What It Means to Lead with Love

 

When I encourage fellow leaders to lead with love, I’m not talking about love in the sentimental sense. It’s more about honesty and respect, both for yourself and the people you’re impacting.   

Leading with love means dealing with things that are difficult and, at times, uncomfortable. It requires making those tough decisions that might be painful in the moment but right for everyone involved in the long run.   

 
 

 Through my career, personal experiences and mentors, here are a few of the lessons that have helped me personally become a more “loving” leader. 

Know That You Can’t Control Other People’s Emotions… 

…So don’t try to.  

In the meantime, there are two things you do have control over in your communications: the information you’re delivering and the way you’re delivering it. Focus on getting those right. Speaking with clarity is always the best way to ensure you’re getting your message across while avoiding misinterpretation and opening the door to the kinds of ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’ that won’t lead anywhere productive–or anywhere good, for that matter.   

Knowing that you can’t control the perceptions of others is one thing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be open to how they might respond. We all have challenges going on in our personal lives that, like it or not, are going to impact who we are at work and how we react in the moment. As a leader, it’s not your responsibility to address these factors, but it is your responsibility to be aware that they exist and to be empathetic in your delivery.  

Keep It High-Level 

Just as ambiguity can make relationships go awry, getting what I call “stuck in the tar” is a sure-fire way to invite unnecessary conflict into the conversation. Especially during difficult discussions like firing someone, people can get defensive, and before you know it, you’re in the weeds, trying to rationalize a decision that has already been made (“yes, you did knock it out of the park on that one project, but no, you can’t pick and choose the ones you’re going to work on…”). 

Leading with love in these types of situations means focusing on your commonalities and being transparent in your objectives. If someone is getting fired, it’s always going to be uncomfortable, and the employee will inevitably have questions. Striking the right balance between being compassionate and firm, boss and human, will help facilitate a mutually beneficial outcome. Again, it’s not your job to make people feel better, but leading with love does mean being honest, both with yourself and the person at the other end of the table.  

Acknowledge That You’re Not Perfect, But That You Do Care 

Whether you state it explicitly or not, it’s something to be mindful of in your delivery: you’re not perfect. Know this. And if you feel it’s appropriate, go ahead and divulge it, but not without also acknowledging that you do genuinely want a positive outcome on both sides. There is no one-size-fits all approach to leadership, which means we’re all just doing the best we can. The good news about that? It’s an admission to which people can relate. 

If you don’t have all the answers, that’s okay. And if you think you have all the answers, that’s less okay, but it’s equally important to admit that you could be wrong. Ultimately, you want to convey that you do care, and that you’re simply trying to work toward the best outcome for all. 

Stop Avoiding Conflict 

Not only is approaching situations head-on inherent to your role as a leader, but your employees deserve candid, honest feedback, even if they don’t necessarily realize that while it’s being given. Think about it – if someone had an issue with you, would you want them to talk to you about it? Or would you rather they tiptoed around, leaving you to wonder where you stand? I, for one, would much prefer the former, and I don’t understand why we don’t always have that same respect for our colleagues in the workplace. 

At the end of the day, you never know what impact your words or actions have on others. People might not always be ready to hear your feedback, and it’s not until they later receive that same feedback from a different source–or through many different sources–that they’re willing to internalize it. You may just be the first in a series of people to convey the same sentiment–the first piece of the puzzle.  

People don’t change in an instant. They evolve over time. Leading with love means not letting fear get in the way of communicating with sincerity. Sometimes, loving people means acknowledging that, despite the best of intentions, you are just that one piece in their puzzle. Sometimes it means letting them go and waiting for them to come back. But it always means putting your best foot forward and giving them the honesty and respect that everyone deserves. 

 
Jacques Spitzer