By Dawn S Kirk

Do me a favor. Put your fingers up to your neck right now, just to the left or right of your throat. Do you feel it?

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. 

You don’t need a medical degree to recognize the consistent, steady beat of your heart. 

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. 

It’s been working 9-5, graveyard shift, and overtime your entire life, about 100,000 beats a day, without you ever having to think about it.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. 

With each pulse, it pushes oxygenated blood through a network of arteries, veins, and capillaries that, if laid end to end, would stretch more than 60,000 miles! 

But this is one muscle we easily take for granted because we don’t see it at work. Biceps, glutes, abs—we’ll pour hours and hard-earned dollars into getting results with those, but it’s all too easy to neglect the heart. After all, it just keeps on ticking….

That is, until a tingling sensation begins in your arm. Shooting pain grips your chest. By the time you’re faced with the painful consequences of a heart problem, it’s usually too late to change course.  

[sub] Time for a Heart Check

Unfortunately, ironically and tragically, heart disease is still both a leading cause of death and one of the most preventable. Everyone knows their heart should be cared for through diet and exercise. But we don’t give the heart the attention it needs. 

Genetics and environment will always play a part, but the greatest contributors to heart health are the lifestyle choices we make. It’s a domino effect of small, heart-healthy habits. When you take care of the heart, you take care of the entire body.

Now you might be saying, Dawn, that’s a nice biology lesson, but I thought this was an article about business and leadership.

You’re right. Just as the heart is central to the functioning of the body, people are the heart of your organization. They are the barometer to indicate how well it is functioning. 

Are you heart healthy? As a leader, are you in the early stages of congestive heart failure, or do you need a defibrillator? What’s your pulse? What’s the pulse of your team? What’s the pulse of your organization? 

It’s time for a heart check. 

[sub] Business Biology 101

Every organization is a living body, driven by an “organ” just as critical to life as your heart. It, too, has a pulse—a heartbeat—that pumps energy throughout the organization and positions it to achieve results.

Unlike your involuntary thump-thump, thump-thump, an organization’s heartbeat is a little more complex. It requires intentional care. It won’t run on fumes forever. It will even walk right out of the office if it’s taken for granted. It requires leadership that gets it, that understands the business biology of an organization.

What is the heartbeat of every organization? People

Sadly, most organizations have a heart problem, and they don’t even know it. They’re like the great-uncle who gorges on unhealthy food, never exercises, and then suddenly feels horrible chest pain. At that point, panic sets in, stress skyrockets, and everyone runs around yelling, “How did this happen?!”

Sound familiar? As a leader in large corporations for over twenty-five years, I have felt these pains all too well and seen so many people exasperated by them. 

As one of the few African-American women accepted into the Manager Training Program at Frito-Lay Inc., I was determined to smash through the glass ceiling and grab my corner office in the sky. To say I was driven to succeed would be an understatement. 

What I discovered is that the glass can feel a lot more like cold, impenetrable steel, especially when companies focus more on hard numbers and neglect the beating hearts that make it possible to achieve results. 

Numbers may be easier to see, but failing to put people first actually cripples any organization’s ability to get stellar results consistently. Not that companies don’t talk the right game when it comes to people.

Let’s face it—it’s easy to say you are people-first, but it’s much harder to put into practice. Stats and quarterly reports are easier to read than a frustrated middle manager—and numbers don’t get their feelings hurt. 

On the one hand, it’s understandable. After all, businesses exist to make money. No money, no business. 

But it’s also fair to say no people, no business. 

[sub] The Heartbeat of Business

Across industries, locations, job titles, or outcomes, one thing remains true: people are the heartbeat of business. 

Why? It may help to think about it this way:

    • People are innovators. They look for ways to make things better for customer.
    • People have heart. They buy into an organization because it represents something larger than themselves.
    • People influence other people. They bring out the best in their teams and all levels of the organization.
    • People develop better processes. They are on the front lines looking for ways to improve, innovate, and execute.
    • People are more than the sum of their parts. They join with other people to do more than they could alone and go farther, faster.
    • People ask questions. They challenge the status quo and look for a better way.
    • People create culture. They interact with each other and form the backbone of an organization.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. 

Nothing gets done without people. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and make this claim: Any complex problem can be solved through people. 

As a result, leaders who want to achieve stellar results must start by focusing on the heartbeat of business—people. Heartbeat Leaders are uniquely prepared to dominate their industry because when you take care of people, you take care of the heart of an organization. 

Take care of the heart of the organization, and the entire enterprise will thrive. When it stops investing in people, any organization will keel over, hand to chest. 

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