When I first talked about Love Your Team at a technology leadership conference one of the questions I was asked at the end of the talk was “If you didn’t love your team would you walk away?”
My answer to that question was simple – “I will always love my team.”
How can I say that?
On the surface my answer might seem boldly unrealistic. How can I say that I will always love my team. What if I don’t?
But here’s the crucial point – loving someone is different to liking them.
I can’t guarantee that I will naturally like every person that is ever in my team. I can’t guarantee I will have a free-flowing enjoyable dynamic with everyone. I can’t guarantee that I’ll never get frustrated by something that someone says or does.
But I do have a choice about whether to love someone even if I don’t naturally like them.
What does it mean to love someone?
At the heart of loving someone is the conscious recognition of their inherent worth. That as a human being they are special, unique, and of more value than anything else in this world.
Charlotte Mason, a British educationalist in the 19th century, found some of the most elegantly powerful words to describe this:
“the beautiful infant frame is but the setting of a jewel of such astonishing worth that, put the whole world in one scale and this jewel in the other, and the scale which holds the world flies up outbalanced.”
To love someone is to consciously hold that recognition of their worth and to strive to align your words, decisions, and actions with it. This translates into trusting people, supporting them, recognizing and encouraging their efforts and results. It also translates into being honest with people, giving them clear feedback when performance isn’t meeting expectations, and helping them grow to succeed. Sometimes love will even drive to the shared recognition that there isn’t a good match between the person and the company, and that it is time to part ways.
Please never mistake being a loving leader with being soft, being nice, and trying to get everyone to like you. A loving leader always strives to do what is right, nomatter how hard that is to do, and strives to hold deep respect for every person throughout.
How do you love someone who you don’t like?
Imagine that you want to get fitter, healthier, and drop some weight. There are two ways you can approach this:
- Focus on the actions you need to take. Just do the things you need to do – eating healthy food and regularly exercising – knowing they are the right things that will take you to your goal even if you don’t feel like doing them.
- Focus on your inner motivation. Cultivate an awareness of what a healthy body feels like and foster in innate desire to want to eat well and exercise. Let those feelings naturally propel you into the action you need to take.
If you can’t stand eating healthy food or exercising, it’s unlikely that starting at 2 is going to get you very far. If you wait until you feel like acting, you are never going to act.
In those cases, starting at 1 is more likely to get you going. You acknowledge that you know that eating well and exercising are the right things for you to do, and you grit your teeth and do them, despite your feelings.
Now let’s zoom forward a couple of months. If you have consistently acted then two things will have happened. The first is that you will have developed a habit of eating well and exercising, and it will be much easier to continue than it was to start out. And the second is that you will have started to discover for yourself how good it feels when you are looking after your body. It’s highly likely that you will have developed some degree of actually liking healthy living. At that point 1 and 2 are working together in an upward spiral, and if you keep at it you will go from strength to strength.
The same pattern applies with loving people you don’t like. Starting at 2 may not get you very far. And if you wait until you like someone before you love them, they you may never love them. But regardless of your feelings you can start at 1. You can acknowledge that you know that it is right for you to hold the worth of the other person unmeasurably high, even if you don’t “feel” this, and then start acting in a way that is in line with that recognition.
If you do this, and we zoom forward to the future like in the health scenario, the same two results will occur. Firstly, you will have developed a habit of interacting with that person in a way that aligns with the recognition of their inherent worth. Secondly, it is highly likely that you will have started to discover some of the good in that person that you never saw before, and that you could genuinely say you are starting to like the person, even if just to a small degree. And just like in the health scenario, if you persist you will continue on an upward spiral where 1 and 2 work together.
A challenge for you
I’m really going to challenge you as I finish this blog post.
I want you to identify someone who you work with regularly (or who you interact with regularly in any aspect of your life) who frustrates you, gets on your nerves, and who you really don’t like.
For the next 30 days, starting right now, I want you to commit to interacting with that person with the words and actions you would use with someone you did inherently like.
Any time frustration builds up inside of you due to things that person does or says (or leaves undone or unsaid) I want you to detect that frustration, and intentionally override your natural reaction. I want you to acknowledge that this person is a human being who is valuable, that there is someone in the world that looks at this person with deep feelings of love (say, for example, the person’s mother), and I want you to ask yourself how that person who deeply loves them would respond. And then I want you to respond in the way that you identify, as much as you likely won’t feel like it.
(Remembering again that this isn’t about just “being nice” to the person. The loving response may be very directly and honestly talking to the person about issues, but doing so in a way that upholds their inherent value and looks for a constructive path forward.)
Then in 30 days time I want you to step back and reflect on what has transpired over the 30 days. What differences have you noticed in that person, in your relationship with them, in the way you interact with them, in the way you feel about them, in the way you feel in general? What has flowed from your commitment to intentionally love them for 30 days?
What I’m asking you to do is not easy, but I can assure you it is worth it. It will unlock growth in your leadership and your life. It will have a positive impact on the other person and in everyone around you both. And it is a way you can make a difference in the here and now in your unique circumstances.
What would our world be like if all leaders in all stations genuinely acted on this intention?