Lead With a Strong Mind and Soft Heart

Heart and Mind

The Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament is a brilliant summary of what it means to lead with a strong mind and soft heart.

The writer tells us that we are most fully alive when we do good to others.

The Apostle Paul wrote this almost two thousand ago, and yet as an FBI Agent, I am surprised at how his exhortation of teamwork and leadership seems to perfectly encapsulate modern thinking.

On Leadership and Paint Balls

Several times a year the FBI firearms unit requires agents to qualify with their weapon. Our training frequently included various forms of stress tests where we worked in teams to make arrests.

To make the scenarios even more stressful, we frequently were given special guns that shoot paint balls, and then sent out to discover how much control we had over our mental and physical reflexes when making those arrests.

Nothing goes unnoticed with a paint gun shootout. Every mistake is splattered somewhere—the paint bullets can leave bruises and stick to hair for days.

Of more importance, however, were the red splotches that indicated one of our team members had been shot or killed.

To Live or Die

We put on goggles and Kevlar helmets; our instructors gave us the arrest scenario and then acted as observers as they watched our every decision and the movements required to carry out our decision.

We entered old houses with attics and blind corners, no obvious plan or path to follow, so we improvised and adapted to our circumstances as we moved along.

When you’re in the thick of it, all you really think about is surviving.

You don’t want to scrub paint off your clothes when you get home or feel the sting of a paint ball hitting your hand or neck.

The trials are physical as well as mental, but in a stress course of this type the mission is threefold:

  • The mission
  • Your colleagues
  • And yourself

—in that order.

Inspect What You Expect

In our review at the end of the day, the observers talk about what happened and what they saw.

Without fail, the biggest mistakes focused on the lack of communication between the agents.

Many times, one of us could see when another agent was headed for danger or taking too much risk. Rather than warning that person, many of us were too afraid of getting hurt ourselves to find a way to prevent the inevitable paint ball hit.

On Business and Life

Firearms training taught me many lessons about business and life. It taught me about the importance of building a strong mind while keeping a soft heart—Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was right. We are more fully alive and human when we use our talents as leaders to build up our teams and put their needs before our own.

Here are three ways that the paint ball exercises helped me understand how “doing good to others” can create leaders with a strong mind and soft heart:


Our firearms team did not communicate well with one another because we were too caught up in our own dramas. Each was strategizing on what to do next and what to anticipate.

In a hostile and unpredictable environment, it is important to stay in the moment. This may sound easy, but it means staying fully focused on the needs of the people with whom you’re communicating and putting their needs before your own.  This means that you do not come first—and this is why really paying attention to someone else can be so difficult.

  • Here are a few ways to stay in the moment with another person:
  • Make good eye contact to let them know that your focus is on them.
  • Give them your full attention.
  • Fight the urge to race ahead when they are speaking.
  • Watch for eye movement when speaking because you may have touched a soft spot.
  • Observe their lips when speaking because people compress them when they are stressed.


Leadership begins with knowing who we are and what we believe. Authenticity is the need for leaders to be themselves regardless of the situation. For this reason, it is more than self-awareness; it is the ability to share the deepest and truest part of ourselves with others.

In a changing and volatile environment, it’s not how you decide; it’s about why. The why of a decision in the midst of confusion and uncertainty is a fusion of the heart and mind. There is no time for trying to remember business school formats or emergency preparedness plans.

The journey toward authenticity is twofold:

  1. Discovering our personal values and beliefs
  2. Exhibiting behavior that is consistent with those same values and beliefs.

We can be authentic leaders if we are committed to be being true to ourselves—regardless of the situation we are in or the people around us—so we can be real and genuine.


We should not be unfazed by the failure of a colleague. If we can alert them to a danger that lies ahead, we should do so. If we pushed aside our selfish desire to get ahead, perhaps there would be fewer bodies lying by the side of the road.

Leaders can create a pre-emptive culture in their own environments. This is the true definition of teamwork, where each member watches the back of the others and warns them against making career errors.

Not every master plan is genius. Not every scheme works. As leaders, you know this better than anyone. Circumstances and environments can change quickly, in business and life, and even the best plan is impossible to follow. If you do good to others by building your team up, your world won’t fall apart when the unexpected shows up.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” ~ Ephesians 4:29

How can you combine a strong mind with a soft heart? Do leaders always need to be team players? How can you make a hard decision with a soft heart?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Your Best Adventure
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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Image Sources:  sciencephoto.com


5 responses to “Lead With a Strong Mind and Soft Heart

  1. Hello LaRae, I enjoyed your post and the especially the spiritual perspective. its past time to bring our spiritual and religious beliefs into this discussion. I agree that authenticity allows us to show up as our highest self in whatever we are doing. Re: plans, I agree that the map is not the territory. I think leadership goes a bit deeper in terms of our worldview and our ability to take multiple perspectives. I would add transcending the trickster ego and learning to get over ourselves as ideas that are congruent with your comments as well. Thank you for the learnings and for your service to our Country. – Doug


    • Hi Doug

      You make an excellent point about bringing in the ego . . . that is huge and is a major obstacle for many people, particularly leaders.

      If we don’t bring heart into the discussion of leadership, we’re left with a very empty and soul-less approach to the way in which we engage with others . . . no wonder it’s no longer “business as usual.”

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. Thanks, LaRae. Your articles always speak to my heart. I appreciate your God given mind and wisdom. Thanks again, Selam


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