For the last 5 years I’ve been writing about and helping leaders to grow. What I’ve discovered is that when the conditions are right, remarkable change is possible in a very short period of time.
Those conditions? In a nutshell:
- Crystal clarity on what’s important
- Deep desire to grow
- Commitment to build habit with intentional discipline
- Genuine support – both giving as well as receiving
This year I’ve been hosting 30-day leadership challenges. There challenges are about learning and growing as a leader in thew midst of your work. Each challenge has 12 participants who operate as a kind of leadership support group.
I have been inspired by what has flowed from these challenges, and today I want to share two stories that particularly stand out.
“After 2.5 years of struggle, I can’t believe how much I’ve changed in just 30 days”
These were the words that the leader of a finance team shared at the end of the first 30-day leadership challenge in 2019.
She had been leading a team in her organisation for the last couple of years, and through that time always encountered friction from a particular person who was a peer. She described that person as always finding a way to turn anything remotely positive into something negative. She had tried talking to this person about the issue at various times, but nothing ever seemed to improve.
This leader decided to explicitly focus on her relationship with this person during the leadership challenge.
What’s most important
In the leadership challenge we quickly narrow in on what is important. And for a leader, that boils down to two things.
One: The essence of your mission. In the simplest terms, what is the purpose/why of the mission, what does the end-state of mind-blowing success look like, and what’s the strategy that will see the mission fulfilled if everyone fully applies themselves to it?
Without this clarity of mission it can be like wandering in the dark, with people never sure how to ensure that they are applying their efforts in the right way to the right things.
Two: The people. All missions live or die by whether the people involved are fully applying themselves, thriving, fulfilling their potential.
While both things are important, there is one that outweighs and outshines the other. There is one that is foundational. There is one that if solid will naturally improve the other one.
That single most important thing is people. Not only is focusing on elevating people the greatest thing a leader can do to ensure success of the mission, it is also simply the right thing to do.
After reflecting on all of this, the leader in this story wisely decided that she needed to improve her relationship with this challenging person, hoping that it would unlock good things for her whole team and the mission.
Unconditional love is what truly transforms things
No matter what the situation involving people, unconditional love is the foundation that transforms things for the better. This love is genuinely holding the worth of every single person to the fullest degree, to the same degree of worth that you yourself inherently have as a unique, special, wonderful human being. This love is the discipline to hold that inner orientation in all circumstances, at all times, regardless of any attribute or behaviour of the person.
This is much easier said that done, especially when someone is operating in a way that is causing negative impacts on you and others.
To be clear, when I talk about loving someone who is doing things that are negative, I’m not talking about just accepting what they are doing and letting them off the hook. I’m talking about holding up their worth as a person, and wanting to ultimately help them to reform, even in the midst of their negative behaviour. Being genuinely loving requires honesty and holding firm to justice, while also being forgiving and giving people a second chance when they are truly taking steps to change.
In our story the leader realised that she needed to try and unconditionally love this challenging person. And that the first tangible step was trying to put aside her reactions of frustration when interacting with this person, and genuinely trying to listen to them.
Love requires discipline
To intentionally try and uphold the worth of another person, when the things that person says or does pushes our buttons, is challenging and requires discipline. It is easy to fall into a mode of judgement of the person, which sabotages efforts to make things better.
Our leader experienced this over the 30 days. She would go into situations with good will, upholding the person’s worth, but then as usual the person would find some way to respond negatively, which would trigger an emotional reaction in the leader.
The difference now though was that this leader had made a commitment to herself to intentionally try and put aside that initial emotional reaction, and to commit to looking at this person as if it was someone in the world that she deeply cared about.
For a while it didn’t seem like she was getting very far, but then right towards the end of the 30 days something changed. In the final challenge meeting she exclaimed with joy and surprise “Over the last week, something has changed in me! I’m not longer getting triggered by this person like I used to”.
She went on “I realise that for the last 2.5 years I’ve been judging this person on their behaviour, and I think they sensed that. I’m no longer doing this, and things are starting to change. I can now have a conversation where I truly listen to this person without judging them, and they are starting to respond”.
Even though it was the other person’s behaviour that was core to the challenges of their relationship, the leader’s internal judgement of the person was resulting in a stalemate that would never be broken. But now that stalemate was broken. By approaching things from love, the leader was able to start having conversations to work through the issues, in a way that engaged rather than repelled the person.
A few months on
A few months on things have continued in a good direction for our courageous leader. The people in her team and others around her have noticed a difference in the way she is approaching everything, not just with the challenging person. And this is having a positive impact in multiple ways.
Everything is not perfect, but the unconditionally loving approach this leader is taking is opening up channels for improving things that were previously closed off.
The second story I want to share today is about a leader in a tech company who had a powerful insight and then acted on it during his 30-day challenge.
This leader had been following my Love Your Team writing for some time, and had been trying to apply some of it in his team. He decided to do the 30 day challenge to go deeper.
During the course of the challenge, the leader had to deal with some difficult things. He had key people from his team who left the company, and was struggling with the remaining team to meet their goals. He was feeling pressure from his leaders and was feeling trapped and somewhat disillusioned.
In the first sharing session in the challenge, the leader was describing his difficulties, and trying to figure out how to navigate his complex situation. During the course of that discussion, the path he needed to take became clear. He needed to love his leaders in the same way he was aiming to love his team. With their alignment and support he would be stuck in his difficulties.
It can’t just be your team
I use the phrase “Love Your Team” both because it truly is the foundation to having a thriving team, and also because it’s simple and easy to remember. But it’s important to realise that you can’t just love your team at the expense of everything else. To be a successful leader that brings people together with a special spirit, you must love many things in addition to your team: your company, your cause/mission, your customers, your leaders, the people in other teams in the company.
If you love your team at the expense of any of these, it builds up division. You might have a tight knit group of people, but they are tight-knit against another group in the company. And this will result in things falling apart.
To be a loving leader is to hold all people involved in or impacted by what you are doing to the gold standard of unconditional love.
The ripples that flow
In our story, the leader made the conscious decision to love his leaders. And this meant he needed to be honest with them. He met with them to talk through all of his difficulties. He shared that that he didn’t feel he had the level of support he needed. He asked for their help to navigate through.
To his surprise, his leaders were very open to this discussion. They listened to what he shared and took it seriously. They even shared with him some of their own challenges they were facing.
The breakthrough of the discussion took a huge weight off this leader’s shoulders. He had been feeling trapped and not supported, and now he felt empowered and free. Over the course of just a couple of weeks he was able to make significant progress with his team in a forward mode of operation that looks like it will be successful for the business, and his team engagement has never been higher.
The impact of the change in this leader has been significant. His manager and others around him have come up and asked him what he has done. He is radiating a striking level of enthusiasm. The ripples that flow from one person deciding to commit to the discipline of unconditional love are far reaching, and I’m sure there are going to be many great things ahead for this leader, his team, and his company.
Will you consider the 30-day leadership challenge?
Whether you are formally in a leadership position or not, committing to a period of disciplined focus on what’s most important has the potential to springboard remarkable change, just like in the two stories I’ve shared today.
The format of this challenge has been designed to fit into your work and your life. It kicks off with two 1-hour remote video conference calls, to set the scene for the challenge. And then for 4 weeks, there is a single 1-hour remote video call with the participants to checkin with each other, share stories, and support each other.
Outside of that, everything is about you learning and growing in the midst of your work. You don’t have to take onboard additional work with this challenge. It’s more about having a heightened awareness in the things you already do.
But despite the small time commitment of this challenge, if you put your heart and soul into it, like the two leaders I’ve described in this post, then you will get a lot out of it.
Why am I doing this?
People have asked me why I’m holding these leadership challenges and why they are free.
The simple answer is that I genuinely want to spread more love in the world, because I believe the kind of love I’m writing about literally changes lives for the better. We need this.
I have both been a person who has struggled with stress and pressure early in my career, as well as someone who has had feedback from many people over the years that being a loving leader to them made a huge difference in their life.
What I’m sharing in these 30 day challenges is the best that I have to share. There is nothing held back. I’m trying to bottle up what I’ve learned over the last 2 decades, what I deeply believe in, and make it available in a format that has the highest chance of facilitating change for good in the leaders that undertake it. I offer it for free in the hope that it can spread and make a difference in the world.
I find great joy in hearing about stories of transformation, like the two I’ve shared today, and I hope you’ll consider doing the challenge and potentially adding your story to the list.
If you are interested, either message me or express your interest below.