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Made of compassion and trust

by Zina Sutch and Patrick Malone
Indian Management October 2021

Creating a loving organisation is a conscious choice that requires deep introspection and intentional work. Leaders who exhibit strong self-awareness and are comfortable in their own skin are in tune with their emotions and feelings.

In the past, pandemic year, when so many businesses were compelled to require employees to work remotely, the importance of human connections to work satisfaction became evident. Now, as employers bring staff back into the office, leaders have an opportunity to make the most of those more deeply valued workplace relationships.

But it is the rare leader who makes the effort to cultivate loving relationships within the workplace. Yes, that is right: loving; the compassionate and caring type of love. Too often, leaders reduce interactions with employees solely to measurements of their performance. Nothing matters but the work being done. As a result, many organisations feel sterile and void of passion. Yes, measuring goals has a place in workplaces. But it is important to note that humans were not born to be just professional—they need love and laughter in their interactions. Professional organisations so often miss the boat on real human relationships.

Research undeniably supports the impact of love in the workplace and its ability to not only reduce absenteeism, burnout and stress, but also promote teamwork, engagement and employee well-being. The findings hold true across a range of industries.

Leading with love entails a lot of putting it out there, both professionally and personally. The loving leadership pathway can be uncertain, unpredictable and scary. Leaders, just like everyone, fear shame and ridicule. They fear not being good enough. It goes against their nature to genuinely show the staff that they care for their well-being beyond their work performance.

Creating a loving organisation is a conscious choice that requires deep introspection and intentional work. To infuse more caring, kindness, and consideration in workplace relationships demands a strong measure of self-awareness—recognising and understanding one’s self and one’s emotions. It demands taking off the mask behind which many leaders hide.

Here are ways in which leaders can improve self-awareness as they intentionally cultivate a loving organisation:

  • Show vulnerability
    Teams are looking for connection, engagement, and relatability. This does not happen without vulnerability. Vulnerability is about openness. It comes from being straightforward and honest. It involves a willingness to admit when you do not know something, and to ask questions. Leaders who do not hide their vulnerability are transparent when communicating with their teams, creating an environment of shared information that allows for innovation, creativity, and trust. Vulnerable leaders exhibit a fundamental leadership asset: they are ‘themselves’. It sends the message that they are not above those they lead.
  • Practise humility
    Studies have shown the unquestioned benefits of humility in leadership. Humility in the top echelons of organisational leadership directly correlates with improved performance, teamwork, decision-making, vision creation, and information sharing. Humble leaders are sincere and modest. They know their shortcomings and are able to laugh at themselves openly with regard to the day-today trials they face. They are unpretentious despite their success and understand that organisational success is tied to far more than their personal talents. They are confident but not arrogant. Authentically humble leaders gain the trust and commitment of those they lead far more readily than the inauthentic performers.
  • Reframe defensive reactions
    Leaders who exhibit strong self-awareness are in tune with their emotions and feelings. If, for example, their first reaction to any less-than positive feedback they receive is defensive, they are able to put the reflexive feelings aside, knowing that they are unhelpful. By consciously sensing what feelings certain comments evoke, and understanding how they impact their performance, they are able to reframe their reaction in a more productive way. As a result, they become open to learning, growing, and developing.
  • Take a fourth-person perspective
    Leaders may practise how to take a third person perspective on a problem, meaning they take a step back and examine a situation from another angle. Yet, even more effective for self-awareness is to take a fourth-person perspective. This happens when the leader is able to observe him or herself looking at a problem with an awareness of all the biases one brings. This is an impactful step in building self-awareness.
  • Embrace humour
    Self-deprecating humour allows people to connect. A simple self-effacing comment can bring a leader immediately to the level of those she leads. Her approachability factor skyrockets, and people are more easily able to feel at one with their leader. It also gives others permission not to take themselves or their work so seriously. While humour can be the ultimate bridge builder, leaders must also have the social awareness to understand when and how to use humour appropriately so that it isn’t offensive to anyone.
  • Leaders who exhibit strong self-awareness and are comfortable in their own skin are in tune with their emotions and feelings. They willingly embrace humour, humility, and vulnerability, and at the same time, encourage a loving organisation of compassion, caring and trust.

Zina Sutch is faculty member, American University. She is co-author, Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work.

Patrick Malone is Director of the Key Executive Leadership Program, American University. He is coauthor, Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work.

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