Collaborative Leadership and LOVE?

I was recently reading an article about the principles of ‘Collaborative Leadership’. The author suggested that “Principled Leadership’ required a leader to be clear about their own values as well as those of the organisation and be able to articulate them. The author then gave examples of the values that they believed embodied the concept of a true leader. These values were listed as:

Collaboration

Group wisdom

Honesty

Service

Equality

Transparency

Love

I was tracking pretty well in agreement with this list of values until I came to ‘LOVE’. The author noted this was a controversial word to use and explained their reasons in terms of ‘holding team members in positive regard’, suspending judgement and being open-hearted and compassionate. Their tag line was ‘We need to manage with courage, consistency, persistence and love’.

Imagine how many people would put their hands up to be a leader in your organisation if their position description stated they must ‘lead with love’?

The author may be well meaning but the use of language is so important and the expectations implied  by this phrase can be daunting. 

Even talking about ‘Compassionate Leadership’ can make some leaders uncomfortable with the implied expectations.

Being compassionate means to be motivated to help others by taking action that will assist with the alleviation of suffering and pain. This requires one to be able to recognize the pain and suffering of another. Compassion means ‘co-suffering’ and can be considered to be ‘feeling for another’ with warmth and care to ensure they receive help. 

It is true that we ourselves and our colleagues from time to time experience pain and/or suffering from external issues (like a illness or a financial or personal loss). But we can also experience pain from issues at work such as conflict with others, feeling bullied by others, stress from workload etc. However to be compassionate to the plight of others means we must invest emotion – to ‘co-suffer’ or to really ‘feel’ what the other is feeling. This can actually have some unintended negative effects on the leader who may become exhausted due to their emotional investment in every situation in which a team member is suffering. The leader could also become unconsciously biased toward a team member, showing favoritism, making lenient allowances for them etc. This is sure to create conflict with other team members.

In our leadership development workshops, we discuss being an ‘Empathetic Leader’. Being empathetic means that a leader has the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing and to understand this from the other person’s framework (lived experience, values etc). This is the skill of being able to ‘place oneself in the other person’s position’. One can be empathetic without having had the same experiences or without investing any emotion or feeling. This is because there are three types of empathy; cognitive, emotional and somatic. Emotional empathy is feeling the same emotions as the other. An example of this is literally feeling the same excitement as a colleague when they have been given a promotion. Somatic empathy is defined as actually physically feeling someone else’s pain. For example if a colleague stubs their toe on the desk, you may also feel that physical pain as well. Cognitive empathy is having in intellectual understanding of the other person’s situation; being able to ‘see’ things from the other person’s perspective without attaching any emotion to the situation or feeling any emotion or pain.

Leaders have a high level of demand placed on them. Managing this is important for their health and for success in their roles. So in leadership development workshops, it is very important to assist the leader with strategies to best manage their energy levels over each day and over the long term.

One strategy is for participants to learn to develop their cognitive empathy skills and engage these skills often in the workplace. Being able to explore all three types of empathy is important for awareness raising and to allow leaders to make an informed and conscious choice about which type of empathy they are using.  We place an emphasis on cognitive empathy, explaining what it is and why it is important that leaders draw on and apply this skill in the workplace.

If you would like more information about our leadership program designed to support leaders in a range of skill development areas including how to minimise the risk of emotional exhaustion, please click here.

To view the original article on our website click here

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