Love is a Leadership Style

I sat down this afternoon to write a pithy and insightful 2020 letter. One of those beautifully articulated lists that inspires with lessons learnt, barriers overcome, summits reached. My fingers have other plans. All they want to do is type a love letter. This is it.

Today I went over She Leads Change impact metrics, participant feedback and programme outcomes. All good indicators of excellent progress. Yet, I’m left with a nagging feeling that what we really do in terms of impact is much bigger than the quants of attendee participation, satisfaction surveys, reputation marks and any of that information. What we actually do for each other feels vast, deep and immeasurable. 

“What we actually do for each other feels vast, deep and immeasurable.”

Perhaps, we are rehearsing a better way of being human. For me this means that – in its essence –  this organisation is an experiment in leading with love.

Writing that feels awkward. I’m educated and successful in the way of capitalism: commerce, hierarchies, power, competition and internal politics. Love is the language of alternative cultures, of private moments – does it have a place in the hard-edged world of work?

Yes. YES. Now, at the cusp of a new decade, we need to meet the overwhelming challenges of environmental destruction and inequality and astutely leverage quantum opportunities in technology and system change for the good of all. We can’t do this with the same mental and emotional models that created the challenges we face. We need to create conditions for everyone’s potential to be realised, for the full scale of human ingenuity to be released, to have any chance of thriving into 2030. 

Perhaps the language of love is exactly what is needed to rise to meet the next 10 years. This is an approach to each other that is no longer about efficiency, or relationships that are transactional – but about a deeper sense of a sacred, shared, vulnerable humanity. Alongside an understanding of work as one’s own small role in a connected collective towards a much bigger scheme of positive outcomes. A leaders role then becomes creating the conditions for this language to be spoken. And each of us – no matter our profession, organisational level or age – needs to lead. 

When I look back on the last two years and our ‘impact’ and ‘achievements’ at She Leads Change – my primary reflection is gratitude for being part of an organisation that is learning its way into these new ways of being.  There is a difference in the way we relate to each other that I haven’t experienced in any previous work environment. Not because it’s perfect but because of the intention and attention to care for each other and for what we do, that underpins it. Together with those who participate, manage, facilitate, advise, coach, and mentor we have created a unique learning culture. She Leads Change operates from a hopeful place of the best of what’s possible for all of us. It is powered by love.

“There is a difference in the way we relate to each other that I haven’t experienced in any previous work environment.”

Trying to define love as a leadership style is like putting a price tag on nature – its true value is beyond our current ways of seeing. However, these are some of the things that stand out for me at She Leads Change:

Acceptance: Everything is fine. How you show up. What you do. What you know – or don’t. What you bring. How you’re feeling. How it all fits together. It’s all good! We have had all the extremes of being – people come bounding joy and people fall apart. Everyone is themselves as they are in any present moment. If you fail, if you act out, if you do something brilliant. If you’re in pain. If you’re unlikeable. If you’re over-excited. If you take-over. If you’re shy. If you’re vulnerable. It’s you, and that’s fine. And it’s fine for others and that helps make its fine for each of us. It’s about self-acceptance too. Show yourself. Know yourself. Be yourself. We can work with that. That’s not just ok, that’s pure gold.

Respect: We recognise each other’s individual brilliance and actively look for ways to appreciate, shine up, share and honour it. And we don’t anticipate anything less from each other. In our mutual respect – we hold each other to our highest selves, the best version possible. There is no not speaking up, hiding or competing. We each feel confident to speak out, knowing we are heard with respect. We couldn’t possibly compete as we are each respected for things that are unique.

Purpose: We are all deeply committed to positive change. Not necessarily the identical change. Not necessarily a change we all articulate in the same way. Some focus on ‘she’, some on ‘lead’ and some on ‘change’. But we are all connected and inspired by the transformational possibility inherent in our work toward better people, organisations – and the world.

Belonging: She Leads Change is home. We can kick back and chat. We make tough decisions and hold courageous conversations. Our container is strong enough to hold it all. It is a safe space. It is a cocoon for us each to become something new and better. An ongoing personal transformation that’s not always comfortable or convenient. But deeply nourishing.

 Collaboration: We each have a place in the whole. We each take on responsibilities and ‘lead’ on specific things.  Each contribution, no matter how big or small, is valuable and necessary. Yet, we try to keep a sense of where everyone else is and to step-in, step-forward or step-up when needed. We take real delight in each other’s achievements.We can take polar views or styles and find a different way – often a better way. 

Learning: We don’t always get it right. Sometimes we trip up badly. Sometimes I trip up badly! So we figure out different ways. Together. We frame it all as an experiment so we can hold things lightly. And we can try out new things and then other new things until we figure out what works. We are never the experts – we are always fellow learners on the same journey. 

For me, it’s been a becoming. I’m slowly becoming Nicola – the one I’ve always wanted to be, was perhaps always meant to be – but couldn’t quite find the right place to be. It’s been about rounding out sharp elbows, balancing chipped shoulders, setting constructive boundaries, removing socialised masks and disobeying outdated social norms. Basking in the unconditional support of a team I respect greatly, I’ve been able to delight in my gifts and shine more brightly than I thought would ever be possible. I’ve done some amazing things and made some dreadful mistakes – and yet – everyone has seen me through it. As one team member said ‘We’ve got your back – and your front!”.

“Basking in the unconditional support of a team I respect greatly, I’ve been able to delight in my gifts and shine more brightly than I thought would ever be possible.”

The 2020’s look to be a monumental decade. It is a time where each of us needs to become, each of us needs to lead and all of us need to love. I am so grateful for this foundation we have created and thank each of you who has contributed. I can’t wait to see what happens next!  And for my part, I commit to continuing this experiment on my individual and our organisational level. And hope that somewhere, somehow the ripples of possibility touch you and catalyse or support your own becoming.

With love and gratitude for the privilege of leading and learning with you all, 

Nicola 

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