Much has been said about leading with love…or has it?
Peering about, I discovered that our progressive discourse is sorely lacking when it comes to being conversant in love. We admire Martin Luther King’s powerful philosophy of “the love that does justice,” linking personal and systemic change into what writer/activist Michael Edwards calls “mutually-reinforcing cycles.” We deeply admire leaders like Ai-Jen Poo, that embrace love as a powerful force for change, leveraging it into wins for all. We want to lead with love, but as any leader can tell you, people piss us off. We’ve all watched wincingly as the cynicism of our politics has spread into our movements. As the ever-astute Akaya Windwood of Rockwood Leadership Institute points out,
“Many of us on the progressive side of things have learned to play small — to not ask for too much. From surviving political losses and enduring social injustices, we’ve learned to box our hopes into miniscule, hard-to-open caskets. We’ve learned to be cynical.”
The vitriol and sheer negativity of some of the more rabid conservative agendas feel like they drag us into contraction and smallness. Responding from that dark place of fear and anger becomes a vicious cycle. When we feel forced to react to an onslaught of fear-driven invective with equal measure, we end up with a pervasive culture of negativity. One we are equally responsible for.
Paradoxically, it’s only the expansive power of love that can lead us into a politic of inspiration. It is love that embraces possibility where we see only limitation and lifts us beyond.
But how do we, especially in the face of great challenge and a fierce push to fight fire with fire, truly lead with love? As with anything that we wish to embody, we practice ways of being that may seem awkward or even counter-intuitive at first. Over time, what we practice is who we become. If we practice love, we become love.
Here are five ways to lead with love:
- love yourself: it goes without saying that you can’t lead others with what you don’t have for yourself. Self-love is the critical element necessary to support us in standing our ground in the face of the storms that will come. And come they will. Trying to appear to be perfect narrows our view to only what we can see and keeps us from allowing for feedback. Wanting the attention of being everything to everyone diminishes our clarity and need to discern and decide. Deeply appreciating and embracing our flaws as well as our fabulousness allows what is to be, while making room for growth.
- seek goodness: in everyone. As leaders, we must root ourselves deeply in a core belief that people are fundamentally good. They want to do good and want to be seen as doing good, even when they aren’t quite making it. Reminding people that we see that basic goodness and setting them up to show up in it, over and over again, is a code true leaders live by.
- address behaviors: As good as people are at their core, they don’t always make choices that reflect their goodness. Confronting poor behavior within our teams and communities is essential for aligning values so that we can become who we aspire. Connected to the idea of seeking goodness, though not apparently easy, is recognizing the goodness of our adversaries. We may not agree with their tactics, strategies or goals, but the fact of their humanity—and our commitment to our own values—calls for treating them with respect, thus seeing them with love. We can and should resist the systems and policies that seek to divide and exclude. With love, patience and compromise, we can redirect behaviors towards solutions that speak to the heart of people’s needs, carrying them through their fears.
- return to purpose: While we must address specific behaviors that take us out of alignment with our values and integrity in our commitments, we should also remember our purpose. Purpose brings perspective, helping us to prioritize what really matters. When small upsets distract us and wanting to get our way gets in the way, purpose empowers us to set aside the personal and defer to the big picture. Greater than any one of us and inclusive of all, purpose-driven love unites big hearts to transcend small minds.
- by example: what is most profound about leading with love is that it can be felt–and conversely, can’t be manufactured. Embodying love as the “way you be” informs and infuses every thought, word and act of leadership such that others can emulate and follow that lead. When love is what you are, love is what you get.
I’m not certain we are quite ready for a unified movement that is on the same page, marching lockstep toward the society we all yearn for, but in the meantime, I do know we can lead with love.
—yours in truth, aKw
dedicated to those that lead with love, those that follow and those that will come along if we continue to fiercely hold them in the abiding space of love.