What qualities inspire leadership and instill habits to improve performance? Are there actions that change personal and company behaviors? Has modern research contributed to our understanding of the body, brain, heart, and mind in how leadership characteristics are formed to improve performance? What is leadership?

This presentation will not answer questions concerning the science and complexity of the body, brain and heart; rather, it explores outcomes by consciously breathing and making heart felt choices and decisions to change habits and create new patterns of behavior. It focuses on leading with your heart, command your brain, do the right thing!

The heart is the first organ to develop in the womb and helps develop the brain to control mindful thoughts and our body’s autonomic functions like breathing. Oxygen is essential for life on earth and without air we die. The heart pumps blood through our lungs to get oxygen as we breath. Oxford dictionary defines inspire as: “fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially something creative, breathe in (air); inhale.”

Breathing is the essence of life and essential to good leadership. Medical studies demonstrate a powerful connection between breath and the ability to handle stress. Optimal breathing is a full, free, and uninhibited breath from the diaphragm, one that fills our lungs, oxygenates our blood, and energizes us. Conscious breathing takes practice and makes a meaningful difference in leadership performance. Our breath is the only part of the autonomic nervous system we control, and one of the few things we easily access to shift the way we’re thinking or feeling to calm and restore ourselves.

In The HeartMath Solution, Doc Childre and Howard Martin hypothesize “Moving beyond what we’ve been able to prove through science, …the heart links us to a higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where humanness and spirt merge. … listen to and follow the wisdom of the heart. … the heart is involved in understanding yourself, people and life. … our years of experience, practice, and research tell us that the heart is the doorway to this union.” Heart intelligence is the ability to better regulate emotions leading to improved health and enhanced mental functioning. The HeartMath techniques deepen qualities long associated with the heart – compassion, courage, joy, love, strength, and wisdom. These are all personal qualities of effective leadership.

Leadership is the ability to influence or inspire yourself and others into taking actions toward a common goal. It is about raising standards, being an example that fosters and mentors positive behaviors to be modeled, and getting things done by walking the talk. Identifying and meeting needs rather than wants. Leadership is a learned behavior that starts by leading yourself first and then extended to help others. We identify six primary L’s of effective leaders and call them Triple L Squared. In alphabetical order they are:Laughing, Learning, Leveraging, Listening, Living and Loving.

Laughing at ourselves with a forgiving sense of humor is critical. The old saying that “laugher is the best medicine” is supported by recent studies that it releases endorphins, serotonin, and protects blood vessels and the heart muscle by reducing inflammation and stress. When we laugh at our faults, imperfections and vulnerabilities this self-realization allows us to better appreciate unique beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values of individuals to become more accepting with others. Laughter helps form social bonds by promoting a sense of togetherness and safety. Empathy and humor are
powerful mechanisms to understand human behaviors and embrace differences.

Learning is being curious and constantly challenging our self to develop new skills forgrowth and improvement. Asking quality questions about assumptions to stimulate critical thinking and problem solving distinguishes a leader, not having the answers.Personal growth is propelled when pushed outside our comfort zone and requires perseverance to overcome obstacles. Having an accomplished leadership mentor and role model with a desire for constant improvement prepares us for new opportunities.

Leveraging our collective abilities and talents is the key to teamwork. A team is as strong as it’s combination of experience, knowledge and capacity. Most of us have heard at some point “there is no I in team.” However, we believe this is inaccurate as a team is comprised of “I’s” working toward a common goal to win, and there is always more than one “I” in winning. What differentiates an individual’s gifts can be leverage for the benefit of the organizational team. When you study the dynamics of consistently great teams in both business and sports, this is demonstrated by exceptional coaches and leaders shaping diverse employees and players into a cohesive group.

Listening is one of the most important skills to master taking patience and practice with huge upside potential. It is the foundation upon which relationships and trust are built. Research advocates understanding verbal and nonverbal communication in the listening process as having the greatest ability to influence a person’s leadership potential. By listening with our heart and mind for the deeper emotions, feelings and meanings communicated in many forms of body language, facial expression, gestures, and words we make deep and lasting connections between us and others.

Living as defined by Dictionary.com is “having life; being alive; active or thriving;vigorous; strong.” In the context of this presentation, we believe living is about leading an active, authentic, engaged, grateful and joyous life filled with contribution to help and honor those we are privileged to serve. There is a persuasive attitude that our life goal is to live without problems, have things easy, effortless and trouble-free. Unfortunately, there is little appreciation for recognition and rewards with the absence of challenges. Living bravely with an open heart and mind in meeting difficulties and vulnerabilities as
opportunities to improve while always striving to be the best version of our self.

Loving is synonymous with leadership and flows from a passion of your life’s purpose.There are many books written on a ”new leadership style” called “Servant Leadership.” We argue this is not “new” but a “renewal” of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Love is commitment, forgiveness, honesty, humbleness, humility,kindness, patience, respectfulness, and selflessness. We first need to love ourselves before we can accept that we are loved and love others. In a similar manner, we must
first lead our self before we can accept the role and responsibility to lead others.

Leadership is not the same as management. There are plenty of managers who are poor leaders, and there are many leaders who are not in management positions. To inspire leadership, we must laugh, learn, leverage, listen, live and love as examples of the behaviors before we can effectively lead others in an efficient and sustainable way. Management is about resources and things, and leadership is about us and people.

A McKinsey study of 189,000 business people concluded that 4 leadership qualities account for 89% of leadership effectiveness: Be supportive, strong results orientation, seek different perspectives, and solve problems effectively. Inspiring leadership is not the same as managing resources and schedules, it involves activities such as being present, visible, focusing on people not profits, building trust and influencing behaviors. Outstanding safety leaders understand leadership is an essential complement to
company management and have a passion and vision for safety in their organization.

In Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, Lt. General George Flynn says, “I know of no case study in history that describes an organization that has been managed out of a crisis.Every single one of them was led.” Sinek discusses the “Circle of Safety” that leaders need to create conditions where employees feel safe to work. Employees should not worry about their organization and focus on external threats. Sinek explains the impact four different chemicals have on people in the workplace. These chemicals are Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin (E.D.S.O.). Endorphins and dopamine are the selfish chemicals that help satisfy our reward system and keep us on task.Serotonin and Oxytocin are the selfless chemicals essential for the circle of safety. With a proper balance of these chemicals, the individual is protected as well as the group.

Neurological Science has conducted several experiments to isolate a part of the brain responsible for behaviors, habits, learning and memory. These focus on the Basil Ganglia and the 3 core elements of the “Habit Loop”: the cue or stimulus, the routine or habit, and the reward. By focusing on the routine or habit, old behaviors and habits can be replaced with new ones, while the cue or stimulus and reward remain unchanged.

In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg cites several case studies that led to breakthroughs in our understanding of memory and forming habits. In one, a woman named Lisa wanted to make changes in her life and decided to find one thing she could control. He states, “She needed a goal in her life…something to work toward…she needed something to focus on…in particular she would need to quit smoking…That one small shift in Lisa’s perception… the conviction that she had to give up smoking to accomplish her goal had touched off a series of changes that would ultimately radiate out to every part of her life. One set of neurological patterns, her old habits, had been over ridden by new patterns…As Lisa’s habits changed, so had her brain. Lisa focused on changing just one habit, smoking…

By focusing on one pattern, what is known as a Keystone Habit, Lisa taught herself how to reprogram the other automatic routines in her life…”

There are two keys to new habits. First, is the “Golden Rule” that “You can’t extinguish a bad habit; you can only change it.” Second, you need a belief or support system that change is possible. This belief system can be spiritual, like god, or a support group, or an internal force of believing in yourself.

Duhigg further explores organizations, saying, “It’s not just individuals who are capable of such shifts. When companies focus on changing habits, whole organizations can transform. Firms such as Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Alcoa, and Target have seized on this insight to influence how work gets done, how employees communicate, and without customers realizing it, the way people shop.”

Under Paul O’Neil’s leadership, Alcoa Aluminum, became the top performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average by focusing on worker safety as their company’s top priority. He was the Chairman and CEO from 1987-1999 and by improving Alcoa’s safety record, took the Aluminum manufacturing company sales from $3 billion in 1986 to 27.53 billion in 2000, and increased net income from $200 million to over 1.4 billion. His goal was clear, committed and focused: “make Alcoa the safest company in the nation with zero injuries.” According to Working Knowledge, Business Research for Business Leaders, O’Neil stated, “I was prepared to accept the consequences of spending whatever it took to become the safest company in the world.”

Tony Dungy, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001,focused on his players habits of automatically reacting to on field ques that improved one of the worst NFL football teams to win a Super Bowl in 2002. As head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-2008,hebecame the first African American to win a Super Bowl in 2006. Dungysaid, “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members and workers better.”In 2010, Tony Dungy released the book The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently. He says, “Your only job is to help your players be better.” “Engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Dungy inspiredplayers to be part of something bigger than themselves,rallying together in a time of crisis with a belief in themselves, their coach and teammates.

Keith Cunningham, in his book The Road Less Stupid, says, “Thinking is critical to sustainable success in business, said another way, business is an intellectual sport…need to think!…knowledge and insights to support you in being thoughtful about your decisions and decision-making process prior to taking action…adopt discipline of thinking time…avoid paying a dumb tax…If you want to do better, you must get better. People do not do better because they want to do better, they do better because they get better. You cannot achieve a new outcome without learning something new and practicing what you learned, probably outside your comfort zone. A commitment to mastery, improving, is essential for excellence.”

Cunningham’s “discipline of thinking time” aligns with one key takeaway from Good to Great by Jim Collins. Disciplined thought is being honest about the facts and avoid getting sidetracked. Disciplined action is understanding what is important to achieve and what isn’t. First disciplined thought, then disciplined action.

In Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations and Whole Hearts, Brene’ Brown explains courage and vulnerability always go together, stating “you can never be courageous without being vulnerable.” She illustrates “true leadership requires nothing but vulnerability, values, trust and resilience.” Brown explains “clarity and honesty is kindness” and essential to building honest open communication, trust and values.

Great leaders inspire themselves and people to act based on values. According to Simon Sinek, your “why” is your belief, cause, purpose and values. Those who inspire themselves and people have a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained. He says, “No matter where we go, we trust those with whom we are able to perceive common values or beliefs. “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone
is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”

Leadership authority James Hunter in The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership says “Everything you need to know about leadership you already know. It all boils down to one simple little rule you learned a long time ago. And that simple rule is to treat people the way you would want to be treated. The Golden Rule. You know, be the boss you wish your boss would be, the parent you wish your parent had been more fully for you, the neighbor you wish your neighbor would be. Today, I am not here to instruct you. Today, I am here to remind you.”

Tony Robbins, arguably one of America’s most influential coaches, provides inspirational leadership which change habits and improve individual and organizational performance. He says “Identify your problems, but give your power and energy to solutions.” “Every problem is a gift-without problems we would not grow.” “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” “You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” “Anytime you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards.” “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” “Lead with your heart, not your brain.” “Where focus goes, energy flows.”

This quote in Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives,
says it best, “To rid yourself of old patterns, focus all of your energy not fighting the old,
but on building the new.”

Inspiring leadership, creating habits and improving performance is a belief system that change is possible with a disciplined commitment to consistent growth, contribution, development and learning on an individual and organizational level. The ability to consciously control our breath and focus thoughts combined with an authentic sense of humor, desire for knowledge, embracing different perspectives, hearing to better understand, having a passion for living and loving people is fundamental. Inspirational
leaders are not born with these skills, they are developed by realizing they must first lead to be the best version of themselves and then apply these principles to help others. Repetition is the mother of skill and practice is the father of improved performance!


Julie Rosenberg.Breathe Your Way to Better Leadership, Getting Through Life and Work’s Unexpected Surprises (2018)

Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Solution (2000)

McKinsey Organizational Health Index (2015)

Henry H. Yin, Barbara J. Knowlton. The Role of the Basal Ganglia in Habit Formation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience (2006).

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Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012).

Tony Dungy. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently (2012).

Keith J. Cunningham, The Road Less Stupid, Advice From the Chairman of the Board (2018).

Anthony Robbins, Unleash the Power Within, Personal Coaching to Transform Your Life (1999).

Anthony Robbins, Inner Strength, Harnessing the Power of Your Six Primal Needs (2004).

Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives, (2006).

Brene Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (2018)

Collins, Jim, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (2012)

Hunter, James C., The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership (2012)

Maxwell, John C., The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (2007)

Sinek, Simon, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t (2017)

Sinek, Simon, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009)

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The Role Of Communication And Listening In Leadership


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