Helena Clayton | Leading from Love: new research



Leading from Love: new research

07 Jul 2018, Posted by Helena Clayton in Work as Love in Action

“….my adage is that 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, it ultimately makes you stronger. And that’s a very hard thing to grasp.”

Not my words. Steve Coogan’s. But they really resonate.

Many of you know I have become increasingly interested in love. As leaders, as we go about the business of creating and encouraging change, what might happen if we put love at the heart of our practice. 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.

It’s provocative
One of things I noticed when I first starting talking about love in relation to leadership 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, 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 it’s much easier 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. I feel it strengthens our relationship, in some way

I wondered why it appeared to feel so uncomfortable. And I was reminded what Bob Marshak says about what goes underground in organisations, what rarely gets spoken about. In Covert Process in Organisations, he names several things that are taboo subjects … emotions, our fears, hidden agendas. And also aspirations – it’s somehow not acceptable to talk about our hopes and dreams, and what we long for. If it’s true of aspirations, I imagine that the same goes for love, even though it’s not expressly on Marshak’s list.

Starting the work
So I’m doing a piece of research. Having already completed a series of in depth interviews, the next stage of the research project – this inquiry – is via a survey. I’ll be exploring our responses to love at work and leading from love, working out what it could look like in practice and identifying what could be possible if there was more of it.

I’ve started to write about it in blogs like this one, for example, where I explore our blocks to love.  And this one where I ask about the role acceptance plays in leadership.

So, if you are in a leadership or senior line management role with responsibility for managing people and creating culture, I would really like to hear from you. And I would really appreciate you forwarding this blog – or the link to the survey –  to others so I can extend the reach of the research.  I would love to get 100 response by mid September.

You can take the 10 minute survey here.

Then what?
Then, based on the findings and a series of interviews and case studies, in blogs and articles and workshops, I’ll introduce you to leaders who are already working in this way and what’s happening as a result; suggest examples of what mainstream and also radical leadership and OD practice might look like if love is the main driver (I’ll be getting really practical) 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.

And in November you can find me at Meaning Conference 2018 where I’ll be running a Leading from Love workshop as part of the Meaning Fringe on 16 November.  If you haven’t been to Meaning yet, do take a look – it’s an amazing event.  And maybe come and explore ‘leading with love’ with me too?


  • Tracy Jackson

    This is a fascinating concept. I can’t wait to hear more … I LOVE it!! Well done Helena for pushing our boundaries, there is something really quite special here.

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