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Can We Create Room for Love in Leadership?

“Real isn’t how you are made”, said the Skin Horse. It is something that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real. “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked. “Or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes fall out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you become Real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

– The Velveteen Rabbit

I read Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit to my children, Matt and Dara, often when they were young. We read it so frequently that after a while I was not even reading it to them – they were reciting it to me from memory. As they grew older, it became a book we read at Easter which prompted my reflection on it at this sacred time. And yet it wasn’t until my son married his partner and it was read at their wedding that I began to really get it. Our work on this earth is to become more and more of ourselves – to transform into who we were intended to be in all of our respective splendor and with all of our foibles clothed in love and compassion. At the heart of that very personal transformation is love. What matters is love based on warmth, caring, and sincere connection with others which sustains and is sustainable over time. Although that can be romantic love, it’s not. This a different type of love. In the case of The Velveteen Rabbit, the Rabbit is loved and cared about by another so consistently and unconditionally that all of the surface is rubbed off to reveal the true nature of Rabbit. Rabbit is revealed. It is good. It is exquisite. And it is powerful. All made possible by that different type of love. In my experiences working with leaders, the true nature of who we are starts with learning to accept, love, and care for ourselves – unconditionally. As we move through our respective journeys of self-awareness and discovery, acceptance, and self-care, we release the need for power and in doing so we become more powerful. We release the need for striving and in doing so we thrive. We release our shame and in doing so we shine. And we release the need to be rewarded and in doing so we experience abundance. Once we love ourselves with fullness, we have the capacity to love and serve others with incredible generosity. We begin to connect with those we work with as people versus as commodities. Real connection anchored in meaningful purpose promotes high levels of engagement and results. And it matters. But is there room for love in leadership? Or better yet – is there room to even speak the word, let alone create the space for love in leadership? Cultivating a culture anchored in love, trust, and benevolence does not mean sacrificing results. In fact, it enhances results. Cultivating this type of culture does not mean daily group hugs or a rousing round of Kumbaya. It does however mean:
  • Truly seeing and connecting with your authentic self and those with whom you work
  • Showing up authentically and fully present. Put the phones and the laptop down when talking with one another, so that you can show up in love, care and compassion.
  • Remaining alert to and reflecting on the emotions you are showing up with to your teams. What impact is that having on them? On the culture? On engagement?
  • Smiling more often. It not only lights up your face and the face of others, but has the potential to light up a room or a critical moment.
  • Model what you want. It gives way for others to feel permission to behave similarly.
Consider this – love in the workplace just might be your competitive advantage. The more we work to uncover love in yourself and others, we become more Real. Rabbit is, in fact, Real. As I said before, when my son married his partner and they brilliantly shared a passage from The Velveteen Rabbit, I started to get it for the first time. Approximately 95% of the people celebrating with him and his husband had never been to a gay wedding. None of them – none of us – knew what to expect. Some people were hardened to the idea of gay marriage. Some were scared of it and what it would mean for Matt and Andrew. And some were simply curious. But by the end of the ceremony, ALL of us got it. Love is what matters. Love is what is sustainable. And love is what gives us the courage to stand firmly in who we really are. And that is what’s Real. Can you create room for that in your leadership?