If we want to lead with love, we have to first begin by defining what love itself means:
To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including the sacred or divine), to promote individual and overall well-being.
In our view, love is not an emotion as we might usually conceive of it. That is to say, it is not merely a passive experiential phenomenon. Rather, it is a fundamental force – one we can bring into being through action, not something that we have to wait around to ‘feel’. In other words, love is a verb. But if love is action, then we need to have a clear intention driving that action; we need to be consciously seeking to achieve the best for ourselves and those around us.
As leaders, a higher sense of purpose can give us the clarity we need to direct our efforts. How can we improve our working environment? How can we be of service to those we are seeking to lead? How can we get the best out of everyone, not necessarily in organisational terms, but in the human potential of each individual? Holding in our mind some tangible outcome that we want to achieve gives us a focus towards which to direct our energy.
This higher purpose does not need to come at the expense of our own advancement or ambition. Rather, we can reframe our ambition in a way which includes this broader sense of purpose. Instead of merely seeking a promotion for the extra money it can bring, we could go after the promotion knowing that we can use whatever enhanced influence we might accrue to enact positive systemic change. Will our own advancement enable us to directly improve the working lives of those around us? If so, then there is no reason that altruism need stand in the way of attainment.
Of course, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We must not let our own desire to do good blind us to reality or serve as self-justification for pushing others out of the way. Just because we identify a noble goal does not mean we are practicing leading with love. Any positive outcome we want to achieve must be filtered through an empathetic understanding of our staff and colleagues, their needs, their humanity, their situation.
A positive outlook generates energy. Intention drives energy into action. Fretting about our bonus, being defensive and protective of our remit, jealously watching who is getting promoted ahead of us – all of these attitudes generate nothing but negativity. Negativity in turn generates stress, which narrows the field of vision; negative leaders become obsessed with threats. Positive leaders, in contrast, are open, not guarded. Willing to listen to other ideas and perspectives, not see them as a challenge to their own authority. This openness allows space for curiosity and creativity; the chance to come up with innovative solutions and think ‘outside the box’.
‘The box’ might be conceived of as conventional wisdom, but we might also think of it as the systemic and cultural forces at play in our organisational contexts. It implies not just a systematised framework of knowledge, but the unspoken limitations we encounter but are not allowed to name. Next time, we’ll look at how to avoid being caught by these negative forces, while still operating within the system from a place of love.