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Leadership is Love

Updated: Mar 10, 2020


As Mr. Rogers - the beloved American children's TV show host -- said, "love is the root of everything". Everything that is done well, that we celebrate, that moves us, that we aspire

to be - is anchored in love. Love enlivens us and is the source of healing, strength, and creativity. And love is rooted in the deep understanding that we are all connected. Workplaces are a natural point of connection; a natural place to find evidence of love. We understand that people who love their work and teams that love the people they work with will perform better than others. What is unusual is the lack of discussion we have about love at work, and how we might cultivate it. We don't talk about leaders' role in embodying love and in creating cultures of connection. At its heart, leadership is connection, leadership is service, leadership is love.

"I have a secret to success in life", U.S. Army Major General John H. Stanford reported in 1986 when asked how he would develop leaders. "The secret is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to really ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people... I don't know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is." Not what we would have expected this tested military man to say, but there it is.

In the last 40 years, today's leadership gurus are making this connection explicit, but the idea hasn't reached many corporate cultures yet. Rodney Ferris' "How Organizational Love Can Improve Leadership", and James Kouzes and Barry Posner's "The Truth About Leadership" have made compelling arguments that love is the soul of leadership, and that love is the root of a leader's courage. Brene Brown's Dare to Lead focuses on wholehearted leadership, and being vulnerable, courageous, and brave. Simon Sinek talks about the "Power of Love". Beverly Kaye's book "Love 'em or Lose 'em, is in it's 5th edition with almost a million copies sold.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Khalil Gibran published "The Prophet", one of the best selling books of all time. In it, is his meditation "On Work", making very clear the link between love and work. "You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth...When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

And going even further back, poets and priests have observed the same about love, work, and connection. So if work is about love, connections with colleagues is grounded in love, and leadership is love, why don't we discuss it more in our workplaces? And why is it imperative that we talk more about it now?

By recognizing and cultivating love in the context of work, leaders can connect, adapt, and inspire - crucial abilities in today's exponentially changing workplaces. In "Dying for a Paycheck", Jeffrey Pfeffer "marshals a vast trove of evidence and numerous examples from all over the world to expose the infuriating truth about modern work life: even as organizations allow management practices that actually sicken and kill their employees, those policies do not enhance productivity or the bottom line, thereby creating a lose-lose-situation". The answer to this and to to today's growing epidemics of disconnection, disengagement, polarization, stress, and loneliness, and to creating win-win solutions, is an intentional focus on creating loving workplaces.

In her book Real Love, Sharon Salzberg (credited with bringing meditation to the US in 1976, and founder of the Insight Meditation Society) states "We are born ready to love and be loved. It is our birthright. Our ability to connect with others is innate, wired into our nervous systems, and we need connection as much as we need physical nourishment." Indeed, our brains have an overarching organizing principle to minimize danger (move away from perceived threats) and maximize rewards (move toward perceived connection).

Our limbic system's reactivity and our inherent negativity bias makes us cautious of new connections, or initially put us in an "away" response around people we don't know. Not a bad thing for self-preservation throughout history. But not the best way to creat loving workplaces. We also know that once a connection is made, when people are seen and feel safe, the "toward" reaction kicks in; the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released; and our innate human interconnectedness is realized; watch out for what we can do together! In that state of safe and loving connection, philosophers place us on the path to the divine. As Khalil Gibran said "if you work with love, you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God". So how can we intentionally set about to build more loving workplaces? Leaders have been found to account for up to 70% of the variance in how engaged employees are at work. And engaged workplace is a loving workplace. Leadership is the answer. So what can leaders do?


7 ways leaders can be more intentional about cultivating loving connections at work

Attention - Sharon Salzberg recounts a story about being asked in a dream "why do we love people?" Her highly-attuned dreaming self answered "because they see us". One of the best ways we can show people we care for them i