Lessons from Leaders: #2 Heliotropic Leadership

Be like the sun, not the salt.

a sunflower leaning towards a sun flare

I was lucky enough to hear Harry Cohen speak at a NADA conference in America, about what heliotropic environments mean to people.

He says that to create a heliotropic environment, you must create a workplace where people are happy to come to work and don’t dread Monday mornings.

(Happiness is another subject I’m going to talk about in more detail later on in this series)

You need to deliberately work out, how you are going to ensure your employees and fellow colleagues, enjoy coming to work.

Heliotropic refers to “being the sun, not the salt”. People, like animals and plants, lean towards the sunshine. If you look at the way that people worship now and through history, the sun is often an icon people gravitate towards.

Similarly, in stories and fables.

The North Wind and The Sun

“The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great strength in gentleness.

“We shall have a contest,” said The Sun.

Far below, a man travelled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.

“As a test of strength,” said The Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off that man.”

“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged The Wind.

The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, The Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.

The Sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.

Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

“How did you do that?” said The Wind.

“It was easy,” said The Sun, “I lit the day. Through gentleness, I got my way.”

Striving to be like the sun and avoid being salty is an important part of creating a heliotropic environment.

If you do “pour salt” on people, it takes an awful lot of warmth and nurturing to “bring them back to life” or get them back to being able to reach their full potential in a positive workplace.

How do you actually achieve a heliotropic environment?

It’s not easy to create a warm workplace in the winter in North Yorkshire, but we try!

The two main points to remember and practice are communication and self-control.

Self-control, being able to hold your temper/tongue when something goes wrong, is the key to unlocking a positive workplace. It’s not easy to always keep calm, this last year especially, has thrown us unpredictable circumstances, and it’s very easy to blow your top.

Harold Macmillan once said that “events” are the thing to likely knock government of its course, and I think this year has proven his point again.

However, remembering to breathe and take 5 seconds to take in the information someone has just told you, rather than immediately reacting, can really make a difference in how you handle the situation.

Instant reactions can sometimes lead to harsh words and meaningless actions. Assessing the situation in front of you, breathing and calmly approaching a problem will make you a leader that other people will trust and respect.

If you’re struggling to find the calmness your looking for, or are in a really bad mood, then read this quick guide to “How to Lift your Mood in 60 Seconds” – originally created by Jack Canfield.

Or watch this short video:


When it comes to communication with your team, we first address the Monday morning syndrome.

Every Monday we hold a session we call Ignition. It’s usually about quarter past nine so it gives everyone a chance to get their feet under the table, grab a coffee and check their emails.

We ask the entire team one-by-one, (this used to be in the office but now due to lockdowns and social distancing it’s done over a video call) what their two positives from work and home were from the previous week.

Sometimes we mix it up a little and ask people what they have learnt the previous week or ask people what their favourite quote they have come across lately is. But usually, we stick to the positives format. (We cover more about the importance of positivity in this blog).

We’ll always follow up the positives with frogs. Everyone shares their frogs, their most valuable task of their week.

Click here to read more about what “frogs” are!

The beauty of Ignition, or any weekly meetings, is that it gives people a mini deadline to get their tasks done by. It helps people feel empowered when they accomplish their weekly goal and engaged with the rest of their colleagues, some of which haven’t seen each other in person for well over half a year!

Moving forward.

I think we’re all “people people”, all humans like social interaction, some less than others, but that’s okay!

The best thing about technology right now is being able to interact with each other online and carry on as “normal” as possible. However, I believe it’s no permanent substitution for the physical social interactions we are used to.

But, focusing on the positives of the current situation, it does save time and has got to be better for the environment than driving around everywhere to conduct meetings.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t think we will go back to doing dealership visits and meeting clients, but there will be a new balance between the two.

People are now becoming more used to doing conference video calls and online seminars and the technology has aided us in that, I don’t know how we would have coped with a pandemic like this 20 years ago. I would have been at a loss.

Something to bear in mind when it comes to good communication is the importance of solid leadership. Robert Forrester, CEO of Vertu Motors, said to me that leadership needs to be clear, visible, and consistent.

The attitude and the demeanour of a team leader are often reflected in the team’s overall spirit and performance. For your role as a deliberate leader in a heliotropic environment, you need to make sure your mood swings aren’t responsible for the downfall of the rest of your team.

To read part 1 of this series click here – to be notified of new blog updates, subscribe to email alerts to be notified instantly!