Thursday, October 27, 2011

Can you teach "heart"?

I noticed this sticker on a student's computer: "you can't teach heart".

I asked him about it -- what does it mean by "heart" in this context? Kindness? Generosity? Empathy? (all of which I believe can be taught)

He said the saying is "absolutely true" and in his context it meant commitment to the sport (jui jit su). So, what do you think? Can you teach someone to be committed to a sport -- to give his heart to it?

I disagree with this quote. While I believe we cannot motivate another person -- that the other person has to be self-motivated -- I do believe we can do things to teach commitment:

  1. model commitment ourselves. We can demonstrate to our employees, teammates, peers, and children our own commitment to our group, company, team or family. We are teaching all the time. Do we give our heart to our organizations or work teams? Do we give our heart to our families? How often do we just go through the motions, get through the day, finish the task? We cannot expect heart when we don't give heart.
  2. actively demonstrate the outcomes of commitment. Oftentimes people don't go the extra mile because they don't see the value in doing so. We think those folks are lazy and lose interest in them. They get less attention and see even less value in giving their hearts, and we've facilitated a negative spiral. We may know why we're committed, but if we haven't shared the overarching goal -- our organization's reason for being beyond making a profit, our team's goal beyond winning the next game, and our family's role in our lives beyond someone to add to the laundry basket -- then we cannot expect anyone else to have that goal at the front of their minds.
I'm sure there are more ways to teach "heart". What ideas do you have?


  1. I agree, hear can be taught, when people have a purpose, they develop a passion and that is when they can be committed and dedicated.

  2. "While I believe we cannot motivate another person -- that the other person has to be self-motivated"- you just said it, you can't teach heart!

  3. I am a Finance Manager and also a blue belt at jiu jitsu. In the jiu jitsu community, this quote means that no matter how technical a fighter is, sometimes "heart" can beat technique. "Heart" in jiu jitsu means never surrendering, no matter how bad things go. It means leaving it all in the mat, it means fighting for the honor of the art, your academy and your jiu jitsu lineage.

    Taking this into a management context. You can lead by example, but you cannot teach "heart". The commitment must grow within each individual and their own purposes. Of course you can inspire your team, you can recognize progress, reward good performance, coach your bottom performers, develop your top performers and in the process generate commitment.

    But there are no lessons to teach "heart". You can inspire and lead people to greatness. But "heart" grows within each individual, some might have it and some won't. It's not like teaching math to kids were eventually everyone will understand that 2+2=4.

    You can do all the right things, but some direct reports might still will go to other companies when offered a slightly higher salary.

    Great blog though!

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