As we celebrate the U.S holiday of Valentine’s Day – a holiday dedicated to the expression of love, I (Laura) couldn’t help but reflect on the importance of love in our lives … and our leadership.
As humans, we are wired for connection. Wired to love and be loved. Countless books have been written and absorbed about how to find love, interpret love, let love go. Reality shows are binge-watched, apps downloaded, therapists sought, centered around love of all kinds. Love is so pervasive in our lives yet has historically been so noticeably absent at work.
You might be thinking that love and the workplace do not belong together, that this is even slightly awkward and uncomfortable. To be clear, the warm and fuzzy kind of love you might have in a romantic relationship is not what is meant here. It’s the compassion, empathy and vulnerability that come with the expression of love. And there is no better – or necessary – time than now, to lead with love.
We all know the pandemic turned everyone’s lives upside down, and definitively blurred the lines between work and home. Instantaneously, people’s personal lives were staring at us through work screens, impossible to ignore. We were launched into a new way of working that has shaped the foreseeable future. And the emotional, physical, and mental toll of these past years has been significant, and for some, irreversible.
As a result, there’s been a continued shift in what people want, need – and expect – from their leaders. They want to be seen and acknowledged as whole, multi-faceted, imperfect human beings, with things that deeply matter to them outside of their professional lives. I’d argue this has always been the case, the pandemic only gave us the collective permission to recognize and vocalize it. And, the Great Resignation, the Great Evaluation, the Great Upgrade, the Shecession – pick one – are evidence that people are no longer tolerating anything less.
So, what is required for leaders to acknowledge this reality and support their people in this way? Enter: love. Brene Brown says that daring leaders lean into vulnerability. They embrace risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure. They role model and create an environment where sharing emotions and fears is not only acceptable but expected.
To do this requires great courage and empathy. It’s not enough to hold the space, leaders must also hold their employees with care and compassion, be equipped to listen deeply, and show understanding and appreciation. These all come from the heart. And when shown in a genuine way, it can feel meaningful, real, and poignant, and connect people together in important – and now, necessary – ways.
Leading with love can look like many things, from simply asking someone how she is (not “how’s your day,”) and meaning it … telling someone what you appreciate about him, to having regular well-being check-ins, and encouraging meaningful dialogue among your team (Forbes: Leading with Love: An Unconventional Approach to Leadership, 2018). It can also look like providing flexibility so people can balance the many demands of their life. And, being intentional about ensuring people feel respected, represented and included no matter how they identify. There’s no right way, and it will look different for each leader. As long as it comes from a genuine place of care, concern and compassion for who people are, not just what they do.
It seems like there is a place for love in leadership, after all. What does it mean to you to lead with love and how might you lead with love every day?