Love is not soft. It is one of the hardest things to do – to lead from a place of compassion.
Talking about love in a work context is unusual, but it’s necessary when you understand the true power love brings to leadership.
Rejbina Akter is one of many leaders who have shown me this. I met Rejbina in Bangladesh 18 months ago. She is a young woman leader who was confronting systematic discrimination against women in her village. It was hard for some girls to access education. Others were being married off young, and not at their choosing. Rejbina was committed to changing this entrenched situation. While others had given up, or felt that nothing would change, Rejbina was determined to move her village forward. As a young woman, fresh out of school, she knew she needed to access a new kind of leadership.
Rejbina’s role models for leadership were slim, and mostly detrimental. Old religious leaders, male heads of family who dominated the domestic sphere, and government representatives who were on the take were not the kind of leaders she wanted to be.
She realised she needed to invent a new way of leading that was true for her. And her secret was this: “A good leader loves the people she or he are working with.”
I find this incredibly profound.
With this new context for leading, Rejbina showed up fully herself. Love for her meant recognising the power inherent in every single person. She knew her village could solve their problems. She didn’t buckle under expectations based on her gender, age and experience.
When she took me around her small village, I met women who had formed a small income collective. I met 2 girls who were staying in school due to Rejbina’s persuasive conversation with the parents. The light in Rejbina’s eyes said it all. Everyone was equal. Everyone mattered. And everyone deserved a chance to live a life of dignity.
When I think of leadership and love I wonder – What could leadership look like if we explored this and lived it?
Currently, what passes for leadership is just really old and really tired. It’s a mixture of tropes, domination, manipulation and bravado. It’s a fight seemingly for success, but it’s mostly about avoiding a primal fear of failure. It is driven by fear and a win/lose mindset.
For Rejbina, she had believed unconsciously that essential to being a leader meant you have to ‘shout a lot and wave your hands about” – that was what she had seen ‘leaders’ do. This was never going to be her, or her style, so she had opted out.
Until being given the opportunity to reimagine herself as a leader, in the way that felt true to her expressing her full self.
We can give ourselves this gift of imagining the type of leader we want to be by questioning our mindset about what leading is. Is it a dark art, only for the cold hearted? Or can it be a place where possibility shines and that expression is not rigidly contained? I believe it is the latter.
What would you, fully unleashed as a leader who loves, look like?
Can you love yourself enough to try? Can you see the people you want to serve – your colleagues, clients, customers – as beautifully human also? Each with their own potential to rise up and shine their light? How can you hold that space for them, and show them how?
Love is not soft. It is one of the hardest things to do – to lead from a place of compassion. To have the clarity to know what people are capable of, and call that forth. To not go into blame and justifications, but rather take responsibility because you know you are more than your failings or frustrations. To have a vision mighty enough that it inspires and raises us all.
I’m in for that!