Webinar takeaways: Authentic leadership DHL’s take on leading with Head, Heart & Guts

5 minutes read
By Bronwyn Wainwright, Global Content and Brand Specialist, Top Employers Institute
Being a leader in these times is challenging but, in such situations, following a prescribed path might provide good orientation and can serve as a recipe for success. In the fifth webinar of the For a Better World of Work series, Harm Otten, Executive VP HR at DHL Global Forwarding, Freight, and David Plink, CEO of Top Employers Institute, discussed practical insights on how to apply authentic leadership, and what it looks like to lead by head, heart, and guts.

"In recent months, we have seen managers and leaders looking for advice, and training on how to lead their teams through COVID-19 as it has changed our lives, the way we work, and the way we live. Being a leader in these times is challenging but, in situations like these, following a prescribed path might provide good orientation and can serve as a “recipe” for success,” says Harm Otten, Executive Vice President of HR at DHL Global Forwarding, Freight.Great leaders stand out in times of adversity.

From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Top Employers have consistently engaged, motivated, and inspired their people. Their response has reminded us why they deserve Top Employers certification, but what has this looked like in practice? The fifth webinar of our For a Better World of Work series featured Harm Otten alongside David Plink, CEO of Top Employers Institute as the two explored the ins and outs of purposeful and authentic leadership.  

Purposeful leadership

According to David Plink, purposeful leadership begins with a specific mindset that is shaped by what they believe and shown through how they behave. This way of thinking is characterised by three qualities:  

  • Courage: being able to step out of your comfort zone, and yet keep high moral values.
  • Empowerment: creating a vision for the team to follow and enabling them to deliver on it.
  • Focus and finishing: helping to focus the minds of everyone in their team not only on what needs to be done but, crucially, how to make sure that these needs are delivered.

A strong leadership mindset in this way creates a real sense of organisational purpose, one in which leaders can inspire those around them to join the pursuit of a common vision, engage every team member in meaningful activities, innovate products or processes, achieve results by creating the right structures and level of clarity, and develop self-awareness of their ability to transform, coach and influence people.

David explains that there needs to be a renewed focus on the soft skills of leadership, and Top Employers practice what they preach when it comes to this. Top Employers Institute’s research reveals that to engender this sense of purpose means leaders and managers need to think of themselves as coaches, encourage conversations about the development of others (and not just their performance) and be as transparent as possible in communication.

In fact, 98% of Top Employers have translated values into behaviours to serve as accelerators of change, while 71% have senior management actively involved in wellbeing programmes.

Leading with Head, Heart and Guts

One Top Employer that is a shining example of all the above is DHL Global Forwarding, Freight. Harm Otten, their Executive Vice President of HR, explains in our webinar that in recent months he has seen more and more leaders and managers asking for advice on how to lead teams in difficult times.

His organisation’s mantra is to connect people and improve their lives. To do this requires an absolute commitment from employees – over half a million of them spread across 220 countries - to come to work, love what they do and give their best every day. Otten outlined a recipe for winning this commitment – one which had managers leading with what he called their “head, heart and guts” to get their employees engaged and delivering an excellent customer experience:

Leading with Head means:


  • Being results oriented

Great leaders identify exactly what they want to achieve and what the result should be, but crucially they also know that this must be clearly formulated and communicated. And they should know that employees need to be given the tools and support they need to deliver those results.

  • Leveraging strengths

Too often, we focus on our weaknesses when we should focus on our strengths. It is so much better to leverage the strengths of people and to encourage them to be better at what they do well. Leaders should focus on their strengths and encourage their people to do the same.

Leading with Heart means:


  • Leading with your heart

DHL says it connects people and improves lives. While this fills everyone in the organisation with pride, they also need to see what a sense of purpose means for their role in practice. So great leaders communicate the company’s purpose to their people and help them see what it means for their work.

  • Having and creating trust

Leaders can’t (and shouldn’t) try to control everything. Trust reduces uncertainty and stress. If you give your people trust and responsibility, they should have a clear motivation and the discipline to do things right first time. Leaders need to be open and honest, welcome questions and not stigmatise mistakes made – errors will happen.

Leading with Guts means:


  • Focusing on clear priorities

It is hard not to feel overwhelmed in many workplaces by conflicting and numerous priorities. Leaders should not to get distracted. Instead, they must focus on the key policies that they and those they lead can successfully execute to get things done.

  • Being positive

The Covid-19 situation has shown that there is so much we cannot predict. New challenges suddenly arise, and risks need to be taken. Great leaders deal with uncertainty by recognising the positive side of change. They must be prepared to leave their comfort zone and encourage others to do the same. Positivity is the key to facing uncertainty and change.

Leading with “Head, Heart and Guts”, concludes Harm Otten in this webinar, provides the ingredients to navigate through a rapidly changing world. They also help leaders to balance respect with results – great leaders will need both to be successful.

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Webinar takeaways: Authentic leadership DHL’s take on leading with Head, Heart & Guts