Leading with Love

As I write this, it occurs to me how strange it is that I am writing an article about leadership with any need to qualify the ‘with love’ part of it.  

Leadership should always be loving and that doesn’t make it in anyway soft or easy, far from it. ‘Leading with love’ is the hardest and most courageous thing anyone will ever do and once someone really learns what it means and can translate it into action, they will quickly see the incredible results in those around them and, most importantly, in how they feel about themselves.

In my career over the years, from being an officer in the British Army, working in blue chip corporations and advising some of the most wealthy and influential families in the world, I have witnessed first-hand the prevalence of fear-based leadership and the destructive impact it has on those around this energy. Thankfully, I have also witnessed and been a recipient of loving leadership and seen the transformational power of it, too.

At a time when the world is clearly going through a deep and challenging transition, when the old rule book is being ripped up and burnt in front of our very eyes, it feels more relevant than ever to be talking about this subject.

Let me be clear… fear energetically dominates in our world today.

There are good reasons for this:

  • We are conditioned from a very young age, by our parents, by our peers, by our schools and in our workplaces, to believe that we live in a competitive world of scarce resources and that we all need to fight to make sure we win.  It is the prevalence of this fighting instinct and focus on ‘I win, you lose’ which dominates society today. Nobody really wants to lose, so by definition, most of us are looking to win. So the question is: at what cost?
  • This fear-based thinking correlates to our default survival-based operating system which we inherited from our caveman forebears. Our ‘chimp’ brain is very powerful, very emotional, and it is always switched on (24/7) scanning for perceived danger. At the drop of a hat, it kicks us into our high adrenalin, sympathetic nervous system response of ‘fight, flight or freeze’.

When we are in a place of fear, the negative consequences for leadership are numerous:

  • We are in our ego and looking to protect ourselves first and foremost – fear makes our world smaller, reducing our field of view and willing us to act exclusively on our own interests (not others’)!
  • With tunnel vision, like a horse with blinkers, we can no longer see things objectively or clearly, and we pass by the myriad of opportunities that are actually out there.
  • It makes us highly judgmental, about others and usually ourselves, and it causes our thinking to become very black and white. Judgment is about “I win, you lose” energy, and it is all about blame and shame.
  • It kills our ability to grow as a person, to adapt and to learn new skills. In other words, it keeps us stuck in a fear-based vicious circle and restricts our ability to proactively move forward. When fear stops you taking calculated risks, you are never going to grow.
  • Fear-based leadership is about manipulation, coercion, rationalisation and revolves around a spectrum of emotional blackmail. And yet, as I often tell my clients, ‘there can only be a bully if there is also a victim in the room’. This might seem a harsh statement, and to some extent it is, but BEING a victim and FEELING like you are a victim are two very different things. For the latter is ALWAYS a choice.

I could (and I know I should) write a book about this but I want to focus on just a few areas which I think merit the most attention as they relate to the most contentious and often much misunderstood areas.

Leading with love requires a consistent ability to do the following:

Be vulnerable

  • Being real and honest about yourself with others.
  • Being authentic (not trying to be someone who isn’t really you / hiding your flaws).
  • Assuming you can trust people from the outset (taking the risk that you might get hurt).
  • Letting people know you have failed a lot in life (and why failure is the best lesson you will ever learn if you want to succeed).

Act with tough love

  • Having the moral courage to speak your truth even when your voice is shaking and when you are fearful of the consequences, because you know this is the right thing to do.
  • Holding others accountable for performance (doing what they said they would do) and following through with the consequences of this but in a non-judgmental way, where the focus is on growth and learning to perform better next time.
  • Setting clear boundaries with people to manage their and your own expectations, to avoid “grey areas” which can so often cause confusion and resentment.
  • Choosing courage over comfort and doing the right thing for the greater good - recognising this might hurt some people, but it is part of a compelling bigger picture (there is no room for pleasers or fixers when you lead with love).

Trust people

  • Leadership is ALL about teaching others to be better leaders, and this is ALL ABOUT EMPOWERMENT.
  • You cannot empower anyone if you don’t first trust them to do the job you have given them to do (and, of course, hold them accountable for their performance).
  • You cannot empower anyone if you always tell them what to do – the metaphor here is feeding people fish rather than teaching them how to fish for themselves.
  • Trust takes years to build. This is because it requires the ability to grow in parallel together in the knowledge that failure is inevitably going to show up along the way. The key point here is that a loving culture will hold people accountable for their performance (and failures) in a non-judgmental, tough-loving and growth-oriented way, which ensures long-term success and alignment.
  • Your ability to trust others will always be a direct reflection of your own ability to trust yourself.

Put yourself first

This one is often very counter-intuitive to people, particularly those who are prone to being serial ‘pleasers’ or ‘fixers’. Pleasers and fixers always put others before themselves in their quest to, well, please and fix. In this way they frequently fail to get the results they set out to achieve (more about why this is so in a future blog post!).
If you want to consistently ‘lead with love’ and set a shining example of this to others, you have to learn to put yourself first for the simple reason that:

  • You will burn out if you don’t and low energy levels will massively hinder your ability to lead effectively.
  • You cannot be the best version of you and, therefore, the best father/mother, brother/sister, partner, friend, boss or colleague if you don’t look after yourself and prioritise your own well-being across your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical selves.
  • Think of this like building a house where the foundations are YOU. If your relationship with yourself is not solid and if you haven’t built solid foundations to look after yourself consistently, then the house will fall apart sooner rather than later.

Leading with love is the hardest thing anyone can do. Our world needs strong and loving leaders more than ever. Please take this opportunity to look at yourself and those around you to see how you are leading today, and whether you like what you see.

What is the hardest, and what is the most rewarding thing you have experienced when choosing to lead from love? Feel free to share in the comments!


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