Leadership: The Art of Counting Heartbeats Over Headcounts

I often hear of workplaces laying off a noticeable amount of staff – I’ve seen it first-hand and I’ve even experienced it myself. It seems that those in leadership positions are more focused on the number of people, rather than on the personal strengths of individuals. However, I believe leadership to be the art of counting heartbeats over headcounts, and I will explain why more people should adopt this definition…


When I was a manager in a previous role, the members of my team had a leader that worked hard, volunteered to do the menial tasks, asked them how she could help with their workload, and cultivated a high trust environment. I was not a clock watcher; I did not monitor start and finish times and lunch breaks – I monitored output, and I clearly communicated the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and projects along with their deadlines. This resulted in a hard-working team, which helped each other and their leader, very few sick days, and projects proactively approached and delivered on time. The high trust environment allowed the early risers to smash out their tasks in the morning and the night owls to start later to finish later, which resulted in a noticeable difference in their mood: they were engaged.

I was excited to come across Dr Amanda Imber’s (CEO, Iventium) ‘Unlimited Leave Policy’, which saw a 20% increase in leave days taken (as most people need a little more time than what their contracts entitle), record company growth, low staff attrition, and high team engagement. Amanda made an excellent comment that supports my view: “as a company, we believe that trusted, empowered and rested employees have a better chance of being happier and also performing better”. This shows that a leader treats people like people – not a number and not a headcount – and shows empathy towards human needs, which creates a safe and supported work culture that enables the team to thrive.


Dr Sunnie Giles, in Harvard Business Review, published the 10 Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World. It is no surprise to me that integrity, flexibility, communication, and togetherness made the list. A good leader:

  1. Has high ethical and moral standards
  2. Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction
  3. Clearly communicates expectations
  4. Has the flexibility to change opinions
  5. Is committed to my ongoing training
  6. Communicates often and openly
  7. Is open to new ideas and approaches
  8. Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together
  9. Helps me to grow into a next-generation leader
  10. Provides safety for trial and error.

The final competency (10. Provides safety for trial and error) made me think more deeply about safety. If you look at our primitive state – or, at Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – we need food, water, shelter, safety, and belongingness. You can also look at how parents show leadership: they educate and provide opportunity, discipline when necessary, create a safe space to try and fail, and encourage growth, which builds self-confidence. Yet, we are still ignoring our basic needs as humans and what got us to the state of getting rid of headcounts to ‘save’ business, instead of seeing them as the beating hearts of the company. Counting headcounts ignites fear into the remainder of the staff by violating their safe environment, and those who sacrifice their own people often do it for self-interest (hint: $). Increasing the pressure on the Chief by getting rid of the Indians and remunerating them for this pressure, I argue, is not the best approach; Chief’s need their Indians – leaders can see this.

Dan Price (Gravity) made headlines when he took a 90% pay cut from his CEO salary to give his employees a minimum of US$70,000 a year. He witnessed how staff stayed longer and were deterred from moving to larger firms, more babies were being born and homes being purchased – a great result. Dan made an interesting point, “we keep taking away from the basic needs of the vast majority of human beings on earth so that we can glorify a very tiny percentage with wealth and power”. Dan demonstrated that he is part of and values the team by creating a solution to benefit the greatest number.


Leadership is the ability to empower others and to ensure that they work in an environment they can thrive in. The result of good leadership is having a team that can operate in your absence, feel confident to make decisions, and take risks knowing you have their back. Whether you are a Chief or an Indian, in a thriving or a struggling company, I encourage you to remember the following commitment statements to help you display leadership:

  1. I must maintain a positive physical and emotional state
  2. I must have a strategy for achieving a better future
  3. I must create a belief in others for the possibility for a better future
  4. I must maintain a standard characteristic of the future I desire