Leadership requires Love. Are you developing your heart?

Leadership requires love. Are you developing your heart?

Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege to work alongside entrepreneurs & chief executives of varying ages, backgrounds, demographics, and industries (from healthcare compliance to flavored rum), all leading their respective enterprises through various business life cycles (from pre-revenue startup to some of the largest brands in the world).

I’ve read countless books on leadership, innovation, ideation, & strategy philosophy and completed my graduating thesis analyzing the relationship between entrepreneurship & higher education.

I’ve worked for a non-profit coworking space, venture-backed startup accelerators & incubators, a SaaS healthcare startup, and (presently) Red Bull, a brand that has redefined marketing inspiration & consumer reach.

I’ve worked with local government invest capital into local startup communities to fuel job creation & economic growth. I’ve watched our local & national media turn the entrepreneur into a celebrity.

Through it all, I’ve observed that we (politics, media, educators, CEOs, founders) talk constantly about funding sources, talent, ideation, investing, marketing, sales, growth, etc.

But no one ever talks about love.

Here’s what I mean…

Leadership is consistently being defined (and redefined) with a never-ending stream of adjectives…empowering, inspiring, passionate, innovative, powerful, visionary, manager, doer, etc.

Love is almost always missing from the conversation.

I believe that love is the primary predictor of a leader’s ability, potential & legacy. How well we love determines our spiritual returns (internal) and our material returns (external). My interpretation of leadership is as follows…

Leadership is embracing the vocation to develop self & to love those you serve.

How do we achieve? Develop self, then develop others.

First, develop yourself by becoming an authentic leader.

Second, love those that you serve by practicing servant leadership.

Step 1: Becoming an Authentic Leader

The first step in becoming an authentic leader is to actively develop your heart.

Any athlete will tell you that no one can achieve peak performance without the basics: stretching & warming up, training, staying in-tune to her body to understand vulnerability, and receiving performance feedback from a great coach.

Developing your heart is no different. It requires intentional action to develop a mindset that is both self-aware & vulnerable.

Becoming an authentic leader is not easy. First, you have to understand yourself, because the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself. Second, to be an effective leader, you must take responsibility for your own development. — Bill George, from True North

Bill George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School and former CEO of Medtronic, developed the below model of the authentic self in his book True North (2007). The proposed model depicts the direct relationship between a leader’s “true north”, or purpose of leadership, and self-awareness (supported by values & principles, motivations, an integrated life, and a support team).

Self-Awareness (or emotional intelligence) is imperative to & synonymous with great leadership. Authentic leaders continually strive to be more self-aware to improve performance & culture.

What’s crucial is that you become more self-aware — and self-awareness is a predictor of success in leadership. — Kouzes and Posner, from A Leader’s Legacy
Bill George’s “True North” Compass

As an exercise in self-awareness, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my driving core values & principles?
  • What are my primary motivations, internal & external?
  • How is my sense of purpose & vocation integrated into my everyday life?
  • Who (name 3 people) are my support system to keep me on track?

Understanding the answers to these questions and how they relate will lead to the second part of self-awareness — actively developing yourself in these areas to become a more authentic leader. Striving towards authentic leadership will allow you to move to step 2: identifying your purpose & loving those that you serve.

Step 2: Learning to Serve

How do you define your purpose and whom does that purpose serve?

Introducing the concept of Servant Leadership.

A servant-leader is simply a leader who is focused on serving others. A servant-leader loves people and wants to help them. The mission of the servant-leader is therefore to identify and meet the needs of others. Loving and helping others gives the servant-leader meaning and satisfaction in life. — Kent M. Keith, from The Case for Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is a timeless concept that can be traced back to ancient China in 570 B.C. But the concept is still relevant today.

In short, how do we align our purpose & vocation with helping others? The answer is by serving the needs of others.

Ask yourself a few questions…

  • How do your serve your colleagues or employees? How are you actively developing & empowering them?
  • How do you serve your customers? What pain of theirs are you solving?
  • How often do you listen to feedback? Both internal & external to your organization.
  • Are you a coach or a controller?
  • How do you love those you serve, both employees or customers?

In his book The Case for Servant Leadership, Kent M. Keith advocates for the effectiveness of servant leadership by identifying the key practices as self-awareness, listening, changing the pyramid, developing colleagues, coaching instead of controlling, unleashing the energy and intelligence of others, and the use of foresight.

At its core, the concept of Servant Leadership emphasizes people — solving their pain, developing their potential, listening to their feedback, empowering their skillsets. What makes it different? Love.

Love gives leadership meaning & purpose. Servant Leadership is an approach to achieve that meaning & purpose.

A servant leader pursues happiness by developing self & developing others, focusing on internal fulfillment vs. external reward.

To thrive as a servant-leader, you don’t need symbols of success. You need to get material returns for your organization, but you need spiritual returns for yourself. You need the personal meaning that will feed your spirit and your soul and give you deep happiness. You need the kind of happiness that cannot come from power, wealth, or fame. You need the happiness that can only come from a life of service. — Kent M. Keith, from The Case for Servant Leadership

Understanding that leadership requires love, ask yourself this question:

Are you actively developing your heart?

My challenge to you:

  • Actively develop your heart by becoming an authentic leader.
  • Actively develop your heart by practicing servant leadership with your customers, your employees, and your partners.

In doing so, you will become a leader.