Change Client-centered Therapy coaching Counseling Emotional Intelligence Psychology Therapy

Leading With The Heart

Counseling and Coaching, Leadership

A Personal Note From Bernice Imei Hsu, the Owner of Seattle Direct Counseling

Welcome to a whole new year! I welcomed 2014 while staying on Orcas Island, Washington. It was so beautiful and charming to welcome each new morning with the mist on the water, deer walking across single-laned roads, and the sound of nothing but a waterfall and a lake shore. My time away from the office was restorative and reflective. It helped me stay connected with my desire to lead with the heart in 2014.

Do what you love and lead from your heart.
Do what you love and lead from your heart.

This year boasts so many “firsts” for me. It will be the first year with a published book (due out in April 2014), a very full schedule, two counselors with room for more, Olympic-distance triathlon races, and (hopefully) my first year to complete the training to race a marathon in May 2014.  I don’t know about you, but if that doesn’t require some leading from the heart, I don’t know what does!

What It Means To Lead With The Heart


The Chinese character for heart is Xin.
The Chinese character for heart is Xin.In that process, people want to be heard. They want to be seen. They want to know if they have talent for something, develop that talent, and integrate new skills into a more satisfying life. While there are skills to be learned, most people won’t stick with a coach unless they also feel cared for.

Over the break, I started reading a book by Jerry Lynch, “Coaching With Heart”, based on principles found in Taoist literature, as well as his long career in coaching college athletes and his training as a sport psychologist. As I suspected, whether you coach athletes or teach musicians, instruct small business entrepreneurs or mentor young teens, the process of helping to shape a life through the learning of a skill is essentially the same.

In that process, people want to be heard. They want to be seen. They want to know if they have talent for something, develop that talent, and integrate new skills into a more satisfying life. While there are skills to be learned, most people won’t stick with a coach unless they also feel cared for. Skill acquisition is not enough.

Counseling can be a specialized part of the coaching process, in that one first looks at the psychological underpinnings of how they think and act so they can answer the bigger question:  So What? After the analysis of who one is reveals the “who” of who you are, it’s then very natural to flow that understanding towards questions of how your understanding of yourself manifests into your closest relationships, what it is you wish to accomplish,  and what functional changes you can make to improve whatever it is you are working on.

The reasons why people leave a coach are also fairly predictable. People leave when they aren’t learning anything. They leave when all the motivation in the world doesn’t replace their feelings of being disrespected, uncared for, not listened to, and not seen for who they are. They leave if there is unethical behavior on the part of the coach. They leave if a coach is unkind, unduly harsh, or maintains a negative outlook towards them. Essentially, I have listed every characteristic that is the opposite of what I mean by leading with the heart.

To lead with my heart means that I practice the following things:

I am willing to learn new things right along with you.

I never suggest a course of action I haven’t considered myself.

I listen and observe with all my presence.

I apply compassion and empathy to your situation and feelings.

I draw from a place of courage to help you develop and draw up your place of courage.

I allow you to see my vulnerability, so you understand yours.

I invite you to be human, while I also act as a humane being.

Ultimately, I think leading from the heart puts you in touch with a person who is modeling what it means to be in relationship with another human being. And the relationship isn’t like one conducted on Twitter, or on Facebook, or through texting snipets of life. There is an empathy, emotional intelligence, and integrity to the process of modeling and collaborating that underlines Dr. Irvin Yalom’s statement, “It’s the relationship that heals”.

I realized this past year that my clients were really enjoying and reaping the benefits of how my life — both the life lived in the counseling and coaching office, and the life lived “out there” on the race course, the dance floor, and in the general public – helped motivate them to dig deeply within, to be willing to embrace change, and to journey into places where they encounter fear, grief, and other strong emotions.

As I continue to lead from my heart, I have every confidence that my clients will learn to do the same. I am so amazed and proud to have the privilege to see so many people put the pieces of their life together and find more satisfaction, happiness, peace, and wellness. My business is, of course, nothing without the courage and fortitude I have seen as each person undergoes transformation. I get tears of joy in my eyes each time I see a client walk this path and come out shining.


How To Get A Cat To Walk On A Leash

A friend of mine recently commented on my Facebook page that it would take something like sleeping and pillows to get her cats to walk on a leash. Yet I was facing that very task with my younger feline, who is housed with an older kitty who needs 24/7 access to a food bowl. The younger kitty, Loomi, sprite and still kitten-ish at heart, eats a bit too heartily for her own good, and it had been suggested to me that I might try to get her to move around more regularly. The laser light pen works for indoor play, but she soon tires of it.  Yet every attempt to put her in a halter and leash ended in a singular act of defiance. She would throw her round body on the ground and refuse to walk.

How do you motivate a cat to walk on a leash? How do you motivate people to do the thing that is good for them, and in many case, they have asked for help to do?  I believe one of the key principles, besides caring and being encouraging, is to simply watch and observe. Here’s my short video on the subject.

After I had watched how my cat had no problems walking on the leash if she was pointed towards something she could recognize (i.e. my car, or the front door), I simply took her out a little bit farther each time, and accompanied her on the return trip home.

Getting my cat to walk on a leash has some parallels to leading with the heart. It involves my willingness to connect with you over what it is you are wishing to do, and to really see you as you are. Over time, with the right amount of safety, care, encouragement, and integrity, I help you gain the skills and the heart to journey into your endeavors.

But there is at least two more pieces that the video does (and does not) show about leading with the heart. One comes from Lynch’s book: the concept of Emptiness. Only when I am empty do I have room to learn, including learning by observation what it is you need, what hurts, what is missing, what is wrong, and what is going right.  In our collaboration, both client and coach/counselor must be willing to make room to learn together. In the film, I had to abandon the use of the laser light pen as a motivator; it just wasn’t working. When I did, I could then observe that she was walking quite well under certain conditions. Once we repeated the conditions, Loomi had a nice, brisk walk!

The other piece of leading with the heart is my willingness to go with you. This requires vulnerability. While counseling as a licensed professional requires me to be careful about the use of personal disclosure, there are other ways of showing vulnerability and emotion that communicate how I am feeling when I sit with you during your most painful moments of crisis, change, and transformation. In the video, this is demonstrated by a multitude of filmed and unfilmed trips where I carried my cat. I held her in my arms and walked down the street, turned her towards the house, and let her take her time to explore the street on the way back home. I spoke to her and let her know, “I’m still here!” I gave her reassurance when she expressed distress. And she received tons of pats and my happy voice when she found her way home.

Do you understand, we’re a lot like these animals?

I’m sure you see the parallels. Counselors and coaches share a commonality with teachers and mentors in our desire to be positive encouragers of change and growth. The one significant difference with counselors is that we rarely ever tell our clients WHAT to do. Instead, YOU tell us what it is you wish to do with your life, we help you explore that through the lens of your own story, and we lend our presence in supportive ways for your healing and your health. We do this with heart, we do this with hope, and we do this with joy. And all of this is so that you can get on your Way.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s been my simple phrase that I end each post on our public Facebook page for the website: At Seattle Direct Counseling, we’re here to help.

And we’re here to help by leading with the heart. Here is to a healthy and happy 2014. Come and make it so!


By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

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