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Your Leadership May Be Bruising Your Wellness Efforts

Contributed by: Heather Hanson Wickman, Ph.D. of Untethered Consulting

I know, no one wants to hear it, but sometimes the truth hurts. What if your greatest lever to increase wellness in your team and organization is… YOU? You’re likely thinking to yourself, but how could I really make that big of a difference? You have more influence than you realize.

Let me show you a few stats that might open your mind:

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, the person you report to at work is more important for your health than your family doctor.
  •  79% of people who quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as their reason for leaving.

And the one that worries me to the most…

  • 58% of employees say they trust strangers more than their boss.

Leadership has a massive impact on organizational wellness, and it is becoming evident that the way we work doesn’t work anymore. If we want to create organizations that embody wellness, what I’d call an evolved organization, we may just need a new type of leader. Today we need Evolved Executives.

Love in Action

Over the course of my career, working both as an internal and external coach and consultant, I’ve come to one clear conclusion. There is a distinct difference between organizations I’d classify as healthy (i.e., strong performance, stellar engagement, high levels of commitment, a sense of joy and meaning) and those who exhibit a crisis of suffering (you all know what this looks like). The difference is between LOVE and FEAR. Said differently, is the organization lead from a place of love or fear? By answering this question, you can begin to predict the level of success and wellbeing the organization and individuals will experience.

Let me give you a little background. As many have said before, there are only two basic human emotions—love and fear. Anything else falls into one of those categories. While we often talk about fear in the workplace we almost never talk about love. In fact, many people get uneasy when it’s used in this context. But to love is human. We all want to experience the feeling that we belong, that we are valued, that we are trusted to make important contributions at work. That, in its most basic sense, is love.

I realize many of you will be uneasy with this choice of language. However, I’m using it very much on purpose. Love at work is about three interrelating things:

FIRST. Love is the absence of fear. I’m reminded of a great quote from the book Driving Fear Out of the Workplace,

Fear doesn’t motivate towards constructive action. On the contrary, it nourishes competition within an organization, fosters short-term thinking, destroys trust, erodes joy and pride in the work, stifles innovation and distorts communication.

The fear here—and its consequences—is what we see in a typical organization. But removing fear is only half the equation. Embracing love, the beliefs that foster love, the practices that embody love, and the words that share love, is where the magic resides for building healthy organizations of the future.

SECOND. Love, according to author Peter Block, is also the act of confronting people with their own freedom and autonomy.

What greater gift can you give someone than the experience of their own power, the experience that they have the capacity to create the world?

THIRD. Love is about building caring, human connections in the workplace. It’s about treating people with compassion, valuing their contributions, and honoring our full selves authentically at work. Oftentimes, in our fear, we think we can’t get too close or know our employees because someday we might have to terminate or discipline them. Because of fear, we then don’t create caring environments. We lose the opportunity to be human at work and end up numbing out a part of our soul, which serves no one.

Fear-Based Workplace

So, how do you know if you are leading from a place of fear or love? Luckily, I get asked this question repeatedly and have put together this brief list to help you determine if, in fact, your organization is lead from fear.


  1. Truth. People are afraid to tell the truth
  2. Gossip. The rumor mill is often more credible than official communications
  3. Public Humiliation. Managers publicly discredit and shame employees in front of their peers with the intention to send a message to the larger group and improve motivation
  4. Blame. There is always someone to blame
  5. “YES” Bosses. People say yes to their bosses because they know that’s what gets rewarded, even if it’s not what’s good for the business
  6. Appearances. People become more concerned with how something looks than its results. For example, they might say, “I can’t leave until my boss leaves,” regardless of the work they actually have to do.
  7. On or Off the Island. People are constantly talking about who is “in” and who is “out” at the moment – this is an unhealthy preoccupation with status and political capital
  8. Policy Proliferation. Policy lists grow immense in size and matter more than common sense
  9. Secrecy. Information is hoarded for the sake of power and used to maintain control
  10. Fear. Very simply, people are scared to be themselves for fear of judgement and ridicule…often resulting in sickness and absenteeism

Fear is the antithesis of a healthy organization and the resulting job related stress costs companies millions of dollars every year.

If you want to create a wellness strategy that outperforms all your competition, focus on one clear strategy – teach your leaders how to lead from love. Emphasizing and embracing love is fundamentally good for the souls of human and frankly, makes good business sense. It propels us into a new level of performance and unleashes our ability to be whole and human at work.

Are you ready to be an Evolved Executive? The world is waiting.


About Heather Hanson  //  Heather lives to change the world, one leader at a time. Pervasive suffering is occurring in most traditional organizations at statistically alarming rates, causing incredible financial costs as well as immense hardship for both individuals and our collective well-being. Her passion revolves around the cure. Evolved Leadership. Heather has worked with many of the most prominent healthcare organizations including, Kaiser Permanente, DaVita Medical Group, and Stanford School of Medicine to help leaders evolve from the outdated management paradigm and move ahead of the competition by upgrading organizational beliefs, practices, and culture. She has an unending passion for supporting leaders as they transition to conscious, flexible, adaptable, and innovative ways of work. She has witnessed profound transformation in organizational leaders across the C-Suite. For more information, pick up a copy of her book: The Evolved Executive: The Future of Work is Love in Action or find an Executive Coaching package to become the leader the world needs.



Having leaders throughout the organization that are deeply committed to the wellness of employees and wellness in their own lives is an important first step to creating successful worksite wellness initiatives. Explore our Benchmark 1 Toolkit for helpful resources for gaining leadership support.

Benchmark 1 Toolkit