Tough-minded Leadership with Tenderhearted Skills

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In business today, every leader, every boss, every chief executive officer, wants their company to be successful and so they advocate for tough-minded attitudes and strong-willed personalities.

And in doing so, they sometimes miss the mark of creating the success they are after. They forget that for leadership to work, for business to excel, you need a balance. It takes not only tough-mindedness but also tenderheartedness to make a business succeed and grow.

A great leader partners a tough mind with a tender heart.

A tough-minded leader needs to also advocate for tenderhearted skills.

To do so, you need to lead with these attributes:

Tough-minded on focus and tenderhearted in flexibility. Great leaders need focus to gain success, but they must be flexible and agile in all circumstances to be truly successful.

Tough-minded on values and tenderhearted in appreciation. Great leaders understand that their values are the stamp of their leadership, but they will go out of their way to show appreciation for others; for who they are and what matters to them.

Tough-minded about creativity and tenderhearted in imagination. Great leaders know that creativity is the essence of innovation, but they must be soft-hearted enough to engage and embrace the imagination of others if they want to fuel innovation.

Tough-minded toward vision and tenderhearted in valor. Great leaders know to be successful they must have a clear and succinct vision so others know the direction, but they must also encourage acts of courage, flexibility, and boldness to ensure that their vision is successfully achieved.

Tough-minded on standards and tenderhearted about purpose. Great leaders understand you must not compromise on standards, but they also recognize that each person has their own purpose, and they allow others to express their meaning.

Tough-minded on accountability and tenderhearted in admiration. Great leaders knows they must show results and be responsible, but an important aspect of their success is acknowledging and appreciating those who have helped them secure those results.

When we have confidence in our people,and we treat them with a tender heart, they trust us with the tough decisions and stick with us through even the toughest times.

Do not mistake a tender heart for a weakened mind, and do not confuse a tough mind for a heartless soul.

If you want to excel in business and transcend in leadership, allow your tough mind and tender heart to integrate.

Lead From Within: We must remember we cannot be too much of one thing and not enough of its complement. We must find the equilibrium in everything—in our personal life, in business, and especially in effective leadership.

Photo Art: In Japanese, kanji “kokoro” can also be pronounced as “shin“~  Shin means “heart” and can also mean “mind.” We need the integration of heart and mind to make us whole.



N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R
The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Alli Polin

    18. Feb, 2014

    This is one of my favorites from you, Lolly. So many leaders struggle with the balance between the two. People are complex enough to be able to hold both and it’s essential to strong leadership. Thanks!

    Reply to this comment
  2. lollydaskal

    18. Feb, 2014


    This blog post was inspired by a conversation with La Rae. Most people feel that heart and mind. Tough and Tender do not have a place in leadership or for that matter belong together.

    That is a big mistake. I felt this was an important article to write.

    Thanks so much for lending us your thoughts. I always enjoy seeing you here.

    Reply to this comment
  3. LaRae Quy

    18. Feb, 2014

    Wow! What a powerful article…and you have inspired me, Lolly, to look at how the heart influences the mind.

    Love this: We need the integration of heart and mind to make us whole.

    So true, and you’ve beautifully illustrated why.

    Have a blessed day!

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      18. Feb, 2014

      This article is homage to YOU my dear.

      We had a great conversation and my mind went spinning and my heart went soaring.

      So I decided to put it all down in an article.

      Thanks so much for inspiring me today and everyday!


      Reply to this comment
  4. Ed Hennessy

    18. Feb, 2014

    by far one of the BEST and Incredibly awesome blogs on how to blend the head and heart for powerful leadership, I am going to post this link to many locations today!!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Terri Klass

    18. Feb, 2014

    The fragile balance between being a tough minded leader while still having heart is such an important quality for leadership. Getting that right will enhance trust and build meaningful relationships.

    Brilliant post, Lolly!


    Reply to this comment
  6. lollydaskal

    18. Feb, 2014

    You are right!

    BALANCING mind and heart is what makes leading trustful and authentic.


    Reply to this comment
  7. Travis Waits

    18. Feb, 2014

    Thanks Lolly & LaRae! I like the balance you describe, that actually being ‘tough minded’ and ‘tender hearted’ empower each other in a reciprocal way, for great leadership impact. I agree it is a ‘both/and’ attitude that leaders can influence more effectively when neither quality is dispensed at the detriment of the other.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      18. Feb, 2014

      … and I agree with you..

      it is a ‘both/and’ attitude that leaders can influence more effectively when neither quality is dispensed at the detriment of the other.

      Thanks for sharing.


      Reply to this comment
  8. Paneli Tritchew

    20. Feb, 2014

    Hi Lolly,
    A wonderful post—a tough mind and a tender heart is such a lovely and challenging combination, yet elusive because of the challenging combinations you so wonderfully describe: tough mind and tender heart; tough in values, but tender in appreciation; tough in creativity, but tender in imagination. These inherent polarities are not for the faint of heart.
    Christian mystics coined the term Coincidentia Oppositorum, a transcendent insight into the union of opposites. One aim of Zen Buddhism is the ability to sustain mutually exclusive thoughts… simultaneously. Jung considered the psyche to be a a blend of the conscious and unconscious that, when harmonious, constituted a unified Self

    None of this integration is easy. That’s why I love your work, Lolly.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Sue

    07. Mar, 2014

    Great message with focus on balance, joy, caring and leading with empathy, strength and love- tough love. The take away for me is that leaders can be more. Recently someone shared the triangle idea with me – balance of mind, soul and action. You hit it on the mark, even better. Thanks for inspiration and Japanese artwork and connection. Sue

    Reply to this comment
  10. Matt Chase

    16. Aug, 2014

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Using words that hit the spot, we immediately recognize the skills have always been within us, to change ourselves, first and foremost. Others can see this in us, and when we are able to lead, our heart and mind are well controlled in how we arrange or attack a problem. In a private school setting where my students were able to approach me freely and felt at ease, a ground work that I had already laid, made the tough-minded person that I needed to be, in order to effect change. It was just the right recipe of mind and heart that created a boondoggle outcome for the course I was instructing in. Since then, I have moved on to effect a needed change in a much more important task, one that effects more than a just a classroom. An industry wide problem. Without the tools that I had hidden deep within myself, the ones you help me unearth, I would still be that mediocre half hearted person with no goals, and no power within myself.

    Thank you, Thank you!

    Reply to this comment

    23. Aug, 2014

    Thanks , I’ve just been searching for info approximately this topic for a long time and yours is
    the best I have discovered so far. But, what about the conclusion? Are you certain concerning
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    Reply to this comment
  12. John Richard Bell

    02. Sep, 2014

    In marketing, we used to say “the toughest path to travel is the 9 inches between the head and the heart.” Lolly, your post confirms that this two-way trek applies to leadership as well. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Reply to this comment
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    15. Sep, 2014

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  14. Rohan

    21. Apr, 2015

    Great one Lolly 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  15. Mark LeBusque

    15. Jun, 2015

    Fantastic article Lolly. I like to think of this as Duality – the ability to deliver a tough message whilst hugging another human at the same time. Those who do this well have a large dose of empathy built into everything they do. Have shared with my FB Group The Human Manager as it depicts exactly what a Human Manager is.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Ali Bateman

    21. Jun, 2015

    “Thick skin soft heart” my mentor says!

    Reply to this comment
  17. Sue

    15. Nov, 2015

    In school leadership, this message is powerful! Thank you

    Reply to this comment
  18. choi da ga

    05. Apr, 2021

    I love reading a post that will make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment.

    Reply to this comment

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