The moment Erin walked through the doors of her workplace, she made a beeline towards her office. She greeted a few people, even exchanged a few “how’s it going?” pleasantries, but never really stopped to hear her colleagues’ answers. She would close her office door behind her and get on with her day’s work. On the door to her office was a sign which said – “My door’s always open for you” – alongside a sign-up sheet to book a meeting beside it. Erin would routinely meet with her staff, help them with their problems, and then turn quickly back to her work.
I used to meet with Erin every month and it became clear that she was missing the best kept secret of the most successful leaders that I know. Erin had a demanding job, a big task list that required her to get a lot done each day, and a department of staff that relied on her guidance and assistance. However, Erin did not love the people around her. Yes, she loved what she did, but to her, the people around her were more of an interruption than anything. She did what she thought she ought to, but when it came down to it, she didn’t overly care for many of the people around her. The leadership challenge in front of Erin was developing a mindset of love for those around her.
In their book, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner asked U.S. Army Major General John H. Stanford how he would develop leaders, regardless of the industry or sector they were in. This is how John responded:
“When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that helps them to get ahead and to lead others and to achieve. 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.”
Love is likely one of the most difficult and rewarding things a leader can do. It involves making a conscious choice every time we engage with others. It involves spending time with and getting to know those around us. It involves being invited into each other’s lives to share in the celebrations and the trials others are experiencing. Most importantly, love makes really listening to the other’s perspectives possible leading to significantly better business decisions.
This is why love is the best kept secret of successful leaders. Successful leaders not only put in the long hours that are needed to create a remarkable product or service, they love the people with whom they are doing this work and that love moves its way through to the customer or client. Customers and employees alike know when they are loved. The spinoff rewards are endless – people perform better when they are loved, customers prefer companies that care for them, the bottom line is improved and all around, people experience joy.
That is why Kouzes and Posner say that “the best-kept secret of successful leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honour the organizations by using its products and services.
Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”
What does it look like for you to develop a mindset of love today?