One of the recurring themes in my life in the last few months is the place of love in leadership. I work with many clients where when I bring up the topic in conversation, it can be a bit shocking and jarring to them. There seems to be a notion that love - meaning authentically caring, nurturing the people you lead and providing them unconditional support - does not mix well with the realities of the business world.
But I disagree. This article will explore love in the context of leadership and will help you reflect on the question and come to your own conclusions.
In my recent management training courses, a few young leaders told me things such as: “As a manager, I cannot afford to get close to my people. It may create jealousy from others or I may have to let one of these people go. It’s just too painful!”
These young leaders were in their mid-twenties to early 30's and their difficult work experiences were leading them to learn they have to detach themselves emotionally from their teams. They felt they needed to numb themselves emotionally, like Brené Brown explains in her TED talk on vulnerability.
On the other hand, in many organizations, there are people who get promoted to management roles because there's nowhere else for them to grow within the company. These people often learn their role as they go or try to emulate the leaders they had in the past. No one necessarily teaches them to love and take care of their employees either.
Allowing yourself to love your employees as a manager can be as simple as taking a genuine interest in what is going on in the lives of the people around you. What lights them up? What is their journey? Allowing yourself to love is also to share with them what is happening in your life. By opening up even just a little and creating real connections with the people around you people, you create a very different space for communication and collaboration.
Yes it hurts when you need to have difficult conversations with employees you are close to but maybe it is supposed to be hard just to remind us we are all human and we need to be more mindful in how we treat people.
I often have discussions with managers and leaders that express frustration either about the lack of engagement or the lack of results of people on their teams. The corollary to this is when these managers and leaders do not take responsibility for a bad decision they made which put the team in the position that is causing them frustration. Leaders often speak from a place of blame instead of possibilities, solutions and their role in improving things.
I see a variety of potential challenges for these leaders:
As a leader, you should always remember that understanding other perspectives is a key leadership skill. Make an effort to see the world from the perspective of the people you are talking about. You are responsible for having real conversations with people and not building up the conversation debt that may be the root cause of the frustration you are experiencing.
Often, leaders seem to forget to love because it is engrained and it is easier for them to react to things instead of taking the time to be a more mindful leader.
A few years ago, I was the “interim” director of the consulting team at Pyxis Technologies. I remember, at the time, that “interim” moniker often impacted how I led the team, the conversations that I had with people and more importantly the ones that I did not. In my current position, as a small business owner my perspective is very different on how I lead and interact with our team. When I see some of my colleagues struggling, I engage in conversations with them to see what we (or what they) could do differently.
I learned that being a loving and caring leader also means engaging colleagues in difficult conversations around behaviors, performance and expectations even though they may not be easy conversations or comfortable for all those involved. Did you ever notice HOW you speak to your colleagues in these moments?
One thing that can make it easier is setting the stage right at the start. Let them that it may be uncomfortable, it may be awkward but you really need to have this discussion with them. During the conversation remain calm and present for them as you would for people that are close to you. Listen and ask questions to help you better understand their perspective instead of listening to respond and argue. Accept and acknowledge your own responsibility for things as much as possible.
More importantly, regularly question your intentions and pay attention to the place from which you are having these conversations from. Is it out of frustration or compassion? Is it out of impatience or is it out of love? Notice how the words are different depending on where you are coming from. By having more conversations from a place of love and compassion, you may notice the following:
In many organizations, I notice there is almost an avoidance of love. When situations requiring soft skills come up, many people want to avoid them out of discomfort but I am beginning to wonder what if leading a group through them from a place of love was actually the answer?
Some leaders look down on approaching a situation with love because it seems too soft, awkward and they believe that is just not very business-like. Instead, what could be different if we all chose to accept that sometimes love, intentionality and mindfulness towards others are the keys that enable people to give us the permission to lead them?
Have you ever wondered how you feel about the place of love in leadership especially in the business world? Although some may see them as incompatible with one another, have you ever taken the time to reflect on this for yourself? How could we lead our people differently if we chose to do so with love instead of frustration and shame?
What is your leadership based on? Fear, shame and blame or does it come out of a genuine place of love for the people you lead? How can you add more love to your leadership?