A couple of years ago, on a mission to hack his team-scaling efforts, Itamar Goldminz suppressed an eye roll and picked up a new book, sure he’d be putting it down just as fast. Maybe it was over-the-top language like “breakthrough” and “extraordinary” on the cover. Maybe it was just Goldminz’s own aversion to anything that smells too much like self-help — after all, he’s an engineer by training, a staunch fan of provable ideas.
Instead, Goldminz found a concrete model for understanding people that has changed how he works and empowered his organization to thrive. You might even call it a breakthrough.
The book was Mastering Leadership, and the model — called the Heart/Will/Head model — defines three “types” of people and how they see the world around them. Goldminz, director of people at Grammarly, and AltSchool before that, has run with that concept, adapting to his own experiences at technology companies, finding it valuable for both technical and business teams alike.
In this exclusive interview, he describes each of those three types and how to spot them (or understand where you fall). He explains how managers can use that insight to build stronger teams and get the best work out of each member. And he shares tactics and self-evaluation strategies for using this model to become a more flexible and creative professional.
Goldminz’s path to people operations was non-traditional. “I started my career in software engineering, and over time realized that I was drawn more to the human puzzles than the technical puzzles,” he says. “And so I started gravitating toward more people-centric roles like project management, program management, engineering management.”
For years, at companies like Opower, Goldminz was tasked with rapidly scaling teams while implementing agile and lean software practices. And he saw that those practices are in many ways less about software than they are about the people using it and the way they collaborate. “At the core of those methodologies there is a deeper belief in people doing the right thing if you set them up for success with the right conditions. Because people want to grow. They want to develop and have a positive, meaningful impact on the organization,” he says. “They don't need to be coerced or controlled through carrots and sticks.”
Effectively scaling an organization, then, is inextricably tied to helping people grow. So Goldminz turned his attention to learning how to do that, eventually fully crossing over to people teams. He worked with a consulting agency and studied management books like Mastering Leadership. And again and again — with different language but the same basic concepts — that three-type model kept coming up. Soon, Goldminz was seeing the Heart/Will/Head model everywhere.
In one particularly memorable example, his team was tasked with communicating a change to AltSchool’s benefits package to the whole team. “The first time that we communicated the change, it really didn't go well. There was a lot of pushback, resistance and frustration,” he says. “With our second attempt, I decided to use this Heart/Head/Will model as a way to structure how I delivered the same news. I really thought through how I was going to cater to each one of the audiences in my message: explaining the end-goal or “why” behind the change for the ‘Head’ types, the step-by-step methodology for the ‘Will’ types, and the impact on people for the ‘Heart’ types. That was significantly better received. People were able to understand the news, process the change and get back to business.”
Goldminz’s version of the model breaks people into three types, each of which views the world through one primary lens: heart, will, or head. “Of course, these types map to basic needs that we all have: to be liked — or heart, to be in control and win — or will, and to be smart — or head,” he says. “But the reason we usually have a dominant one is that, earlier on in life, we’ve relied primarily on one as a coping strategy — not necessarily around trauma, but as a way to make sense of the world.”
Each type demonstrates key positive attributes, as well as key negative ones. “The things that we often view as strengths and weaknesses are actually two sides of the same coin,” says Goldminz. “If you take even a positive attribute too far, the positive becomes a negative. Or you become really strong in one direction, but at the cost of other aspects of your personality.”
The strength of this model is in helping accentuate the positive attributes of your type and mitigate the negative. “How do I amplify my strengths? How do I measure or manage my shadow side? Also, how do I become a more well-rounded individual and leader?” says Goldminz. “Effectively using this model means not focusing exclusively on your type, but also looking to the other types for hints on where you can and should grow.”
Goldminz shared a sketch of each type, and hints for identifying them:
People of this type need to be liked, and they are motivated first and foremost by relationships. Achieving something together is as important to them as whatever it is they’re achieving.
The Strengths: “These people tend to be very skilled at building a sense of community and driving it towards a shared purpose,” says Goldminz. “Their interpersonal skills and strong, and they are always ready to lend a hand to a coworker who needs one.”
The Challenges: Ruffling feathers is particularly uncomfortable to a Heart type, so they may be less inclined to make big, bold moves when necessary. “They have a stronger tendency toward compliance,” says Goldminz. “They might prioritize pleasing somebody over doing the right thing. In their quest to not rock the boat, they may fail to speak up and miss opportunities to share valuable ideas, especially if they are contrarian.”
How to Spot Them: “Given their gift for developing interpersonal relationships, Heart types will tend to be your team’s best collaborators,” says Goldminz. “They’re the ones building a caring, empathetic dynamic with their peers and fostering effective team play.”
“I once joined an interpersonal skills workshop and one of the participants had this uncanny ability to ‘read the room’ and knew how each person was feeling without them having to say anything. She naturally knew exactly what to say to each of them to make them feel better,” says Goldminz. “But we were all there to learn — and learning usually requires a certain level of discomfort. At some points, she got so uncomfortable seeing two participants work through a challenging, but healthy interpersonal conflict that she’d interject to make peace, but in the process deprive them of the learning opportunity.”
People driven by will are motivated primarily by a need to succeed, or to be in control. “The way that they make sense of the world around them is much more through results, or through the plan that gets them there,” says Goldminz.
The Strengths: “These people want to get the job done, and they’ll pursue that goal with intense focus,” says Goldminz. “They are unfailingly competent and will devote all their energy to achieving the best possible outcome.
The Challenges: “The Will person and the Heart person have starkly different styles,” says Goldminz. “This type is going to be more autocratic. They may be ambitious to the point of stamping others out, or driving for perfectionism where ‘good enough’ is actually the right outcome.”
How to Spot Them: “Have a particularly good decision-maker on your team? Odds are good they’re a Will type,” says Goldminz. “These results-oriented people aren’t afraid to make a call and move to the next step in their plan.”
“Imagine your most process-driven co-worker. OKRs are part of their DNA. They relish in creating plans as much as executing them,” says Goldminz. “I had a colleague at a past startup like this. On his first few days on the job walked us through his multi-phased, step-by-step plan for the next 90 days of his onboarding. Off the bat, he had a six-step iterative process by which he intended to run his team.”
This type needs to engage intellectually, and is most concerned with the direction the organization is moving. “They make sense of the world through ideas. They want to engage on a more philosophical level,” says Goldminz. “They return to the question: What’s the end state?”
The Strengths: “Head types thrive when they’re setting goals for a team or organization and are, most often, a startup’s ‘big vision’ people,” says Goldminz.
The Challenges: A focus on big ideas, though, often leaves the Head type too disconnected from their feelings. “They tend to shield or distance themselves from emotions. They can become overly critical of themselves or of others, sometimes to a point of being arrogant,” says Goldminz. “Left unchecked, that inability to understand others can manifest as an outsize ego, or a propensity to cynicism.”
How to Spot Them: “If someone needs to understand the big picture before they can start talking about the details, odds are good they’re a Head type,” says Goldminz. “This group is also known for their strong integrity — often coupled with an equally strong tendency to self-criticism.”
“Another former colleague would repeatedly pull me into a room to walk me through a new approach he was considering as a way to articulate the company's vision,” says Goldminz. “At team offsites, he was the one pushing for the more philosophical, strategic topics — and would be most engaged during those conversations. He wanted to know where we were going — and felt solace when he knew others knew as well.”
For managers, the model does double duty, giving insight into their own type as well as a way to understand and guide their teams. Once you understand each of these profiles, it’s easier to assign people tasks that play to their strengths. But don’t stop there. “The best managers will also push their team members to improve their weaknesses,” says Goldminz. “Put people in situations that require them to stretch into areas in which they're not necessarily strong.”
Whether you’re helping your reports nurture strengths or overcome weaknesses, frame your guidance in the language that resonates for and builds trust with each type. “Take Head types, for example. You may need to coax this crowd to engage on a more emotional level with their coworkers, rather than getting stuck in the realm of big ideas. But if you try to speak to them in fluffy language about the value of relationships, you won’t get far,” says Goldminz. “Instead, tell them, ‘Hey, by not being able to engage with your emotions, you're missing out on data points that will help you make better decisions.’ Or ‘By not engaging effectively in conflict, you're missing out on an opportunity to get others to this more abstract place that you're trying to get everybody to.’”
Understanding this Heart/Will/Head model is understanding how people make sense of the world. Equipped with that insight, managers can move away from a one-size-fits-all messaging to accelerate each person’s contribution to the team.
Enhance their strengths: These team members are best at building community, and rallying their coworkers around a common purpose. “Things that require building buy-in, moving a team along in a certain direction, can be a really good fit for somebody that's more of a Heart type,” says Goldminz.
Manage their limitations: To combat the conflict-avoidance shadow side of this type, focus them on results and on being more decisive. “Encourage ‘heart’ types to voice the doomsday scenarios that are playing in their head. Ask questions around how probable they are to happen, so they can come around to how unlikely they are. Help them design small, safe experiments to test out those beliefs,” says Goldminz. “This will help them work through conflict incrementally, through small steps where they feel comfortable being decisive because each small test is less risky to themselves and the people they care about around them.”
How to build trust: “For these people on your team, it's going to be all about tending to the relationship, showing them empathy, and articulating that you care,” says Goldminz. “Demonstrating that your interests are aligned with theirs is important in managing a Heart type.”
On reviewing performance. “Formal feedback opportunities, performance reviews and peer reviews are particularly important to this group,” says Goldminz. “For Heart types, it’s all about accomplishing something together as a team, knowing that others are really happy with the work that they're doing. The deep need to receive positive feedback or recognition is going to matter more to a Heart type.”
Enhance their strengths: For this type, look for tasks where doing things the best possible way is an asset (and not a time-draining liability). “Leverage their perfectionist attributes by giving them tasks that are very detailed oriented and require a higher level of precision,” says Goldminz. “In the case of early-stage startups, put a Will types thrive in areas like accounting, payroll or compliance. I’ve seen them run a tight ship organizing a fundraising roadshow or working with vendors, versus say figuring out the MVP for a next product version.”
Manage their limitations: Teamwork can be tough for these independent types, so Goldminz encourages managers to force the issue. “For example, I would intentionally take a Will person and give them somebody to mentor, or create more opportunities for them to operate in a team,” says Goldminz. “For a ‘Will’ type, this is a gradual process. It might look like pushing a junior manager harder about delegation, and then doing a thoughtful debrief when a delegated task didn’t turn out as they had liked. Press on the difference between a bad outcome and a valid solution that’s just different than what they’d imagined. Then, ask them how they might delegate in the future.”
How to build trust: Managers can motivate these success-driven types by clearly articulating a plan and defining its steps. “You want to connect where you are to where you want to go,” says Goldminz. “Then, as you work toward that shared goal, show them that you are consistently delivering your pieces of the plan, too. Reliability is important to a Will type, and they want a manager who keeps their word.”
On reviewing performance. When it comes to formal reviews, pay particular attention to the high-level takeaway. “For a Will type, it's going to be about, ‘Hey, am I winning or not? Am I succeeding or not?’ Manager feedback is going to carry more weight than peer feedback,” says Goldminz. “Focus on identifying a development path and giving them clarity about what the next rung on the ladder is—and the go-ahead to jump to it.”
Enhance their strengths: This type’s cool-headedness can be a great asset, so give them tasks that maximize their gift for critical thinking. “They’re really good at distancing themselves from a decision and really weighing the pros and cons in an impartial way,” says Goldminz. “Those kinds of projects play into the strengths of Head people.”
Manage their weaknesses: “Head types can grow most from getting out of, well, their heads and connecting with the people around them,” says Goldminz. “It comes down to getting granular around emotions. Check in with them on how they are feeling — especially as an input to their work life, so you can make it clear you’re not meddling. Offer your own feelings to make it more of an exchange and create that psychological safety. That helps build empathy and a healthy articulation of different perspectives.”
How to build trust: Engage with these types intellectually, and don’t hesitate to talk in terms of big ideas. “What direction are you trying to move, and why is that the right direction to go? That’s what these people want to know, more than the details of how to get there,” says Goldminz. “Head types, more than anyone, are looking for subject matter expertise from their managers.”
On reviewing performance. When it comes to reviews, too, this type will likely want to keep things on an intellectual level. “How do we want to grow? Do we agree on what performance is? This group will want to talk about performance directionally,” says Goldminz. “They want to understand their own careers as part of a grander vision, and will respond best to feedback that helps them get to that end state.”
Whether you’re assembling your own team, or supporting managers as they recruit, seek out each of these three types. “I’ve found it’s the only way to cover your bases and build a team fully equipped to conquer the challenges of scaling. That’s not to say you need to hit an exact ratio. The key is simply to avoid falling into the trap of hiring only people who think like you do,” says Goldminz. “We’re all naturally biased toward our own types. We think, ‘Oh, this person really gets me intellectually. We can totally nerd out on the future of work.’ But maybe what I really need on my team is somebody that's even better than me in building an empathetic connection.”
Moreover, if you give in to the ease of the familiar, you not only miss out on diverse skills and perspective, you risk making your team less hospitable to types other than your own. Building a habit of forcing yourself to look for people who see the world through a different lens can also reinforce your startup’s diversity recruiting efforts. “Practically speaking this means that every interview panel should have each type — heart, will and head — represented. It means also knowing your type and using behavioral interviews to identify the candidate's type to avoid the "similar-to-me" bias,” says Goldminz. “I’d recommend keeping a running record of the types of candidates that you hire to see if there’s a bias in the types of candidates that you hire — and if you’re lacking, say, ‘Will’ or ‘Head’ types.”
Once your team is built, help each member understand the complete Heart/Will/Head model—not just their own type. Make an exercise of looking at both sides of each type. The goal is to use this structure to build understanding of different people’s approaches, a shared vocabulary for discussing them, and greater inter-team empathy. “When you look at yourself you tend to look at the positives of your type, and when you look at the other types you tend to think of the negatives of their types,” says Goldminz. “But when you go through the reverse exercise of considering the strengths of engaging the world with a different mindset, it helps develop a bit more appreciation for what other types bring to the table.”
Of course, while this model is a must for managers and a boon to team dynamics, it’s an equally valuable roadmap for individuals. The more you understand why you react to work the way you do, the greater control you can get over those reactions, enhancing the good and pressing pause when you notice the bad. “Focus on developing the strengths of the other types and mitigating the weaknesses of your own type,” says Goldminz.
To get started, he recommends regularly checking in with yourself by asking some basic questions tailored to your type:
Am I spending too much time trying to please others?
Can I be more more decisive?
Can I look beyond the individual relationship and see the bigger picture?
Am I making decisions to autocratically?
How can I foster better team play?
Can I engage more authentically?
Am I being too critical (of myself and others)?
How can I establish more caring connections with others?
What would it take to bring more strategic focus to my work?
Beyond these more general questions, shape your work around your particular professional needs and goals, too. “For example, in my role as head of people, interpersonal intelligence and the ability to create an empathetic connection is really critical,” says Goldminz. “Those are the things that I would drive myself to focus more on in my personal growth.”
There are many frameworks around personal development out there, and Goldminz cautions people to recognize what this model can do (and when you need to look beyond it). “There are models that are really good at giving you direction, and others that are very good in helping you figure out how to change your behavior,” says Goldminz. “This model is really good in giving you direction. It gives you precise vocabulary to articulate what is it that you want to get better at.”
Whether you’re a CEO or an individual contributor, you might start to see it everywhere as you internalize this model. Start with identifying the predominant type for yourself — and recognize how each strength in overdrive has its corresponding weakness. Call upon that empathy as you observe and collaborate with different work types throughout your organization. For leaders building a team, make sure you have each type represented. Once you’re managing them, knowing your reports’ types will help you better enhance their strengths, mitigate their weaknesses and cater their performance reviews to hit their goals. This model can also help with personal development, especially in providing the questions to help keep your strengths at the forefront and your weaknesses in check.
And likewise, you will start to find it an invaluable guide in so many of your workplace interactions: the way you frame emails and team communications; how you set your professional goals, or those of your team; and how you understand conflict, and turn it into something constructive.
“I’m glad I didn’t turn a blind eye to this model given it’s softer language. It’s been an invaluable guide to so many of my workplace interactions—from how I frame emails to individuals to office-wide communications, and from how I set my personal goals to how I defray conflict on teams,” says Goldminz. “I believe startup leaders can use this model as a guide to think about and structure the most critical element of their companies: teams that are being built person by person. The model can help build diverse teams in the way that people operate in, think about and make sense out of the world around them. And that, I believe, is at the core of what we're trying to accomplish in building diverse teams and thriving, scaleable companies.
Images by Eranicle and Suljo / iStock / Getty Images Plus.