Book Review – Heartfelt Leadership by Kerry Swan

How can you be a good leader if you don’t know where you are going and what you are trying to achieve?’ A question that seems so obvious but one I haven’t stopped to work out – I’ve just been busy assisting my executive and getting his goals achieved

My interest in reading and reviewing this title relates back to my very fast climb from receptionist to EA for a managing director. I was in the right place at the right time, we connected well and I worked extremely hard to prove myself. Since then, I’ve learned leadership by observing my bosses. These have all been strong, successful, and seasoned CEOs or managing directors… But they’ve all been men. Men, who by their very nature, think differently, are more task-oriented and can be very direct. By reading this book I wanted to view leadership from a female perspective; to bring more ‘heart’ into my role and hopefully add a few new skills to my leadership belt.

It’s not a particularly big read and once you start there is quite a bit to unpack but I did enjoy the simplicity of the book. It was easy-to-follow and I had many ‘a-ha’ moments while working through the nine principles. Each had examples and activities that helped me make a connection to my situation.   

The main takeaways for me were principle four – having difficult conversations (I was nodding my head throughout the whole chapter because too often we go back and forth in e-mails when a simple conversation could quickly resolve an issue) and principle seven – feed your team their favourite food. The message around ‘sharing the doing’ isn’t a new concept but it’s so relatable and encouraged me to rethink what I’ve been doing with my team.

Something new I’ve learned from the book? Well, when I’m the office I don’t tend to move from my desk. People will come to me but other than my initial good morning chat, my head is down and I’m working. I’ve always thought that was a sign of a good boss – leadership by example – but this book has highlighted the importance of the little incidental chats with your team throughout the day.

I’d recommend this book to other EAs – and note that you don’t have to be managing a team to put some of the lessons to good use. Our role is also to assist with managing the wider team’s expectations when it comes to our execs and there were some helpful tips which could also be used here.

I’ve been able to refocus on what kind of leader I want to be and I’ve integrated a few of the principals into my day-to-day. The most thought-provoking part of the book for me was this: ‘A heartfelt leader plans for the best but expects chaos and makes necessary adjustments along the way’. My mind was shouting ‘Yes! yes! yes!’”

Casey Hyland is head of administration and human resources at ARA Australia