Written by 11:42 pm Motivation, Leadership & Success

Letter 4: The Heart of a Manager

My Dear Nephew Simon,

So great to hear from you again. I’m glad that you found some of the practical advice in the last letter to be helpful. Don’t be too discouraged by the negative cultures being created by other managers in different departments. Focus on your team for now. In time we will talk about how you expand your influence with other stakeholders around the organization. For now, let’s just focus on principles. Pour the foundation before you frame the house. 

If you don’t mind, I would like to talk a little about the heart of a great manager. Great management, Simon, begins in the heart. What is in your heart will ultimately come out in your words and actions. A wise man once put it this way, “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23).”

Too many books on management and leadership focus only on tools. Tools are great. You can’t build a house without a good set of tools. But tools are not the first thing. There is something more important than having the right tool. In fact, the right tool in the wrong hands can be dangerous. Would you give sharp chisel to a little child? Would you give a baby a bandsaw? Of course not. Yet hundreds of books on management turn over a truckload of tips and tools to people before they are ready to use them. It is not just about the tools. It is about the heart.

Listen, leadership starts with what you are on the inside. If you want to be a great manager you need to understand this. Heart before hands. Great management starts down deep in the soul. It is not primarily about actions. Actions are important. Actions matter. But you can’t start with a list of dos and don’ts. The best managers know that the real battleground and victory must be won in the trenches of their own heart. It’s about character. This is the fundamental reason most managers end up failing. They started in the wrong place. 

Simon, the first and hardest lesson to learn is that great management starts with the management of your own heart. Who you are will eventually come out in what you do and say. Ask yourself, therefore, some heart-searching questions. How do you feel about your work, about your team, about your patients, about your organization? What gets you up in the morning to bring your best to the job every day? What do you think about each of your direct reports? Do they matter to you? Really matter? Do you care about them like your own family? This is the heart-stuff, Simon. This is where you need to focus at the beginning. 

We have all known managers who were competent but didn’t care. They may have had all sorts of head knowledge, but their team was miserable because the manager was cold or cruel or selfish or arrogant. Turnover was high. Productivity was low. These individuals were bad managers because they never took care to nurture a good heart. 

Confucius, or maybe it was one of his disciples, put it this way: “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.” 

Set your heart right. Great management begins on the inside. Remember that. A good gardener prepares the soil before she plants the seed. Your heart is the soil, Simon. Focus on that to start with. Do write soon and let me know how you are doing. 

Your affectionate Uncle Josh. 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Last modified: April 22, 2023