Today’s post is one last general overview of why you should consider love-centered leadership. After this we will discuss the specifics of what you should do and how you can do it if you truly want to tap into the best your team has to offer. I thought I should mention the title of this blog comes from the Bible. Specifically its source is the book of Exodus which describes this interaction between Moses (leader of Jewish slaves) and Pharaoh (leader of Egyptian slave masters). Moses has come to free the slaves and says to Pharaoh, “let my people go.” Pharaoh responds that not only will he not let the slaves go but he will reduce their supply of straw (needed resource for brick making) without reducing their daily brick quotas. The analogy to this ancient story cannot be lost on any of us in business today. We are constantly being asked to do more with less. The competition and the current economy demands that we maintain or expand our quota of “bricks” while at the same time demanding that we do it faster, better and cheaper. Increasing your output without adding additional time, additional cost or loss of quality is the challenge you face. The only way to achieve your business goals both now and in the future is to continually satisfy and effectively serve your organization/shareholders, your customers and your team members. It’s a balancing act that can cause sleepless nights. It may be counterintuitive (it was to me), but I believe service is the key to effective leadership. Maybe that is what is meant when we hear “the meek will inherit the earth.” Service is good for your organization, your customer and your team and it is the key to the acquisition of real influence and impact. Serving the organization, serving the customer and serving the team not only generates enormous personal power but it also generates greater personal fulfillment than serving yourself. Love-centered leaders understand this and thrive on unlocking the potential of others. The techniques of love-centered leadership we will begin discussing are not really new or particularly clever, however they are very effective. Until next time….
As I mentioned in my last post, if this is not your natural style it may be difficult to embrace; therefore it seems to me that the benefits of this style of leadership must be truly compelling if we are to make a significant attempt at living the love-centered concepts I will roll out in subsequent posts. Before I discuss what a love-centered leadership style can do for you, let me describe my overall theory of leadership. I was going to begin with a succinct and pithy definition; however it is easier to describe then to define. We know it when we see it. Search Google on leadership and you will be overrun with data and definitions and characteristics and traits etc, which will probably serve to confirm what you already believe. We can measure leadership capability by one’s ability to create followership. Will people follow you as you seek to guide them to a successful outcome? Additionally, can your team’s effort produce that outcome within the guidelines your customer has established related to scope, schedule and budget? I contend that leadership success will rise or fall based upon your ability to establish the right structure, introduce and maintain team accountability and create a culture of love (agape) and respect. Structure, accountability and love/respect are the foundation to great teams, great execution and effective leaders. Love-centered leadership focuses on the third leg of the leadership stool (love/respect) and becomes your focus only after you have established the structure and systems of accountability and yet while it may come last chronologically it becomes the linchpin for overall team success. Your willingness to embrace the love-centered approach to leadership will take you from positional power to personal power and that is the difference between a team that is compliant and one that is truly committed. Using your position to gain compliance can produce short-term success. Developing your personal power and influence takes time and thoughtful effort but in the long run it will produce more sustainable results. Remember, being a love-centered leader is a component of effective leadership just as structure and accountability are. Love without structure and accountability cannot be nearly as effective. By the same token structure and accountability alone will not fully utilize all that your team has to offer. Love produces commitment, removes fear and unleashes individual initiative and creativity, thus giving you all that your team has to offer. Love is good for you, good for your team and good for the organization.
Being a love-centered leader won’t be easy if it’s not your natural style. Trying a new style of leadership, even one that makes sense is difficult under the best of circumstances and nearly impossible given the urgent activities that are constantly pulling at us and the pressures we are under daily. Pressure and stress can make cowards of us all, and we need to be fearless if we are going to try something new. We must be convinced that the change is in our best interest. Even then, the change can be difficult. It is sometimes difficult to get past immediate needs in order to realize long-term benefits. Dramatic change doesn’t usually occur unless we see no other way, even when I know change is in my best interest. The addict usually doesn’t go to rehab unless the bottom has been reached and she has no other choice. Nobody would jump off of an oil rig in the North Sea unless the rig was a ball of fire. The gain must outweigh the pain and the reward must outshine the potential risk that must be faced to acquire it. Our tendency is to choose immediate gratification and short-term success at the expense of something more significant and long-term. There are plenty of reasons not to consider doing “it” different. The reality is that in this economy there is not a lot of movement career-wise, fear motivates and that may sadly convince us that change is not necessary, nobody is going anywhere, so why worry. For some of us there is not enough pain to warrant the need for us to take action. Our platform is not on fire. We don’t know what we don’t know, but I wonder how many of our staff members are looking and hoping for a place to jump. I also wonder what our world would look like if the economy suddenly took an upturn. Who could we count on to stay? Now I’m not suggesting that you change out of fear, but what if our actions could turn a burning platform into a successful gusher. What if the pressure we feel and the stress we are under could be reduced; not just for us but for our whole team. What if we had a way to get more done without adding staff, but merely by doing something we were created to do? We were created to love and to be loved and as surprising as this may sound, knowing how to love others at work can not only reduce your stress but can increase productivity, improve customer service, create true followership, encourage innovation, encourage execution and create security and fulfillment for you and your staff. Interested?
I talked about agape love in my last posting and described it as holding someone in high regard, selfless or sacrificial in nature. Even if you bought into the concept you might be wondering how one would demonstrate this agape love in a meaningful way. If you have been to a Christian wedding you have probably heard an explanation of what agape love is. There is a passage in the Christian Bible from 1st Corinthians chapter 13 that is very often read as part of the marriage ceremony. It is often referred to as the “love chapter” and if I understand it, the love (charity in some translations) is this thing we call agape. I am going to alter it a bit, but within the passage I am describing, an explanation of this love is offered and instead of using the word love I am replacing it with the word leadership: “leadership is patient, leadership is kind, it is not envious, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Leadership does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” Wow, can you imagine anybody who could live up to this standard? Each of the attributes describing this thing we call agape love should be goals for any leader and if you thought about working for someone who lived a life that could be described with those words you can imagine your response to them. If you were able to live up to these words, can you imagine what your team or your client’s response might be to you?
I mentioned that several years ago I wrote a book entitled More Bricks Less Straw as a leader’s guide to moving your team from compliance to commitment. What I didn’t mention was the fact that I was afraid to use a term for this type of leader that I had believed to be true. I believe that great leaders love those they work with. Yes I said love. Your reaction to that is the reason I didn’t use it. I thought I would be dismissed as an author if I did; so I used the term values-centered. However, the value I was thinking was love. If I were you I would be asking what love’s got to do with leadership. I guess I need to define the type of love I am referring to. In the Greek there are several words that translate to the English word love. One of them is agape. An agape love is defined as holding in high regard, selfless or sacrificial love. Unlike romantic love or the love we feel for a family member, agape is more a choice rather than the result of attraction or birth. Since agape is a choice on my part, it requires nothing from the object of my love in terms of earning or deserving. I can love you in an agape sense whether or not I even like you. I wonder what might happen if your team or your client sensed that you loved them. If they felt your high regard or saw you as selfless and sacrificial on their behalf, how might they respond? I believe in the theory of reciprocity; you get what you give. If you love them first, how might they show you love in return?
The “people” issues we face every day seem to be impossible to resolve. How can I motivate my staff when the corporate purse strings are being pulled so tightly; fear and uncertainty fueled by this horrible economy are forcing hiring freezes and lack of career opportunities? Where is the incentive? At the same time, nobody is loosening the schedule I must meet or the scope I am being asked to deliver. I am working harder than ever. The pressure is relentless. How am I supposed to hold people accountable? Six Sigma, Lean…seem to help in the manufacturing environment. These approaches study our transactional processes and recommend changes to how we do our work in order to find greater efficiencies and quality improvements; ultimately reducing cost and improving customer service. What if we were to examine our people processes looking for efficiencies and increased quality in the same way. We don’t manufacture anything, we have no assembly line, so what would we do? We would focus on improving leadership skills and examine our knowledge worker processes to determine where we can make process improvements that would provide greater efficiency, increased productivity while improving our customer/client and employee satisfaction. It’s not only possible and worthy of our efforts; but, it’s the smart thing to do for your customers/clients, employees and shareholders. It’s the right thing to do for your team. Do it.
I remember a time that I was leaving a large organization to begin working with a small start-up organization that focused in what was a sweet spot for me; meeting facilitation. I was excited about the change and had given my notice. One day as I was working out the notice I had given my employer, I entered an elevator and greeted the person with whom I was sharing my ride. I smiled and said “how are you doing today.” The response was “not bad for a Tuesday” along with a bit of a shrug. I smiled at the comment; certainly I had heard that type of comment before; but that evening I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It may have been said completely in jest and it may have been said simply as a way to avoid any meaningful dialog; but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a true representation of the person’s feelings about work. How sad it would be if the basis for the comment was the latter as I inferred from the comment the individual was wishing away five sevenths of their life. Living for the weekend is not the goal of a satisfied, fully engaged employee. I was immediately struck by the personal misery that must be felt by this individual every Sunday evening as they contemplated what the next morning would bring. It wasn’t until later; much later that I thought about the impact that personal misery can have on a team, an organization, a client or a customer. When you observe people and when you have some idea of what makes them tick, you can’t help but see the connection between personal misery and job performance. As a leader you are painfully aware of the impact that misery can yield even if you are not aware of the misery itself. You are aware of it if you have ever lamented the lack of creativity or initiative of your staff. You are aware of it if you have thought about the lack of accountability that seems to affect your team. You are aware of it when schedules slip and finger-pointing becomes an aerobic exercise. You may not be aware that there is anything you can do about it, but you certainly feel the pain.