PM Article

Leadership Dilemma: Head versus Heart

H L Uma, PMP

With more than 28 years in the IT industry and an alumnus of UVCE, Uma has rich experience across organizations like IBM India, PCL Mindware and TCS. As a program and portfolio manager with IBM India, Uma has delivered multiple programs apart from driving various project management and lean initiatives.

Uma is currently a portfolio management consultant with SABCONS. As a certified PfMP® and PMP®, her papers have been published in various PMI conferences.

Transition from a team leader or a tech lead to a Project Manager is not easy. While business results matter and we, as project managers, become responsible for it, we also have the responsibility of managing our teams, which are as diverse as can be. Unlike our great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata which depict the fight of Dharma versus Adharma, Good versus Evil, some of the situations in real life are Dharma versus Dharma itself. While one is right as per the rules book, the other is right on humanitarian grounds. Head follows what is clearly visible and documented and guides us to take the logical route. On the contrary, the Heart follows the emotions and feelings behind the event and guides us to take a stance considering the human aspects. Here comes the conflict of Logical Head versus Emotional Heart. The Mind Thinks, the Heart Feels. How do we balance the two?

Head Leadership:

Some of the characteristics of a leader demonstrating leading with the head are:

• Focuses on Business Objectives

• Maintains high standards

• Task oriented

• Focuses on Competence, Skills and Knowledge

• Getting things done is important

Heart Leadership:

Some of the characteristics of a leader demonstrating leading with the heart are:

• Focuses on Employee Relationship

• Makes people feel special

• Appreciates people

• Gives people a sense of purpose

Most situations we come across in our day-to-day life are clear case situations where we either use our head or our heart. For example, when you punish your kid for telling a lie or stealing, the head rules over your heart. There is no room for excuse or empathy. However, when you see an expensive toy for your kid, even though you know it is expensive and you are aware your child will not use it beyond a couple of years, you will still go ahead and purchase it. The heart rules over the head.

On the other hand, we come across situations where it becomes very difficult to follow your head or your heart. For example, let us say, a school dismisses a student for poor performance. As the marksheet is a testimony for poor performance, the principal could just go by the rule book and terminate the student. However, if the principal digs deeper and finds out that the cause for poor performance was a parental death or a major health issue, she may revoke her decision.

With close to three decades of experience in the IT industry, I share below a couple of scenarios where we were in a dilemma to follow our Head or our Heart.

  • Industry slowdown affected the IT industry during the early 2000s and employee lay-offs became very common. So was the case with the leading MNC I was working for. It is easy to communicate and terminate the services of an employee by saying this is a management decision. However, as leaders, if we spare few minutes to think of those employees who are victim to circumstance, how would we feel? How does the employee handle this? What if he / she is the sole bread winner for the family? What if the employee is newly married or has a new born child or an ailing parent to take care of? Our heart cries out for them.

As leaders of the Business Unit, we decided to do things differently. While we had no choice on the resource action to be initiated, we worked closely with placement organizations and got them to come over to our premises, meet these employees and help them with alternate jobs. We also arranged for professional counsellors to counsel these employees and help them manage this phase successfully. This truly made a difference.

  • I will recount another situation, where one of my team member’s background check failed. This person had worked in a small company for two years before joining us. In the few weeks he had worked with us, he demonstrated to be a sincere and good performer. However, that morning, I received a mail from our HR informing that the company he claimed to have worked for did not exist. As such, his background check failed and his services had to be terminated immediately. On informing him of the situation, he broke down. He was totally oblivious that his previous organization was not a registered company at all. His whole family was dependent on him and here he is, jobless, all of a sudden.

Conflicting situation again. My head said “Just send him off”, while my heart said, “Do something for him”. Understanding his situation, I counselled him to start his career afresh. I made sure one of his friends escorted him home and stayed with him for the day. I also contacted a few of my friends who were looking for freshers and eventually managed to get him a job.

In conclusion, taking those few extra minutes to listen to the heart and the head and then take a stance to balance both goes a long way in winning the loyalty and trust of our employees as well as the organization.