I don’t know Marco Rubio. I have friends who are close to him and who say he’s a good man, but I can’t attest to it for myself. So you can trust that I’m not mentioning him here for any political purpose. What I do know is that Mr. Rubio learned an important lesson this past week. It will help us to learn it with him.

In the GOP debate just before the New Hampshire Primary, Mr. Rubio kept repeating some lines he had memorized. He did it four times. When one of the other candidates started attacking him, Mr. Rubio whipped out his stock phrases and said them in almost the exact way he had said them before. He’s been fiercely criticized for this. People are now calling him “Robot Rubio” and saying that he’s the typical over-scripted American politician.

Now, what I admire about Mr. Rubio is that he quickly learned his lesson. As he told Scott Pelley of CBS News, he was wrong to repeat himself so robotically in that debate. He did it, he said, because the attacks against him knocked him off balance. He didn’t want to appear angry in his responses so he merely repeated what he had memorized. He said he learned from the experience that while you don’t want to be the one who launches the first attack, you don’t want to run away or hide behind a script when someone else opens fire. It’s okay to shoot back and do so with emotion. There are times when registering anger and indignation is the right thing to do.

What intrigues me is the change in Mr. Rubio. His initial response to his critics was to defend himself. He insisted that he had important things to say and that if he sounded repetitive then it was just to get his point across. Then, quickly, he realized he was wrong. He saw that his critics had it right. When he was under pressure, he pushed the default button in his mind and put his mouth on rapid fire. The truth was that he was afraid, overwhelmed, unprepared, and maybe a little hurt. He said he won’t make the same mistake again.

I admire Rubio for owning his mistake and explaining the reason for it so fully. I also see some of my own flaws in this. Perhaps you do too.

We all have our default positions. We all have the script we’ve memorized, the practiced presentation we want the world to see. Surely we have enough experience now to know that the scripted performance rarely engages people. The overly crafted, robotic presentation doesn’t move minds and hearts. In fact, it is almost the opposite of good leadership.

A true leader takes all that pertains to leading into his heart. He “owns” it. He makes it part of himself. When he speaks, he’s able to speak as a human being engaged at the deepest levels of his soul. When he acts, it’s from the gut, from a living and emotional place within him.

To do otherwise is to attempt to lead in the same tone as all the passionless folks we’ve talked to on customer support lines. No matter what you say, they respond by reading from a script fashioned in a laboratory somewhere. There’s nothing human or warm and thus there’s no connection. But leadership is all about connecting with people and this can only happen when that leadership comes from the heart.

There was a season of my life when I was weary, scripted, and less than engaging. An older mentor said something to me at that time that has been a guide to me. He probably didn’t say it to help me, but it did. In a moment of frustration with my soulless ways, he said, “Take it deep or take it home.” In other words, own your role in your heart or get out.

Take a moment to look at your own leadership style. Ponder all of its elements, all its features. Have you “owned” them? Have you taken them in? Are you authentically human and passionate about what you do, or are you working from a script someone handed you? Or that you gave yourself? And if you aren’t fully engaged, ask yourself why. Weariness? Not suited to the role? Offense? Distraction? Whatever it is, fix it. Or get out of the role. I recommend fixing it. You can do it.

The simple truth is that you can’t lead well if you don’t care deeply. You have to take your leadership role and all it entails into your heart. Most of all you have to take the people you lead into your heart. Then, you will engage people. You will “light them up.” You won’t be robotic, and you won’t be hiding behind a script. You’ll be human and “full throttle.” This is what makes for great leadership.

I’m looking forward to seeing the change in Marco Rubio. I’m also cheering on the change in you.

That’s it. Have a good weekend.

Oh, and remember you get a discount toward any of our courses here  – courses like Leadership 101, Speaking for Leaders, Writing for Leaders, and 10 Signs of a Leadership Crash (and how to avoid them). Just enter the discount code Leading Thoughts.

And we have a few more copies of Ask the Question to give away in an effort to get people talking about my new book and posting reviews. Just email me with your name and mailing address.