just as we don’t wait until the houseplants are withering to water them, we can’t wait until we feel the lack of something to remember that it is one of our needs.

Some clear tells that we ourselves or our teams are not getting their needs met: irritability, disagreements, anxiety, lack of motivation, and lack of creativity, all of which make us susceptible to being triggered into fear responses.

What fears are holding you back?

Fear is a natural thing, something that all leaders experience. Underneath all fears are deeper underlying emotions and unmet needs; uncovering these emotions is critical to understanding what is keeping you from becoming the leader you can be.

Not all fear is bad, and finding the right balance of fear on your team can help you maximize your performance and the performance of the organization. Understanding fight, flight, and freeze patterns and their corresponding archetypes can be helpful in understanding and managing your fear.

Types of leaders

The perfectionist, people pleaser, and impostor archetypes are common patterns for leaders; identifying your type can be helpful in developing strategies for managing your own fear and that of your teams.

Naming, embracing, and sharing your fears are important elements in helping leaders manage their fears.


Storytelling is an effective way to normalize fear in an organization.

Sharing your story can be a powerful step in embracing your fear and sparking conversations about fear with others. Most unproductive or hurtful behaviors we experience in others are motivated by fear. When we get curious and try to see the fear behind the actions that hurt us, we have a better chance of resolving the conflict without being triggered into fear ourselves.

What desires drive you, and which might derail you?

Our core desires are powerful motivators, but they can also derail us. Our desire for love and acceptance has the greatest potential to inspire long-term loyalty, but it can also distract us if we get caught up in fantasy and intrigue.

Blindsets like fantasy, paranoia, and denial keep us from seeing what’s actually going on and can contribute to us getting derailed by our desires. Healthy competition is a potent driver to keep people united, but it can also create incentives for unethical behavior.

Freedom to fail

Our curiosity and desire to learn can only thrive in an environment where we are given unstructured time and freedom to fail. However, if we overindulge that desire, it can lead to a lack of focus. Power and status are as motivating as they are intoxicating. Overreliance on them as motivators can create unhealthy dynamics and abusive behavior.

The desire to be of service and to fight for justice taps into our sense of purpose and connection to something bigger than ourselves. Using it as a motivator requires allowing people to see themselves as the hero in the story.

What are your greatest gifts?

Everyone has a special gift, but we tend to undervalue our natural talents and strengths because we didn’t have to work for them like all of our learned skills. Using our gifts to solve hard problems is one of the ways we get “in flow” and feel deeper satisfaction overall. Leaders need to challenge their teams with hard problems that keep them at the sweet spot between boredom and being overwhelmed.

For many people, our greatest gifts come from painful or dark periods in our lives. Embracing those gifts and putting them to good use helps us make meaning of and heal from difficult experiences. Leaders’ gifts and strengths can be overdone, often to the detriment of their teams. When morale is lagging or performance is off, it is smart for leaders to get curious and have conversations about the role they are playing in creating that dynamic.

What Is Your Purpose?

When we are feeling stuck, it may be time to take a good hard look at whether we are living our purpose. It is hard for an organization to have a sense of purpose if the leader does not have one. We are not born with purpose; it’s gained from life experiences.

We have to reset or renew our sense of purpose at regular intervals throughout our lives. Organizations and teams with a clear sense of purpose outperform those lacking purpose. Changing up your routine through travel, or even walking, can help you find moments in which to gain clarity of purpose. If you are not having conversations that help you gain awareness of your needs, fears, desires, and gifts, tapping into your sense of purpose may be elusive.

Helping your company lead with heart

Companies with a Leading with Heart culture make intentional decisions to integrate the needs, fears, desires, gifts, and sense of purpose of their employees into how they work. Leaders model positive and negative behaviors every day that trickle down into the organization and create cultural norms.

Fear of change can poison culture and keep companies from embracing the exact kinds of gifts they need to transform and thrive again. Companies that forget their purpose or fail to see how their purpose has evolved run the risk of being out of step with their employees and customers.

Get the book!

Sign Up for nextbigwhat newsletter

The smartest newsletter, partly written by AI.

Download Pluggd.in, the short news app for busy professionals