On Love and Leadership

On Love and Leadership
by Jennifer Gottesfeld

Fall in love with everyone. That’s probably not the type of advice you get every day, especially not when you’re talking about leadership.

I don’t mean fall in love in a romantic way. I mean fall in love humanly with others all around you. 

What does falling in love in this way mean? Love is a completely selfless investment in someone else. It binds you to a person because giving someone love means that you genuinely accept him, value him, and care for him. It means seeing the greatness and potential in someone and having an eager willingness and excitement to be a companion on her quest to achieving it. It means trusting her. It means being genuinely committed to her happiness and well-being. And it means being grateful that he is in your life.

I’ve often been accused of falling in love with everyone I meet. I used to think that it was a flaw—a weakness—to be so open to everyone. And, in complete disclosure, sometimes it has come back to bite me—it is indeed vulnerable to live this way. But overall, I have come to realize that love is the most powerful leadership tool we have to call on. Love makes every interaction, small or large, genuine and real. 

This journey of realization began for me as I found myself searching for authentic connection in an ever-alienating world of smart phones and headphones. In my search, I began meditating on the biblical Hebrew word chesed, which can be translated to “loving kindness.” Chesed became my mantra. As I moved through life, in every interaction that I had, I would make an effort to see the world through chesed. I would attempt to show loving kindness to all I encountered. It is a struggle at times: when people shove me in the subway, my immediate reaction is often to turn around and yell something nasty, but instead, I now meditate on chesed and send love and understanding. Repeating this word to myself, in my heart and in my head, has been a spiritual journey to remind myself constantly to be at peace with others. It has taught me through practice that we are all just trying to get by. Today, I truly believe in the relational power of meeting every person with love.

The love you give does not need to be an everlasting love, or even a reciprocated love. Love can be in the way you interact with a waiter serving you food or the IT person helping you on the phone, and love can be the foundation upon which you define your management style at work or your relationships with your friends and family. Meeting others with love is fundamentally about recognizing and being mindful of the way that people exist in relationship to you, which is fundamental to developing greater emotional intelligence.

One of the worst types of human experiences is feeling like you are unseen and unheard. That feeling of invisibility is disenfranchising and ultimately leaves people feeling resentful and, even worse, powerless. When you practice everyday leadership that is motivated by love, you allow people to be seen and heard. Even if you have nothing else to offer in a given moment, holding people in a space of love and giving them recognition is one of the most powerful things that you can do in service to others.

Giving love also means giving people the benefit of the doubt, and when people fail or falter, rather than chastising them, you can use a love approach to try and understand why and help lift them up instead of kicking them when they are already down.

From the perspective of leadership at work, I could research and share all of the studied and proven financial incentives to incorporating love into leadership—it encourages productivity; it makes people more effective and committed to a cause; it makes them feel believed in, invested in, and therefore motivated to work hard; and it creates equality even in hierarchy. But I want to appeal to your values and human-centered mind for a moment because, after all, love is not about economics, efficiency, or business; it’s about humanity.

Close your eyes and imagine how it would feel if you gave love to everyone. And imagine if you felt loved by everyone with whom you worked and interacted with in return. How would that change your human experience? How would it change theirs? And, ultimately, what affect would acting on this type of universal sentiment have on the world? I know I am writing this at the risk of sounding idealistic at best and cheesy at worst, but everyone is looking for an authentic connection, and in this alienating age of money and technology, where we have become increasingly engrossed with our bottom lines and smart phones instead of our present reality, don’t forget the value in saying “I see you; I hear you; I value you; I love you.” 

So, please, go fall in love with everyone. §



Jennifer Gottesfeld writes themodernleader.org, a blog on the skills and qualities it takes to be an effective and thoughtful leader with guiding exercises to practice things like empathy, human-centered design, and systems thinking.