Pure Heart Leadership™ is a leadership approach that recognizes the individuality and strengths of leaders. This model that draws on my more than 20 years of professional experience within higher education and blends the ideas of Maslow, Rogers, and Bandura with a mindfulness approach to developing talent.

We all have a heart. But what does it mean to have a pure heart—and to be a Pure Heart Leader?

  • A pure heart is one that operates from the intention to help others—and the situation.
  • A Pure Heart Leader leads from a place of pure intention wanting the best for others and the organization.

As a Pure Heart Leader, you check your ego at the door because the leadership you provide becomes about the person seeking mentoring. While staying strong in your own values and skills, you ask, “What is that person going through? How can I understand that person’s emotions and the situation, and how I can be that person’s best leader?”

Pure Heart Leadership involves getting to the heart of a person and the heart of the matter at hand—while reconciling the situation in ways that are true to ourselves and constructive to others. Pure Heart builds a relationship from a place of understanding and empathy. Once people know that you genuinely care about them and their success, you can have direct conversations without ever sounding like a bully.

As leaders of organizations, we spend a lot of time and money on professional development. But often it is a generalized approach to the mechanics of good management. The information and training are not necessarily designed to cultivate authentic leaders. Couple that with day-to-day activities, organizational goals, and responsibilities, and professional development gets lost in the shuffle of priorities and unforeseen challenges.

Leaders often get so busy checking boxes, like the one that says “put out fire,” that they forget about their teams. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes not, but it’s an unfortunate side effect of our dynamic, multiple and complex responsibilities. Employees become cogs in the wheel—a part of processes, organizational culture, and lost in the elements of the work. But the strength of relationships with the people you lead requires an intentional investment in how you develop and sustain them.

But not all leaders know how to connect, and in some ways it’s more complicated now that it’s ever been. This is the first time we have five different generations in the workforce, and those generations could not be more extreme in differences and preferences on all fronts. Millennials seek inspiration in feel-good moments and efforts, and they feel unrestricted to boundaries set forth by previous generations with 20–30 years of experience when it comes to making decisions. And then you have Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers who bring their own flair and style to the workplace. In each of these groups, there is such a void in terms of who to go to for leadership development. Combine that with different cultural values, communication styles, and entitlement beliefs, and it’s easy to see how we misconnect in the workplace.

In a competitive workplace, people need anchors. Every workplace needs leaders who are authentic, care about people, and want to see others succeed. Be that leader, and others will follow. Live as a Pure Heart Leader, and your followers will become well-anchored leaders. Pure Heart simplifies the process, helping leaders navigate relationships and achieve results—even in a complex, diverse, fast-changing environment. And sometimes that means helping people with whom you do not have a reporting relationship.

Pure Heart Leadership is for you if you have one important trait: you are willing to be open and vulnerable enough to improve yourself. Anyone who supervises a team can use Pure Heart. Even if you don’t supervise a team, you still have leadership abilities to influence people. If you are genuinely interested in working with and influencing others, this approach will work. None of us walk into the office one day being the perfect, all-in-one authentic leader. But with a strong self-awareness, practice of reflection, and focus on professional development, you can develop your authentic strengths within your leadership style in a way that also supports Pure Heart Leadership.

Your self-awareness is your own self-worth. Understanding who you are is the start to becoming a Pure Heart Leader. At your core, you are a combination of your life experiences, both good and not so great; how you perceive those experiences; and your cultural influences and societal sway. Psychologically speaking, these pillars of your personality affect how you perceive stimuli and encrypt them into responses or actions. You are a culmination of each interaction, sensation, and life experience, both positive and negative. Your exposure to new experiences, new people, and new events enters your mind, heart, and soul to create your unique dialogue with the world.

With a Pure Heart, you authentically do the right things for the right reasons. You don’t have any ulterior motives. You have a level of self-awareness and intentional focus not only on your development and strengths but also on your whole organization. Pure Heart Leadership can meet you where you are and guide you in whatever situation you find yourself in. A Pure Heart will serve you better in leadership than any other trait you may learn or skill you may develop. And the best thing is, a Pure Heart is something you already have. It’s just a matter of recognizing it within you and consciously using it to lead.

This article first appeared in Academic Briefing on January 6, 2020 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.



Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood, Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Buller, J. (2013). Positive academic leadership: How to stop putting out fires and start making a difference. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Garrett, S. (2019). Pure heart leadership: An authentic approach to leadership. Pittsburgh, PA: Spiritus Communications.

Shana Garrett, PhD, has more than 20 years of progressive administrative experience in both the online and ground platforms. Garrett is a certified relationship specialist, licensed professional counselor, and national-certified counselor.