Caught up in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, that day we celebrate romantic love, I began thinking again about the connection between the words love and leadership. Before you even read about these five love affairs, you might be put off by using the word love in the context of your work.
Am I just tossing in the word love to make nice alliteration and a connection to Valentine’s Day?
The best leaders bring more than their physical and mental selves to their work. They bring their passion, beliefs, values and emotions too. They realize, through learning or intuition, that they are leading full human beings, with emotions as well as intellect, and that to best engage, develop and lead them they must bring their whole selves to their work.
Will some of you dismiss this idea and stop reading?
Will some read the words, nod and then take no action?
There is another group though – those that will read the words that follow and decide to boldly take action, realizing that the best leaders do things that average leaders don’t. Join that bold group.
Go ahead, fall in love.
The Five Love Affairs
Learning. There are at least two reasons why I believe leaders must be continual learners. First, the work of leaders is complex, and there are always things we need to learn. If we want to encourage others to be learners (and continue to build their skills) the best way to encourage that is by your actions. I’ve written and spoken those ideas for many years. People can get them intellectually, but it is only when we rekindle our personal love affair with learning, our thirst for growth, that we will begin to act like (and be) a learner every day. When you fall in love with learning you will build your skills and lead by a powerful example.
Your Purpose. Do you really believe in the mission of your organization? Cynics will call this “drinking the kool-aid,” but when was the last time you saw a highly successful cynic? The best leaders are passionate about the purpose for their organization and work hard to connect that passion to their daily work. When you are connected to purpose, you find more meaning in your work. In study after study, researchers find that one of the things people most want from work is to find meaning and purpose in it. Share the purpose. Fall in love with it. And you will help others do the same.
Your Customers. All organizations have Customers. I know you might call them Clients, Patients, Students or something else. And whatever you call them your organization exists to serve someone (which is why I always capitalize these words). For your organization to be its best, you would want your team members to do extraordinary things for Customers, to go the extra mile, to really care wouldn’t you? We can try to train people to do those things, create procedures, process, expectations and standards. It might work. But when people genuinely care, the policies matter less and the results will be consistently better. Do you love your Customers? Are you helping your team fall in love with them too?
Your Team. The people that you lead, as a group, need your support, advice, and encouragement. Have you ever worked for a leader who you could tell really cared about the group they were leading? How did you know? (I doubt it was because they sent an email saying they loved the team). You knew through their actions. They supported you. They defended you. They helped you. They fought for resources for you. These actions show love. Are you providing them?
Your Team Members. Hear me clearly — I don’t mean that you should strive to be friends with those you lead. Leadership isn’t a popularity contest and your goal shouldn’t be to make friends. But making friends is different than caring deeply for people. It is different than working to understand them and their needs. It is different that knowing and helping them see their strengths and weaknesses. The best leaders are willing to work hard to build relationships and trust with the individual they hope to lead. There is no better way in the long term to be a successful leader. If you love them, how are you showing it?
As I read back over my words I realized that in every case these leadership love affairs work because, like any great love affair, the lovers make it about the other person.
Being a great leader isn’t about you. It is about others. When you put that idea into full on action, love is going to abound.
By now I hope you know I’m not talking about romantic love, but a deep belief in, passion for, and caring about (in fact, I’ve written about this idea before, with advice from the singer Van Morrison and tying together love and leadership with listening).
I wish you work that you love, and even more, I hope you find ways to show your love through the five love affairs I’ve suggested to you.
photo credit Lel4nd