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The Heart of Leadership

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Are you the type of leader people want to follow? You can be—but first, you’ve got to understand what sets great leaders apart from all the rest.

Certainly, leaders need people skills, execution skills, a deep knowledge of industry trends, the ability to articulate a vision, and more—they must be competent—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s below the waterline? What’s deep inside the best leaders that makes them different?

Mark Miller contends it is their leadership character. In his latest enlightening and entertaining business fable, he describes the five unique character traits exhibited by exceptional leaders and how to cultivate them.

The Heart of Leadership begins with young and ambitious Blake Brown being passed over for a desperately wanted promotion, despite an outstanding individual performance. Confused and frustrated, he turns to his former mentor, Debbie Brewster. Rather than attempting to solve Blake’s problem for him, she sends him on a quest to meet with five of his late father’s colleagues, each of whom holds a piece of the puzzle he’s trying to solve.

As Blake puts the pieces together, he discovers that in the final analysis, a lack of skills isn’t what holds most leaders back; skills are too easy to learn. Without demonstrated leadership character, however, a skill set will never be enough. Most often, when leaders fail to reach their full potential, it is an issue of the heart. This is Blake’s ultimate revelation.

This book shows us that leadership needn’t be the purview of the few—it is within reach for millions around the world. The Heart of Leadership is a road map for every person who desires to make a difference in the lives of others and become a leader people want to follow.

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13 Chapters

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Leaders Are Different


“Leaders are different,” Samantha said.

“That’s it?” Blake said in a tone that revealed his concern.

“Yes, Blake. Your performance has been outstanding; you’re a great individual contributor, but I couldn’t get enough support for you to become the team leader.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” said Blake, in disbelief. “Outstanding performance—no promotion.”

“That’s right. We do value results around here—but there’s something missing.” Samantha stopped.

Blake leaned across the table, waiting on her next words, but she said nothing.

He finally broke the silence, “What’s missing?” He wanted to know—he needed to know.

“It’s really hard for me to put it into words,” she said hesitantly. “That’s why I said leaders are different.”

“Can you tell me how leaders are different?” Blake asked.

“I’m not sure how to describe it, but I know it when I see it.” Samantha sounded uncertain.

“Samantha, are you trying to tell me that I’ll never get a promotion?” Blake wasn’t sure he even wanted the answer to that question.


When the Student Is Ready


The next morning Clint was up early, so Blake was up early also. While he drank his coffee, he thought about how much Debbie Brewster had helped him after his dad died. He still found it amazing that his dad had mentored Debbie years earlier when she was a struggling leader and then she had then become his mentor.

He credited Debbie with helping him get his job at Dynastar by coaching him through the entire process. She had taught him so much about growing as a leader. He wasn’t sure where he’d gotten off track. He was also not sure why he ever stopped meeting with her in the first place. He hoped that she could help him again.

On his way to the office, he gave her a call. Fortunately, but not surprisingly, she was eager to meet with him.

“You name the time and place,” Debbie said.

“How about our old spot at the coffee shop?” Blake said.

“Fantastic. When?”

“Tomorrow morning, early?” said Blake. He didn’t think he should schedule a meeting in the evening; he knew Megan needed his help at home.


It’s Not About You


When Blake got to his office, he already had an email from Debbie with the names of the men and women in his father’s former group. Judging from their titles alone, it looked like an eclectic group—a CEO, a judge, the leader of a large nonprofit, a high school football coach, and a school superintendent.

Blake started making calls and scheduling meetings. He was delighted that everyone he called seemed genuinely interested in meeting with him.

His first meeting was in about a week.

• • •

Monday morning at 7:00, Blake found himself standing on the curb in front of an old building in the heart of the city. He was not alone; a couple of dozen other people waited for the doors to open as well. As Blake looked at his watch, he had a sense that no one else in the group was concerned about the time. Although he was attempting not to be judgmental, he assumed, based on their appearance, that his companions on the curb were all homeless. The crowd had gathered at Heaven’s Kitchen, a nonprofit organization started by Chad Culpepper. Chad was the youngest member of his dad’s small group. He had joined right out of college.


Leaders Create the Future


Blake’s next meeting was scheduled for a week later. He would be meeting with Joe Conrad. Joe was the CEO of a global pharmaceutical company. Blake did some pre-work by researching Joe’s company. He was impressed. It was huge—one of the largest of its kind in the world. They had a proven track record of industry leadership and innovation. Blake was excited to be meeting with Mr. Conrad.

On the morning of the meeting, Blake arrived early and was thankful for the extra time. He had not anticipated the high security at the facility. When he finally made it to the building, he was stunned. It was by far the nicest office building he’d ever seen. The furniture, the fixtures, the design, the artwork. Blake was almost positive one of the paintings on the wall was one he had studied in college in an art history course. He was careful not to break anything.

Just as he was taking one last look around the lobby, a woman approached him: “Mr. Conrad will see you now,” she said. She escorted him into a large office. Joe came from around his desk to greet him.


Vision Fuels Courage


The meeting with Joe had been extremely helpful. Blake was glad that, as best as he could tell, he was doing okay on the “expect the best” front. Would he be so fortunate regarding the other facets of leadership character? He would soon find out.

After his meeting with Joe, Blake was more attentive than ever at the office. He was on the lookout for an expect the best attitude. Where would it show up? In what form? Would he see it at all?

Interestingly enough, when he looked for it, he saw it. He saw it from senior leaders and some of his peers. He even saw it in some of the new interns. Blake knew this ability alone would not make a leader, but it was good to recognize this critical leadership character trait.

Because it was going to be several days before his meeting with Molly, Blake decided to get in touch with Debbie to see if they could meet sooner than scheduled. He was glad she was available.

• • •

“How are things at home?” Debbie asked. “How’s Megan feeling?”

“Generally, things are good. Megan’s sick almost every morning, but she feels better as the day goes on. I’m working hard to get home early enough in the evening to help around the house. Clint is also sleeping better. I think we’re going to make it.” He smiled.


The Price of Leadership


Blake was excited to meet with Debbie to update her on his previous visit.

This morning, Blake and Debbie met in the parking lot as they approached the shop.

“How are you this morning?” Debbie asked.

“I’m doing okay.”

Debbie knew Blake well enough to know he wasn’t telling her the whole truth.

“Okay …” she hesitated. “Let’s get our drinks and find a table.” A few moments later they were seated in their usual spot.

“How’d the meeting go with Molly?”

“Well, Molly clearly lives out her belief that leaders respond with courage.”

“She does. That’s one of the reasons many people love her … and others don’t.”

“I guessed that responding with courage would not always be popular,” Blake said.

“Your instincts are correct, not everyone is a fan of Molly Ortega.” Debbie affirmed Blake’s intuition. “It just wouldn’t be productive to display some of the letters and emails she receives,” Debbie said with a grin.

“I guess making everyone happy is out of the question,” Blake said, thinking out loud.

“When leaders lead well, not everyone is going to be happy.”


No Substitute for Wisdom


Blake had learned a great deal from Chad, Joe, and Molly. He was excited about his next visit too. Victoria Barnett had been a very successful lawyer and the managing partner in a large international law firm, before deciding to stay closer to home and become a judge.

Blake arrived early at the courthouse for his meeting with Judge Barnett. As he approached her office, he saw about a dozen young people leaving. They appeared to be about his age, maybe a little younger. As he introduced himself to the judge’s assistant, he asked about the group.

“Law students,” she said. “The judge meets with a group like that every week. She helps them make sense of what they’re learning. She loves to help young people.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“You said you were referred by Debbie Brewster?”

“Yes, do you know her?”

“I do, she’s a fine lady. She’s helped her share of young people over the years.” She took Blake into a large room. It was a library and conference area with a large table.

“Good morning! You’re starting your day early,” the judge said.


Look in the Mirror


Once again, Blake had attempted to schedule an early meeting. However, with the coach it was more difficult. He already had weight training with his athletes scheduled for 7:00 each morning. So, Blake agreed to meet the coach after practice. He promised Megan he’d bring dinner home after the meeting, which was always a good idea from her perspective.

“Coach, thanks for meeting with me.”

“It’s great to see you again. And, under more friendly circumstances,” he said with a broad smile.

“Oh, you remember me?” Blake had specifically not mentioned their past connection when he scheduled the appointment.

“Yes, I do. You were a fine quarterback. Congratulations on that championship.”

“Thank you, sir, and thank you for meeting with me. As I mentioned on the phone, I’ve been meeting with members of my dad’s small group.” As Blake said those words, all of a sudden, he had a new question. “Why didn’t I know you were meeting with my dad?”

“Maybe because I only had the chance to be in one meeting with him.”


I Can Change This


Blake left the meeting with the coach with a new spirit. He knew that he didn’t control his future but no longer felt like a victim. His outlook was different—his actions were within his control. Blake’s confidence in himself and his future had risen. Not that anything he’d learned would be a revelation to Debbie, but he wanted to share his insight with her. Their next meeting was still a few weeks away but Blake decided to call her anyway. He picked up the phone.

“Hi, Debbie, I just had a fantastic meeting with Coach Bradley. I’d love to tell you about it. I know we’ve got a meeting scheduled; any chance we can meet sooner?”

Blake was glad Debbie was available to meet the next morning. After he hung up the phone, he remembered that he was supposed to buy dinner for the family. He stopped by Megan’s favorite Chinese restaurant on the way home. He called to let her know he was on the way.

“I’ll be home soon. I’m can’t wait to share what I learned from the coach this afternoon. I love you!”


A Matter of the Heart


The weeks moved quickly, and Blake could see leadership character in action virtually every day. And to his delight, it wasn’t always from the men and women who had positions of leadership. This bolstered his confidence even more—he could do this. And, he did. Nothing monumental, but he was seeing more opportunities and taking them. He was developing and demonstrating leadership character, and people were noticing.

One such occasion was Blake’s very next team meeting, called to discuss their performance. The numbers looked good in the aggregate. But underneath, there were signs of trouble.

Samantha said, “Overall, I’m pleased. We’re not leading the pack, but we’re not last.”

Rachael chimed in, “We’re actually up for the quarter and the year.”

“Yes, that’s true, but our increases are decreasing,” Samantha added.

“Samantha, do you see a problem, or is that just the overall business cycle?” Kim asked.

“The business cycle may be contributing, but there’s another problem,” Blake said.

“What’s the other problem?” Chuck asked.


The Next Step


As the weeks turned to months, Blake continued doing the things his new mentors had suggested. When his next review rolled around, he was confident. He knew he had miles to go, but he was convinced he was making progress.

The morning of the review, he showed up early and eagerly awaited Samantha’s arrival.

“Good morning, Blake. I’ve been looking forward to our time.”

“I have been, as well,” Blake said.

Over the next few minutes, Samantha asked Blake to share his perspective on his performance. Blake was candid and complete in his analysis.

“That’s a great summary. I agree with your observations. What are you learning?”

“I’m learning a lot. Specifically, I’m learning that I’ve been focused on just part of my leadership development.”

“Can you explain?”

Blake took Samantha’s question as a chance to draw the iceberg for her. She was fascinated. She had never seen leadership depicted like that.

“So, I’m so grateful you challenged me during my last review. You were right. Leaders are different. That was a new idea for me. Since then, I’ve learned, as much as ninety percent of my success as a leader will be determined by my leadership character. I would never have started my search without your feedback. Thanks again!”




Rate each of the following statements using the following scale: 1 = Never; 2 = Rarely; 3 = Sometimes; 4 = Often; 5 = Always

Hunger for Wisdom

I see my personal development as one of my highest priorities.


My calendar reflects the high priority I place on the pursuit of wisdom.


I invest time on a regular basis with people who help me grow.


Self-evaluation and reflection play an active role in my pursuit of wisdom.


Expect the Best

When difficulties arise I remain optimistic.


My “expect the best” outlook impacts all areas of my life.


I consistently demonstrate an “expect the best” attitude.


I am able to grasp reality and maintain my optimism.


Accept Responsibility

I accept responsibility for my effort and outcomes.


I willingly accept responsibility for the work of those I lead.


When outcomes are not good, I look to my role in the situation first.


When outcomes are good, I am quick to give praise.


Respond with Courage

I am willing to make tough decisions.



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