What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do with being a great leader?  A lot it seems as new research reveals that love is the differentiating quality that distinguishes good from great leaders.  But what is love really and how can it make a difference to the way we lead our teams and our businesses?

To be clear we are not talking about romantic or sexual love here, but rather love displayed as caring, nurturing, tenderness, and devotion. Love in this form is displayed daily in human life, it’s a core human value, and yet rarely has love made it into the list of traditional leadership virtues like integrity, hard work, and courage. 

Many leaders leave love at home and it never enters the workplace, fearing that if they let it out of the corporate closet they will be ridiculed and yet there is compelling research that without a good dose of love workplaces are less satisfying to work in, cultures are sub-optimal and team member potential is stunted. And yet leading with love is not a skill that many leaders naturally embrace. As John Mackey notes in his book Conscious Leadership “leading with love in business is a skill that must be learned”.

So why is this critical leadership skill missing in business?

Firstly, love has never been espoused as a leadership quality up to now.  Just consider the language we use to describe leadership which is the anthesis of love. It’s a battlefield out there; it’s a dog eat dog world; survival of the fittest. The language of leadership has been about winning and losing - you need to trump the competition, thrive don’t just survive. These metaphors create a self-serving, finite view of business which implies competitiveness and one-upmanship. 

Second, the lack of women leaders generally around the world. Only 7% of the world’s leaders are women and only 7% of the Fortune 500 companies have women CEO’s, and yet as Avivah Wittenberg-Cox — the CEO of 20-first, a global gender-balance consultancy based in the UK - points out, many of the countries with the strongest initial response to the COVID global crisis have been led by women.

In fact, an analysis of 194 countries by two professors in the UK revealed that infection and fatality rates in the first three months of the pandemic were generally lower in countries with female leaders. One of the reasons for this might be that these women leaders took decisive action and put their countries into lockdown earlier than their male counterparts.

However Wittenberg-Cox has identified four common threads in women’s leadership during the pandemic: trust, decisiveness, tech, love and it was love that was the differentiating factor between male and female leaders. “These women were much more ready and comfortable expressing love and care while leading” she notes.  Witness Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hosting an informal Facebook Live Q&A to “check-in with everyone.”

Dressed in sweats and addressing the nation from her home, she said, “Excuse the casual attire,” explaining, “It can be a messy business putting toddlers to bed.” This kind of openness is about leaders “revealing their personal and professional realities without shame, being authentic and showing love, caring, and compassion for the nation.

Towards A New Approach

If there is one thing we have learned from the pandemic is that we are all inter-connected, and that community is very important.  What if we finally begin to think of business as being a community and appreciate that business is a force for good that impacts everyone around it– their employees, their customers, their stakeholders – and that everyone is participating for mutual gain. When we adopt this approach the leader's job becomes to create value for everyone impacted by the business through a series of win-win decisions. Love becomes the glue that keeps everything together as everyone cares and appreciates the impact ripple effect of their actions.

And when stakeholders – whether team members, customers, suppliers, or investors - feel loved by the business they tend to love the business back and create more value for it.  That’s the benefit of engaged team members and customers who become raving fans and your best advocates and marketers ever. Truly a win-win situation.

I’m curious as to whether you will add love to your list of leadership virtues?

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