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Leading with Character: Lead with Love

I write this blog, “Leading with Character,” to give back a little bit for all the US Coast Guard gave me during my 40 years in uniform. I got more than I gave, and I gave a lot. So, it always warms my heart when I learn that my leadership lessons resonate with someone. Last week, a reader told me he liked my blog on moderation because, “Your writing comes from love…” Wow. That phrase made me stop and think, in a new way, about love and its role in leadership.

Some of you are probably already nervous just seeing the words “love” and “leadership” in the same sentence! Yet I argue that to achieve their full, positive impact, people must learn to lead with love: love of self, love of coworkers, and love of their job and organization. And that’s hard—all of it. Heck, it’s a little unsettling and even intimidating just to think about loving oneself and loving others. When I told my husband, Bob (a practical engineer), this week’s blog would be on leading with love, he said flatly, “you’ve got to find another word.” Proof that many of us would rather not even think about leading with love! But this time I’m not taking his advice; I’m sticking with my topic because love is something we need more of in this world. Let’s examine some thoughts on how leading with love can make our workplaces and our lives so much better.

Love of Self
Leading with love is hard because it requires putting oneself out there and having the courage and confidence to be a bit vulnerable. Which brings us to the first element of leading with love: love of self. To me, that means respecting oneself and acknowledging that one has value. In my early years, I found this element of love the hardest to learn. I’m a type-A personality combined with being a “pleaser.” I tend, to this day, to be really hard on myself, focusing on where I’ve failed, or who I’ve let down, instead of where I’ve succeeded or who I’ve helped. Loving myself has never come naturally, and that hindered my ability to build the confidence I needed to become a better leader.

I discovered along my career journey that I could develop confidence by rejoicing in the dozens of small successes that happen every day, instead of stressfully biding time waiting for a bigger and presumably even better triumph. Sure, successfully presenting that major project or planning that big event feels great. But what happens after the glow wears off? Those who seek satisfaction in the day-to-day successes on a smaller scale will be consistently fueled with a steady stream of positive energy instead of dealing with the highs and lows that can be exhausting. And, those who are consistently optimistic may have more space for love in their hearts. Thus, they’re equipped to infuse the office environment with positive energy that benefits the entire work group. Being consistent, confident, positive, and optimistic all stem from love of self, and are key to being an effective leader.

Love of Coworkers
Loving oneself is a stepping stone to loving others. Loving one’s coworkers means having the heart of a servant leader: honoring the differences between people, recognizing the needs of each individual, and treating everyone with respect. There’s a well-known Bible verse in the Book of Matthew (22:37-39); it’s a commandment from God: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” To me it’s as much a challenge as a commandment. Again, it’s not easy, and you’ve got to start by loving yourself.

But what does it really mean to love your neighbor, or coworker, as you love yourself? It means looking past imperfections and not judging. There’s another Bible verse in the Book of Matthew (7:3-5), “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” That helps explain the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself. People must develop the self-awareness to look inward and acknowledge their own faults and biases before presuming something about or criticizing another person. People who want to become better leaders should listen with the intent to understand their coworkers, not to undermine them. That’s a key component of loving others as you love yourself.

Love of the Job and Organization
I see loving oneself, loving others, and loving one’s job and organization as a continuum that builds along the way. It’s a continuum of contentment. For people to love their job and organization, it stands to reason they have love for their coworkers and that they love themselves. When I think about the US Coast Guard, I loved it because of the people, the missions, the core values, and the sense of purpose I felt in being part of such a great organization. The Coast Guard gave me opportunities to challenge myself and to succeed at something every day which helped me build confidence and hence, self-love.

In the Coast Guard, I was surrounded by selfless people with shared core values including honor, respect, and devotion to duty. I might not have appreciated it at the time, but looking back, yes, I loved my shipmates. When I retired from the Coast Guard, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction, and it stemmed from that continuum of contentment that comes from loving oneself, loving one’s coworkers, and loving one’s job and organization.

Look in the mirror: What does leading with love look like to you, and how can you tap into the elements of love discussed here to become a better leader?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters, and sign up for my mailing list: