Most business leaders and professionals today lead with their heads, but there is an alternative. Over my 27-year career in HR in luxury fashion, I have seen how heart-centred leadership based on integrity and the heart can truly transform workplace cultures and enhance business success.

During the pandemic, many businesses experienced a major culture shift.  They were putting people first, focusing on wellbeing and taking time to stop and ask individuals how they felt and how they could support their mental health and wellbeing. However, now we are back to business as usual, this kind of leadership has never been more pressing as employee mental health and wellbeing has deteriorated.

The latest CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work report highlights that sickness absence rates have reached a decade-high, with one in five workers taking time off due to poor mental health caused by work-related stress.

Equally, The Burnout Report 2024 by Mental Health UK warns of a “burnt-out nation,” with nine in ten adults experiencing high or extreme levels of pressure and stress in the past year.

Understanding heart-centred leadership

In the face of these challenges, heart-centred leadership offers a compelling solution for business success. It is not merely a leadership style; it’s a transformative approach that is rooted in love, empathy, and integrity. It prioritises the well-being and growth of individuals within an organisation, creating an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered.

I have always promoted this style of leadership and seen its benefits first hand. For me, it’s about putting people first. My early career working in retail as a make-up artist instilled in me that the customer is always the focus. Doing someone’s make up is an intimate experience, as it involves taking the time to really understand what a person wants and needs, and everyone is different.

Working in HR is no different. If companies really take time to listen to their people and ensure they feel seen, heard, and valued, then they would reap the benefits in terms of improved engagement and performance.

The need for heart-centred leadership in creative industries

This style of leadership can be particularly effective in creative industries, such as fashion, which are often high-pressured environments, with rapid product cycles.

In these settings, the ability to lead with compassion and understanding is essential. The constant demand for innovation, coupled with immediate reactions in sales, can take a toll on employees’ well-being, leading to stress and burnout.

In such fast-paced environments, where quick decisions and adaptability are crucial, a heart-centred approach offers a refreshing alternative. By prioritising the well-being and growth of individuals, leaders can create cultures that foster creativity, resilience, and collaboration.

Tips for heart-centred leadership

There are several ways companies can adopt this approach to transform their workplace culture.

Listening to People:

It all begins with listening and taking time to understand the needs, concerns, and aspirations of your team members.

HR has a central role to play by creating opportunities for open and honest communication, whether through one-on-one meetings, team forums, or anonymous feedback channels. By actively listening to employees, you demonstrate respect and empathy, laying the foundation for trust and collaboration.

You can also begin to explore interesting solutions. In some companies, I have been able to offer wellbeing sessions that have involved yoga, reiki, or even sound baths and without exception, these sessions have always been fully booked. To me this demonstrates there is demand for more spirituality and healing in the workplace.

Gathering Data:

Data-driven insights provide valuable guidance for decision-making. Invest in tools and technologies that enable you to collect and analyse relevant data on employee engagement, satisfaction, and well-being.

There are many ways to gather data – from using surveys, interviews, and performance metrics you can gain a comprehensive understanding of your team’s dynamics and identify areas for improvement. By using data, a company can make informed decisions that support your team’s growth and success.

Obtaining Boardroom buy-in:

Heart-centred leadership requires the support and endorsement of senior leadership, including the board.

One way to achieve this is to present compelling data that demonstrates what employees want and need, as well as the business impact of prioritising employee well-being and engagement.

Highlight the link between a positive work culture and organisational performance, emphasising the long-term benefits of investing in people. Buy in from the board is needed to get the resources and go ahead to implement meaningful changes across the organisation.

Embracing heart-centred leadership for sustainable success

In today’s competitive landscape, success is no longer solely determined by financial metrics; it is also measured by the well-being and engagement of people. Heart-centred leadership offers a holistic approach that not only drives business results but also fosters a culture of trust, resilience, and innovation.

By listening to people, gathering data, and obtaining buy-in from senior leadership, you can create environments where they thrive, even in the face of constant pressure and change. In creative industries like fashion, where every decision can have a significant impact on the bottom line, the need for heart-centred leadership is particularly acute.

By prioritising the human element of business, leaders can create sustainable success that benefits both employees and the organisation.

Abigail Wilmore
Abigail Wilmore
Founder at People Flow | + posts

Abigail Wilmore, Founder of HR community People Flow, focuses on wellbeing and coaching and mentoring for HR professionals. Abigail has enjoyed a career in HR for the past 25 years and has worked for the most renowned luxury fashion and beauty brands in the world including Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Estee Lauder and Dr Barbara Sturm. She is a triple-accredited Executive Coach, has an MSc in HR Management, and has travelled the world for speaking engagements and client assignments.