Blue Heron sitting on small tree on top of heart shaped rock in a still pond.

Hatred is on the rise. It’s gathering in communities at a startling rate. Hatred used to lurk in the shadows and have some modicum of social shame attached to it. Now, it has permission to be public.

What is the antidote for hatred? Love. Compassion. Empathy. Caring. Yes, even at work. If you care about people, if you want to experience connection and belonging at work, you might consider becoming an open-hearted leader.

Most of us know the benefits of an open mind — more curiosity, greater levels of innovation, less judgment, etc. In an article for the Harvard Business Review about open-mindedness, Shane Snow writes, “Changing our methods and minds is hard, but it’s important in an era where threats of disruption are always on the horizon. In popular culture, we might call this kind of cognitive flexibility, ‘open-mindedness.’ And with growing divisions in society, the survival of our businesses and communities may very well depend on our leaders having that flexibility — from Congress to the C-Suite.”

But what about having an open heart?

Open-hearted leaders are vulnerable. They reveal their humanity — what they struggle with, what remains unsolved. This allows team members to be more open and vulnerable in return. Through this, a collective caring is born. We care about people we feel we know well. Compassion and empathy are accessed when we know the story of the person in front of us. As Brene Brown said, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”

As an executive coach, I’ve advocated for open-hearted leadership for decades, because open-hearted leaders are the ones that people want to work for. They care about their people, and not just because HR tells them they should. Open-hearted leaders offer appreciation and acknowledgement to their people. They express the good. They listen deeply and take action on what they hear. They cultivate a healthy and vibrant culture that makes innovation and results soar.

Being open-hearted requires courage. Offering your vulnerable self to your team is scary. We have this crazy need for self-preservation, and taking emotional risks is not part of it. But recall Maya Angelou’s words about being brave: “The price is high. The reward is great.”

Before writing this, I got off two separate work calls that both ended with my colleagues and me saying “I love you.” I realize this is not the norm. I can imagine that most of you don’t close out a Zoom call with an I love you offered to your work colleagues. But both of these calls were very open-hearted and moving. At the end, I was so present to the gift and contribution these amazing people are in my life that it was the only natural thing to say: “I love you.”

The enemy of open-hearted leadership is cynicism, which is just another act of emotional distancing. If you find yourself saying, “We’ve already tried that — it won’t work,” odds are, you have not just a closed mind but a closed heart as well. If you find yourself lowering your expectations, your dreams, your aspirations to “be more realistic,” it’s likely you’re hosting a closed heart. If you find yourself in us vs. them, right and wrong, good and bad frames of thinking, know that these positions are judgments and will keep your heart closed. Cynicism results in feelings of resignation, arrogance, bad behavior, and being calloused or hardened in your view of life. You are cut off from your heart.

These are the things that invite an opening of the heart: Self-care. Spaciousness. Safety. Feeling valued and valuable. Appreciation. Presence. Gratitude. Voicing the good. A sense of belonging. Connection to your values, vision, purpose.

I am here to remind you that beneath your professional titles, role, and exterior, you are a human navigating through complexity. Open-hearted leadership doesn’t ask you to be a savior or flawless but to be real, relatable, and emotionally available. In this way, you weave a tapestry of empathy, care, and collective strength across the fabric of your organization. And that’s when hatred packs up and leaves.

Photo Credit: Greg Johnson Unsplash


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I founded Henley Leadership Group 22 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.