For readers who want scientific proof for Heart-Centered leadership, we offer a brief review of the literature. The following is a research note that appears on page 7 in Heart-Centered Leadership: Lead Well, Live Well:

Research Note

To elaborate further on the note pertaining to the research found above, what proof of substance exists for the claim that a heart-centered leader will become more and more necessary?

In point of fact, a number of companies have been shown to be successful in no small part precisely because they had a philosophy of heart-centered leadership.. While the scientific studies on leadership are too voluminous and complex to be reviewed here, many of them suggest that our ideas are solidly founded in reality. We believe the studies reviewed briefly below show that leaders who adopt a heartfelt, flexible, and selfless style of leadership will be more likely to steer companies to success in complex times than those who cannot.

In an article that appeared in 2001 in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Collins describes his research on “Level 5 Leadership.” Having studied more than 1,400 companies, Collins found that eleven of them had outstanding and sustained success, with stock returns three times the rate of the market. These eleven companies were characterized by leaders who shared certain critical characteristics: deep personal humility, intense professional will to do what it takes to succeed, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves. Such qualities of humility, self-honesty, and non-judgment overlap distinctly with the qualities described as the hallmark of heart-centered leaders. Importantly, these leaders’ companies have not only proven profitable, but they have enjoyed sustained success and have demonstrated resilience over time.

Meanwhile, at roughly the same time, Daniel Goleman conducted a research study of nearly 4,000 executives and examined those who were able to affect the work climate of their organizations. In so doing, he also obtained financial results from their companies and so had access to solid data such as return on sales, revenue growth, efficiency, and profitability. A core characteristic of these effective leaders was their ability to switch between different leadership styles, fitting themselves to the situation and climate of the organization, in order to obtain results.

Goleman explains that these effective leaders: “ … are exquisitely sensitive to the impact they are having on others and seamlessly adjust their style to get the best results. These are leaders, for example, who can read in the first minutes of conversation that a talented but underperforming employee has been demoralized by an unsympathetic, do-it-the-way-I-tell-you manager and needs to be inspired through a reminder of why her work matters. Or that leader might choose to reenergize the employee by asking her about her dreams and aspirations and finding ways to make her job more challenging.” Key qualities in these leaders, he concludes, are empathy, flexibility, sensitivity to a given situation, and a willingness to let go.

In the early 1990s, leadership scientist Robert House and his colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a fascinating study of American Presidents. These researchers used information from each president’s first inaugural address to determine the motives driving his personality. Two key motives, they found, are the need for power and activity inhibition. Need for power is a concern with strong, vigorous action that affects others and has an emotional impact on them. It has a strong correlation to reputation and status. Activity inhibition, on the other hand, is the willingness to set aside personal goals for the sake of realizing corporate or institutional goals. Both of these measures were positively and significantly related to different measures of presidential performance (e.g. in economic, international, and social spheres).

This study demonstrated that presidential effectiveness requires a balance between the drive to influence others and a willingness to set aside personal goals. They also discovered that performance is related to a president’s ability to take action that is not necessarily popular. In other words, successful presidents know Heart-Centered Leadership and lead from the inside out, staying the course with integrity, regardless of whether they are liked.

More recently, in 2011, studies by Kim Cameron and colleagues demonstrate that positive and virtuous organizational practices also correlate with positive financial performance. Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of over 100 studies done in 2012 shows that transformational leadership predicts higher performance, especially with respect to teams.

In addition to these immediately relevant studies, there is a growing body of research literature on the concept of transformational leadership and its enhanced effectiveness relative to other models. Transformational leaders are intellectually stimulating, giving individualized attention and encouragement to different viewpoints within a group, inspiring others to a collective goal and stimulating them to a consideration of the long-term impact of their actions (Bass and Avolio, 1994). Various studies also have shown that transformational leaders are more likely to have subordinates who follow up on ideas, who generate new ideas (Sosik, 1997), and who are satisfied with organizational mergers (Covin & Kelenko, 1997). Such leadership is associated with work unit effectiveness (Lowe, et al, 1996; Leadership Quarterly).

Finally, there is a growing body of literature on “enlightened management” and financial success. The term “enlightened management” comes from the work of Abraham Maslow, who described the need for management practices to invest in the “human side” of business. Indeed, companies show more profit when they subscribe to any of the following “enlightened” practices:

  • Sharing profits and gains with employees.
  • Sharing information broadly and having broad programs of employee involvement.
  • Utilizing flexible work designs (flexible hours, job rotation).
  • Utilizing training and development programs.


References :

Collins, J. “Level 5 leadership; The triumph of humility and fierce resolve.” Harvard Business Review 79, no. 1 (January 2001): 67-77.

Goleman, D. “Leadership that gets results.” Harvard Business Review 78, no. 2 (March 2000): 78-90.

House, R., W. D. Spangler and J. Woycke. “Personality and charisma in the U.S. presidency: A psychological theory of leader effectiveness.” Administrative Science Quarterly 36, no. 3 (September 1991): 364-397.

Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308. Cameron, K.S. (2003). Organizational virtuousness and performance. In Cameron, K.S., Dutton, J.E., and Quinn, R.E. (2003). Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline, San Francisco: Berrett Koehler, pp. 48-65.

Bass, B. and B. J. Avolio. “Transformational leadership and organizational culture”. International Journal of Public Administration 17, no. 3-4 (March 1994): 541-55

Sosik, J.J. “Effects of transformational leadership and anonymity on idea generation in computer-mediated groups.” Group & Organization Management 22, no. 4 (December 1997): 460-488.

Covin, T. J., Kolenko, T. A., Sightler, K. W., & Tudor, R. K. (1997). Leadership style and post-merger satisfaction. Journal of Management Development16(1), 22-33.

Lowe, K. B., K.G. Kroeck and N. Sivasubramaniam. “Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature.” Leadership Quarterly 7, issue 3 (Fall 1996): 385-426.

Maslow, Abraham H., Deborah C. Stephens and Gary Heil. 1998. Maslow on Management. New York: John Wiley.