Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Ego-Driven Leadership Versus Heart-Driven Leadership

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 18, 2012

Why do people want to be leaders? I have mused over this question for many decades. Clearly motivation is layered and complex. That is a platitude, I know. Still, I think there are essentially two kinds of people who are drawn to powerful positions. One leader is looking for self-esteem. He/she is driven by an external validation that they are worthy and important people. A second kind of leader is looking to change the world by exercising their vision. Again, I know that one leader may have both qualities and this is an artificial either/or distinction, but I am making this distinction to say that in every leader, one of these two motivations dominate their decisions. In the ego-driven leader one would see moves which might hurt their followers in that decisions are motivated by blinding self-interest. In the heart-driven leader, the followers thoughts and feelings are attended to, but that does not mean that the organization grows and develops in a healthy way. A leader may be sensitive to the feelings of others, but still lack the skill of single-minded focus along with a will of steel. In my earlier days I thought all leaders were heart-driven, but with age and experience, I have come to see that this way of thinking was naïve. In deciding which leader to follow, this line of questioning, ego-driven or heart-driven, is a very important point in the decision tree. I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

8 Responses to “Ego-Driven Leadership Versus Heart-Driven Leadership”

  1. Dale McAbee said

    The Reverend Doctor John Claypool once preached a sermon where he contrasted “need love” with “gift love” and argued that the goal of mature faith is to live and act out a “gift love” inner disposition.

    • Dear Dale McAbee,
      Thank you for chiming in. I appreciate the Reverend’s comments. It seems like both devotees of human nature, and those strongly aligned with faith, are struggling for ways to help people be more nurturing and less blinded by self-interest. I very much like the term “gift love” as with a gift, the giver wants the giftee to be happy and touched. I also like the term “need love” as it implies that the love is so dependent on the response that there is a large immaturity embedded in that. Thanks again.

  2. Shelly said

    True leaders are indeed heart-driven. They want to lead because they have visions that are far bigger than themselves and they care about their employees’ happiness and how the public thinks about their product. They seek out their employees’ opinions and take care of them–they are, after all, their organization’s most importance resource. Leaders who lead in order to further their own self-interests are dictators and climb up based on the hard work of their employees. They don’t seek out their employees’ opinions, don’t care about their employees advancement or feelings, nor about the growth of the organization in any way other than how it affects themselves. Morale is low in these kinds of organizations and turnover is high. It is extermely naive to say that all leaders are heart-driven; most are not. But not all of us are born to lead. Not all of us have the drive or the vision, and some of us enjoy being part of the pack, not being the visionary. Is there not, however, self-interest in all of us? To survive in an organization, I think we need to be team-players, not just survivors. The current model in any organization is the team model these days. What do you think?

    • Hi Shelly,
      A very well-written comment. Thaks. I agree with all that you said. I think everyone is driven by self-interest, but the more enlightened of us, have a deeper view of self-interest where the giving and the receiving have more long-term goals, rather than the short-term goal of recognition and advancement. Yes, I agree that it is naive to say that most leaders are heart-driven, as in my stated hierarchy, there are fewer leaders who have a more enlightened, a more long-term view, of leadership. I like your addition to my point that these “immature” leaders create bad morale, causing employees to leave. Turnover, is indeed, a good indication of leadership skills. I also agree that there is a genetic loading for leadership and as such, “not all of us are born to lead”. I think that to survive in an organization we need to understand how we fit in, be that as a leader or a team player. Understanding the dynamics of the leadership is very helpful in surviving in an organization. Thanks again.

  3. Richard Caro said

    Heart driven leaders can be just as close minded as the ego-driven leader. But we cannot conceptualize a leader apart from the principles that guide her decisions. At the national level, it would be impossible to find a single principle that could guide all principles, and that would seem correct to everyone affected by those decisions. Perhaps the most important role a leader must fill is to develop opportunities for principled actions initiated by the people being governed: the designing of freedom.

    • Hi Mr. Caro,
      Thank you for your comments. In my experience, very few leaders want to promote freedom of thought, as that can be very threatening to the leadership-unless of course, the leader is particularly (and unusually) secure. I agree that it is reductionistic to think of leadership as either heart-driven or ego-driven, but categorizing leadership qualities is a first step towards understanding the complexity of authority. Thanks again.

  4. Jon said

    There are, of course, other situations to consider as well. Sometimes people become leaders by happenstance. It one stays in an organization for a while, one can become “volunteered” into a leadership position. While this can be blended into ego-driven or heart-driven distinctions, I think are may be another category as well. What other types of leaders have we not discussed?

    • Hi Jon,
      Of course, I understand the “volunteered” issue, but there is implied consent in being pushed in with the wave of expectation. The person still has buy-in, and as such, they take the leadership position with either an eye for self-promotion or an eye for generativity, but again, recognizing that both may be at play, with one theme dominating the other. Other qualities of leadership include organizational skills, social skills, single-minded focus, along with hard work and determination. These are skill sets which are helpful, but I am, for the moment, suggesting that when examining a leader, one should try to estimate the person’s underlying motivation for pursuing that job. It is a guessing game, but one that could foreshadow things to come. Thanks-as always!

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