Is bad leadership all in the head?

We are facing multiple attacks on the working world as we used to know it. Technological disruption has forced change into almost all industries. COVID-19, the climate emergency and the need to take Diversity & Inclusion seriously is forcing fledgling companies to adapt at lightning speed if they are going to survive, let alone thrive.

At Corcillum we believe that the secret to this is leading not just with the head, but also with the heart: to be successful in the ‘new now’ (and the next new now, and the one after that…), businesses need leaders who can balance head and heart leadership impeccably.

Benefits to heart-head leadership

The benefits of combining crisp thinking with a strong emotional base may seem difficult to quantify, but research suggests that the effort to unite head and heart can pay off. Around the world, companies and leaders that truly unite rational and emotional thinking are more protected from difficulties in turbulent times, while also building their competitive advantage for the future.

What is critical for startups is to accelerate growth and differentiate the business in a crowded marketplace. Heart-head leadership can provide the key, recognising that competitive advantage comes from both places.

How to lead with heart and head

To hone their leadership capabilities, leaders need to achieve balance, making decisions and driving action from both heart and head. Compare what happens when companies take it in turns to lead with head and heart, versus what happens when they lead from the head and the heart simultaneously.

Head then heart

Strategy is usually a very head-driven process. The available resources are identified; the options are laid out; the cost benefit analyses are done; and a decision is made. Yes, if you are a pro-social startup, your journey will have been different, but your ultimate choice as to whether your idea is going to work and how to execute it is a financial one.

Let’s say your company does well, but it gets bigger, and it becomes harder to find people to fit the culture. Things are busier, people have less time for one another, and you have had a couple of people leave saying they are unhappy and haven’t been treated particularly well by their manager. You run some training on emotional intelligence, and you hope that this will modify the head-based decisions that are still being made everywhere. This is a vain hope, because you’re still compartmentalising the head and the heart in a way that is destroying your hopes of being a great employer and a company that people care about.

Head and Heart

Then consider a company who makes decisions from a place of heart-head. The strategy, the finance training, the appraisals: they all use both the heart and the head. You don’t make strategic decisions just on the basis of finance; and you don’t let your emotions run wild in an appraisal with a member of staff who’s performing badly but you feel deeply sorry for because they’re a single dad supporting two kids. We advocate balance across head and heart, and finding a way to operate as much as you can from a space which admits both of them.

Furthermore, it is critical as you lead a startup that is rapidly changing and growing, that you are able to use data based on both facts and emotions to make well-balanced decisions and evolve your leadership style. Imagine an expansion bid that imposes a new structure on a team without thinking about the personalities involved.

Consider how you are going to introduce the right organisational structure or manage performance of people who you have helped you build the business and been friends from Day 1. Imagine an inspiring new diversification idea that excites your heart but doesn't make financial sense. Head and heart have to operate in balance as the company grows in size and stature.

Entrepreneurs can be both too data-focused, and too emotionally attached, failing to anticipate how relationships will need to change and evolve if they are to remain an effective leader. Working on a balance is critical to long-term success.

Key occasions in the early life of a startup that would benefit from such an approach:

  • Deciding on company purpose, vision and values
  • Working out what the culture will be
  • Making expansion decisions
  • Recruitment, reward and retention
  • Leading and managing staff for organisational success
  • Reflecting on your own leadership style and whether it’s working

To effectively work as a head-heart leader, four critical skills are needed:


Crises like the one we are facing today force businesses and their leaders to change and adapt at extraordinary speed - particularly startups who will be lean enough to pivot in a way that giants can’t. With heart-head leadership, you can filter out the noise and focus on what truly drives success, leading to survive and thrive.

We passionately believe that heart and humanity is what distinguishes a great leader from a good one. Our Leadership Development programmes inspire and encourage leaders to lead holistically and with authenticity and compassion.

Startup Details

Startup Details



Corcillum have a unique approach to leadership development. Both heart and head are needed to make the holistic leader now demanded by people.

  • Headquarters Regions
    London, UK
  • Founded Date
  • Founders
    Liz Woolman, Katie Best & Bill Mann
  • Operating Status
  • Number of Employees