We are in the second month of 2021, and I challenged myself to think about what I learned in 2020 that I truly want to become a habit. For me, it was that we need more love, empathy, and compassion for one another. It is February, which is Heart Health Month, and according to Google, the five most common heart health habits are not smoking, not dining out every night, not – not exercising, not getting too stressed out, and not having too many cocktails. However, what if we went beyond just the physical aspect of heart health and exercised our heart emotionally through our ability to give and receive love? What if we embodied unconditional love freely, no price tag attached? What if we even took it a step further and applied this concept of love to work? What if we became leaders of love?
Many studies have shown that a healthy and supportive relationship—be it romantic, familial, friendship, leadership, or otherwise—can be linked to higher self-esteem, increased sense of self-worth, and improved self-confidence. Love, no matter what form it comes in, helps people incorporate safer behaviors into their everyday lives, reduces anxiety (worry, nervousness), lowers the chance of developing depression or another form of mental illness, and increases flourishing and thriving.
We are well into the 4th Industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) which is digitizing and changing our lives and I am sure we all can agree that Industry 4.0 holds major implications for employees, and, as such, organizations must consider the mental health of their workers. To cope with and find meaning in this major transformation, which is looming, employees need to flourish and thrive at work.
And love may be the answer.
Army Colonel Joe Ricciardi grew interested in the idea of love at work almost 10 years ago when he was training to lead 2000 soldiers to clear the roads of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan. As he prepared for deployment, a general shared one piece of advice: “just love your soldiers.” Ricciardi took that advice to heart, shared it with his soldiers in the field, and later returned home to earn his Ph.D. in values-driven leadership. Ricciardi once asked a room of soldiers “So, how does love influence leadership?”
A nervous energy moved through the room. “I got a few funny stares, I saw a few smirks,” Ricciardi recalls. “But after reinforcing the concept I realized that they ‘got it’ – they understood.” Why did it feel so awkward to be told to love your colleagues? Ricciardi wanted to know.
Through his Ph.D. research in values-driven leadership, Ricciardi identified that “a team member who feels ‘loved’ by his boss is significantly more likely to see his boss as a good leader.” Leading your employees is a natural outgrowth of loving them. So, what does the relationship between love and leadership look like in the workplace? Drawing from research in psychology and other fields, Ricciardi’s research showed that the three factors of love, “intimacy, passion, and commitment,” showed a strong positive correlation to leadership, but intimacy dwarfs them all. “Intimacy rules because if you’ve invested the time, emotion, and positive energy into building an intimate relationship with your team, you will have demonstrated commitment and your passion will shine through,” he says.
The Importance Of Intimacy In The Workplace
One of the best leaders Ricciardi ever worked for mastered this skill. The senior executive knew the spouse’s names, children’s birthdays, and anniversaries of his team members. “I would come in on a Monday, and he would ask me about something I did that weekend that I forgot ever mentioning to him,” Ricciardi recalls. The executive was sincere and authentic in his concern.
In your workplace, establishing intimacy may be as simple as taking a few extra minutes a day to notice new family photos on cubicle walls and pausing to ask about them; or remembering a special event and sending a simple handwritten note.
Intimacy does not have to equal romance. A leader can establish intimacy by affirming the company’s commitment to the personal goals of team members. When a team member identifies a priority such as being at her child’s sports games, the manager will work to make this possible. This can be even bigger such as helping employees with even bigger goals around financial wellbeing like helping an employee who wants to buy a home establish a savings plan or learn about real estate or mortgages.
Just last year, Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller learned that the way to ensure a happy, productive workplace is to treat every employee like family, which means loving them. Now he is challenging all CEO’s to do the same.
Habits Of The Heart
This article is an invitation to explore the possibilities and potential of framing leadership and followership in the workplace as an act of love. We all know that when we give and receive love, it improves our wellbeing. We also are all leaders in some form. So how can we find other ways to lead with a different approach, a different framework, a different perspective that allows all people and leaders the ability to reconnect with their love? The love of their family, their work, their employees, their community, and even their country and planet to thrive and be well.
An adaptation from Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011) says:
“The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy?” – by Terry Tempest Williams
This passage gave me great pause and I became verklempt. I discovered, “Habits of the Heart” (a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville) are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involves our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose. In Palmer’s book, “Healing” he believes that these five interlocked habits are critical to sustaining a democracy:
Habit 1: We’re all in this together: we humans are a profoundly interconnected species—entwined with one another and with all forms of life. We must embrace the simple fact that we are dependent upon and accountable to one another, and that includes the stranger, the “alien other.”
Habit 2: Appreciation of otherness: An appreciation of the value of “otherness.” It is true that we are all in this together. It is equally true that we spend most of our lives in “tribes” or lifestyle enclaves—and that thinking of the world in terms of “us” and “them” is one of the many limitations of the human mind. The good news is that “us and them” do not have to mean “us versus them.” Instead, it can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger and give us a chance to translate it into twenty-first-century terms.
Habit 3: Capacity to hold tension creatively: An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. Our lives are filled with inner and outer contradictions—our behavior sometimes belies our aspirations, while the world around us sometimes denies what we value and believe to be true. If we fail to hold these contradictions creatively, they will shut us down and take us out of the action. But if we allow their tensions to expand our minds and hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance other people’s lives
Habit 4: Sense of Voice and Agency: Insight and energy give rise to a new life as we speak out and act out our own version of the truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. But many of us lack confidence in our own voices and in our power to make a difference. We grow up in educational and religious institutions that treat us as members of an audience instead of actors in a drama, and as a result, we become adults who treat politics as a spectator sport. And yet it remains possible for us, young and old alike, to find our voices, learn how to speak them, and know the satisfaction that comes from contributing to positive change—if we have the support of a community.
Habit 5: Habit to Create Community: A capacity to create community. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice, by creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can help us find the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. There are many ways to plant and cultivate the seeds of community in our personal and local lives.
As I re-read and evaluate these habits of the heart, it becomes clear that integrating this ethos into the workplace will create the conditions for all of us to lead with and through love. By defining these habits of heart, all people can become leaders in their own domain and start to adopt these habits into their existing practice and find ways to enact new practices that create cultures of meaning, purpose, belonging, and love at work, home, and community.
Love may not solve every problem, but it certainly can help. When you start to create a habit that you love, it can become a ritual. Something you look forward to, which becomes easier to sustain. I learned how important daily rituals are from Dr. Jack Groppel over 22 years ago, and it changed my life. Groppel is an internationally recognized authority and pioneer in the science of human performance, and an expert in fitness, nutrition, and thriving and co-founder of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute, as well as Professor of Business and Exercise & Sport Science at Judson University. I recently heard a clip from his talk at the Global Wellness Summit in October 2017 and he states “Businesses today must care about the entire individual (mind, body, spirit), it means empathy, care and yes love! So maybe leaders should consider bringing more love to work. Perhaps more love in our workplace can be our greatest opportunity.
Colleen Reilly, Contributor
I cover positive change for individuals and organizations.