Love in leadership

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If the title of this post is making you squirm a bit, I understand.  

Love is not often talked about in the business world.  To many if feels too soft, too squishy, too romantic.  It's something reserved for our families, friends, kids, spouses.  It's what we celebrate on Valentine's Day and at weddings.  Definitely not in business meetings and boardrooms.  

A couple of years ago, I was part of a cross-functional team in the midst of defining core values for our organization and the idea of calling out love as one of those values was raised.  Within the group there was a deep sense of agreement that regardless of challenges, mistakes, business issues or conflicts, the caring at the core of the organization was unshakable.  This intangible, unnamed thing had been at the center of sustaining and cultivating internal and external relationships for decades.  The truth was that we loved people.  Our employees and our clients.  There was great discussion and debate about the use of the word love in a corporate context but in the end it ended up on the discard pile for some of the reasons I mentioned above...too soft, romantic, uncomfortable.  We found another word that worked and that captured the concept because calling it love was a bit too scary.

You may have already guessed it, but I argued on behalf of love.  You see, I believe that love is actually one of the core elements of leadership and if we want to lead well we must  be willing to love.  The kind of love that Merriam-Webster defines as "unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another".  The other in this case might just happen to be someone on your team or in your organization that you have the opportunity to impact by the way that you show up and love them.  

Here are five ways you might consider demonstrating love as a leader.

  1. Be clear about your expectations.  As in any relationship, letting the other person know what you need is a key to success.  Lack of clarity or communication simply leaves people guessing about how to make things work.
  2. Give positive feedback.  When things are going well be sure to recognize people.  At its core, being loved it being seen.  When you see someone doing great work let them know you've noticed.
  3. Be honest.  Avoiding difficult conversations under the guise of kindness is actually hurting more than helping.  Loving means leaning in...even when its hard.
  4. Understand and celebrate differences.  Not everyone will take the same approach, find the same solutions or communicate in the same way.  Understand each person's unique way of working so that you are maximizing individual strengths and combining them in powerful ways.
  5. Love yourself.  Take some time to recharge, unplug, and do something for yourself that fills up your bucket.  If you are leading well you are most likely giving a lot to others. You can only give what you have, so be sure to take care of you, too.

If you're looking for an easy way to remember these ideas, I put together this handy printable for you to use.   Feel free to print it, use it, and share the love.

The first job of leadership is to love people. Leadership without love is manipulation.
— Rick Warren