Leading from love: a new research project
“….the edgiest word to use at the moment isn’t f**k, piss or shit. It’s love. That’s what really makes people’s buttocks clench. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s counterintuitive, but it ultimately makes you stronger. And that’s a very hard thing to grasp.”
Not my words. The actor, Steve Coogan’s. But they really resonate.
I have become increasingly interested in love. As we go about the business of creating and encouraging change, what might happen if we put love at the heart of our practice. When many organisations have some pretty shocking and dehumanizing management practices, how can we counter those? In leadership and in organisational development, we often ask ‘what’s the difference that could make the difference?’ Could love – whatever that might look like – be the difference? Personally, I know that it can and does and I want to explore this more widely for organisations and leadership.
One of things I noticed when I first starting talking about love is how many people didn’t like using the word. It felt as though they wanted to steer me onto safer ground. ‘You don’t mean love, though, do you? You mean compassion or empathy, don’t you’. No, I don’t, actually, I mean love. ‘Well it’s about engagement, I guess’. No, it’s about love, I guess.
Why does it feel so uncomfortable?
Do you find it uncomfortable to talk about love? I used to. But not now. When I introduce myself to groups or, if a coaching client asks what approach underpins my work, I might say something about the principles of self managed learning or the important of including intentional practice. But I also often say something like ‘but I am increasingly finding it all comes down to love’. I usually notice a reaction of surprise. And then usually a curiosity, and a softening … and people often tell me that they find it surprising, but also human. And many people are interested in talking about it more.
Having already completed a series of in depth interviews, the first stage of the research project was a survey of 75 leaders over the summer of 2018. Leaders from across all sectors. 55% either Director or at Board level. 34% from organisations with over 5000 people. I asked how important was leading from love and how comfortable they felt about the idea. I asked about what it could look like in practice and what could be possible if there was more of it.
The findings are fascinating and the write-up of the research won the Roffey Park Research Competition. You can download the report on this page. You might like this post here, exploring how talking about love is problematic, in a blog that I wrote for Meaning Conference 2019.
I’ve run two workshops recently, in November. One for OD folk that took my research as a starting point, then went deeper into how our practice in HR and OD might need to be bolder, and factor in love if we really want to make difference in our organisations that are facing some pretty tough times. You can see a write-up of the event here. The second was at Meaning Conference which was also rich and deep conversation with a range of leaders and consultants covering similar ground.
I’m speaking at a couple of conferences early next year – one for the Higher Education sector and another for the Public Service People Management Association as well as the ODN Europe Conference. I’ll add details as soon as I have them.
Over the next year or so I’ll continue the research and will be:
- Introducing you to leaders who are already working in this way and what’s happening as a result
- Getting practical and suggesting examples of what mainstream and also radical leadership and OD practice might look like if love is the main driver
- Drawing on the work of others and sharing resources
- …and inviting you to join me by commenting, trying some things out, sharing your own examples and stories, and pointing me in the direction of other likeminded people.
I’m looking forward to seeing what I learn, and sharing that with you. And please do forward this link and the research report to anyone else who might be interested.