THE BLOG
09/19/2014 05:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Loving Leadership: Does Our Definition Do Us a Disservice?

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My last blog considered how it's likely that a leader who has inspired us did so because of their loving, but that our beliefs and conditioning may get in the way of our being more loving in our leadership. In this blog I address another stepping stone that many people view as a stumbling block to expressing greater loving as a leader: the various definitions for love or loving.

Love. Debates abound about what the word means. Take for example the various Ancient Greek words for love and their definitions:

Storge means affection. You might use this word in a parental sense, when you're putting up with a relative who is "acting out." "Ya gotta love that kid."

Philia refers to mental love. Another interpretation might be a dispassionate love driven by a person's virtue or loyalty toward a close friend. "I really love that guy."

Éros is about passionate love. Surprisingly, in ancient Greek it was also used in a higher form, referring to the soul recalling experience that contributed to the understanding of spiritual truths - a lover of wisdom. (Plato's Symposium - speech by Socrates)

Agápe represents a deeper sense of true unconditional love.

Some of the Greek definitions would run counter to many of today's Human Resources policies intended to ensure an appropriate and neutral work environment. This presents some challenges for using the word love or loving as a leadership quality.

Let's look at deeper aspects of loving.

There are five attributes that are in alignment with leading: acceptance, reverence, presence, courage and gratitude. Presence, courage and gratitude have been written about extensively as virtues of wise leaders. The other two are less frequently addressed, though no less important.

Acceptance - For this discussion, we are considering acceptance as harmonizing with the current reality. It is a coming into alignment with what is actually going on, instead of trying to diminish its reality, wishing things were otherwise, or railing against the unfairness of how things are. Acceptance is a great teacher that helps us recognize multiple perspectives. The challenge for many leaders comes from their ego declaration that their perspective is the only correct or authentic one. Acceptance may require that the leader learn to quiet his or her ego.

As we move toward a world of collaboration and away from command and control, acceptance is becoming increasingly valuable as the first step towards interpersonal understanding.

Some interpretations of the word acceptance have come to mean acquiescence. We are not suggesting that accepting is the same as agreement. It's not. It is simply a recognition of other people's perspectives while dialoging with them. We accept that they hold a valid point of view different from ours.

Reverence - This word was originally one of the primary virtues espoused by ancient Greek and Chinese cultures. It means deep respect, with perhaps a bit of awe. Today, reverence is primarily used in a religious context.

However, focusing on the core construct of deep respect has value within a leadership context. Holding deep respect--reverence--for another allows clearer communication to take place. If we hold judgment towards another person, that judgment acts as a filter that can disrupt communication.

Together acceptance and reverence create a clear channel for enhanced interpersonal communication. Both are needed in today's leaders.

Now to our take on the other aspects.

Presence - Often how "presence" is described and how a person can develop it, more accurately matches the definition of charisma. However, at it's simplest definition a person is present when their attention is fully focused in (present with) a particular moment of time.

It's simple, but not easy for most of us to do. We may have flashes of being present, but our imagination, emotions and mind are all designed to call our attention to their moment-to-moment desires. How often have you been in a conversation with a close friend and had to ask that something be repeated because you didn't hear it? Your mind may have slipped off to something else, and you were no longer present with them.

Courage - Leadership courage has been written about for eons. Both loving and courage have a similar root: heart. Heart isn't often found in today's leadership education because that mostly focuses on the mind. However, we contend that leadership wisdom requires our mind, our heart and our hunches. It takes courage to engage our heart and to confront fear (our own or others'), pain, danger, uncertainty or perhaps intimidation (another fear-based behavior).

Gratitude - This is the quality of being thankful. If we tie being thankful with recognition toward the person whose action we are being thankful for, we create an organizational culture that is twelve times more likely to enjoy strong business results. (see Bersin & Associates). Gratitude simply says to others that our success didn't happen solely as a result of "my" stellar leadership abilities.

Simple Not Easy

These five simple "ways of being" help bring forward more loving in our leadership. They require we open our hearts more widely to those we are leading. They are not complex, but they challenge our comfort zones. And, in this context, they re-define and clarify the definition of loving leadership so that being a loving leader can be an acceptable, worthy and desirable goal.

In future blogs we'll look at each of these attributes more deeply. And I welcome your thoughts and comments on what we've presented so far.