THE BLOG
09/16/2014 04:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Loving, the Key for Wise Leaders

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Loving, the Key for Wise Leaders

For a moment consider leaders that may have inspired you. Perhaps they inspired you because they touched your deepest essence and you loved it. They brought forward the very best of who you are encouraging you to transcend any fear you might have had and any doubts that might have been weighing on you. And, for a select few leaders, they led from their loving, which allowed you to bring forward your loving.

As nice as these moments of clarity are, for many leaders this is a very threatening and inappropriate way to lead. As such many people have blocked this loving from emerging.

There seem to be two primary blocks to engaging in loving leadership within our organizations. The first has to do with our beliefs and the second is based on our limited or limiting definitions.

Beliefs

When it comes to beliefs, we all live in a world of make-believe. We make up our beliefs, inherit them from our family or agree to them in an effort to support ourselves in the world.

We are all born with a consciousness of unconditional loving - even if only for a brief instance. This consciousness is slowly buried under beliefs about who we are, what we can do, where we can do it, when we can do it and how we can do it. By the time we reach adulthood there are many of these layers. By the time people reach middle age these layers have become crystallized. And yet that spark of unconditional loving still exists inside each person. Only rarely is it extinguished completely. (Sheryl Paul)

In the first seven years of our life most of our major beliefs are programmed in. The good news is we learn like a sponge during this time, soaking up whatever our environment provides. The bad new is we learn like a sponge. There is very little cognitive filtering that happens during the first seven years, so everything goes directly into our unconscious. This is our reality until we reach our teenage years. (adapted from Piaget cognitive development)

What do we learn about loving? We learn what is demonstrated to us by our parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, school and teachers, religious institutions, friends and parents of our friends. We also learn about loving from what we see in the entertainment media. We learn what we can do, when and where we can do it and how we have to - or are supposed to - do it.

Some families have a broad and open demonstration of loving. Others can be very reserved, with loving expressed only on special occasions. In yet others, loving cannot be expressed at all. A good friend of mine commented that he felt his childhood was like growing up in a padded cell. The padding was there to protect him from any expression of loving. As you might suspect, he had a difficult time with relationships in general and one-to-one relationships specifically.

When we reach our mid- to late-teenage years, we begin to consciously or unconsciously challenge these beliefs. Our parents might refer to this as our rebellious years. But we're not really rebelling, we're seeking to create our own identity. During this time we are likely to create a common language with our peers so that our parents won't be able to know what we are up to. Or, you may have had a mother like mine, Swami Mommy, who knew more about when we were good or bad than Santa Claus. (see Ericksons Psychosocial Stages of Development)

It is also during this time that we tend to make up our beliefs. Without direct guidance or coaching from a wise adult, we make stuff up and then act on it as if it's true. Our made-up beliefs are reinforced if we decide the evidence of our experience supports them. Of course, it is a human characteristic to only see what we want to see, so the evidence may or may not be accurate.

According to some of the research by neurophysiologists, at about age 26, our prefrontal lobes have completed their growth. By then, most of our identity - especially our organizational work identity - is hardwired. About the only things that will change this wiring are significant emotional or mental experiences. For example, the death of a loved one, the breakup of a significant relationship, moving from the place where we have lived most of our life, or losing a job we didn't want to leave. (see Johnson, Bloom & Giedd)

When we first come into the work environment, we have bosses and co-workers who bring with them their own major beliefs. These beliefs may or may not match the ones we have. In an effort to be a responsible adult, and to ensure we can support ourselves, we "buy into" many of these other beliefs even if they don't match ours. After about 31 days, these beliefs begin to become our beliefs and slip from a conscious choice to an unconscious default reaction.

In the work environment, loving is often not even a remotely accepted behavior. Instead people will focus on four substitutes for loving:
  • Some organizational leaders focus on money, and become so bound to the quarter-to-quarter expectations of Wall Street that they won't allow anything but the complete and total focus on revenue and expenses to inform their choices.
  • Others make sure they are recognized for their accomplishments, and if they don't have any accomplishments they will lay claim to those of their co-workers.
  • Some will focus on protecting themselves by becoming indispensable to the organization, or so they believe. And finally,
  • Human Resources' biggest fear - romantic ideal - where some leaders look at the organizational environment as the source for romantic interludes. For many men within certain organizations, familiarity breeds attempt.
(see McClelland 1987)


Almost all of these beliefs are hardened as we move up the organizational ladder. By the time we reach middle-age, they have become what you might describe as crusty or crystallized.

And yet deep down inside, people are crying out for loving. Most of us don't have a definition of loving that won't put our livelihood in jeopardy, so we continue our pursuit for one or all of the four substitutes for loving.

Limited/Limiting Definitions

But what is really keeping us from genuine loving leadership? What if this actual loving is not what our beliefs tell us it is. What if we could define some behaviors of loving so that this fundamental quality could be expressed to the benefit of the organization? Even if this was a limited definition of the unconditional loving we had when we were born, isn't it possible to find a way to permit it to emerge? Hopefully, this unconditional loving is still there within us, only needing a road map to full expression.

Next time: Five approaches to loving that could be acceptable in your organizational environment.