During my career in human resources I have had the opportunity to work with leaders at all levels, from the executive boardroom to the shop floor. During this time I have seen many displays of leadership. But it was a VP of HR early on in my career that showed me the most fundamental leadership lesson – that leadership at its core is a choice between love and fear.
Unlock Your Leadership Potential By Choosing Love Over Fear
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
– John Quincy Adams
As my story begins, this VP was new to the company and had never held a position at such a high level. The company was in a difficult financial position. There was no getting past the fact revenues were declining and customers were leaving. The economy was bad. News stories of job losses and company closures were predominant. Fear, it seemed, was around every corner.
Leading by fear was how this VP showed up every day. If you have ever read the Dilbert cartoons, she personified Catbert, “The Evil Director of Human Resources.” She would yell at employees and degrade their self-worth. She was self-serving and political with the executive team, and was always actively looking for ways to punish employees, especially hers. She even let out an evil cackle you could hear down the hallway as she leaned back in her chair, placed her palms together and wiggled her fingers. No exaggeration.
At first it seemed hopeless. I believed I was stuck in a horrible job in a bad economy. Thankfully I was wrong.
I didn’t report directly to her. I had another immediate manager who made the choice to lead with love. She believed in me and saw my potential more than I did in myself. She was always there to coach and guide me, and allowed me to learn and grow. She recognized my contributions and set me up for success, all during this difficult time for her as well. No doubt she sheltered me from the worst of it.
Yet the truth is I will always be grateful to them both. They each taught me the same lesson.
In the same company circumstances, one chose love and the other fear.
I believe you can make that choice too.
Recognize your emotions
To be human is to experience emotions – and either love or fear is the primary emotion that governs our lives. The choice we make determines how we treat others, but it begins within each of us.
At the root of every negative emotion is fear. If you are angry, jealous, worried, upset, distrustful, anxious, hurt, insecure and so on, you are coming from a place of fear. That fear is predicated on a sense of loss — loss of status, loss of possessions, loss of acceptance, loss of perceived control over circumstances, and so on. This is your lesser self.
The latter feelings I call worldly feelings, the former feelings I call soul feelings. Lots of people gain the world and lose their soul.
– Anthony de Mello
In oour digital age and “always-on” culture, we are all guilty of sacrificing reflection for responsiveness.
Turn off the cellphone and laptop for 5-10 minutes and give yourself the gift of quiet time to reflect. Ask yourself where you were at your best and your worst during the day. How did you feel in those moments? Which came from love, and which from fear?
I believe each of us can make this time. You just need to start.
Guard your thoughts
Researchers have conducted many studies as to how many thoughts a person has in a day, with the numbers ranging anywhere between 12,000 and 70,000 per day. As many as 98% of them are exactly the same as we had the day before – and 80% of those thoughts are negative.
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Lao Tzu
Your thoughts are a conscious or unconscious choice that come from love or fear. Your thoughts impact everyone you meet. Your thoughts shape your future, and can shape theirs as well.
I am not suggesting a utopian existence. Life is complex and no one is perfect. There is both love and fear in our daily reality.
The question is, where do you spend the majority of your thought time?
I believe even a slight shift in the majority of our thinking can unlock a vast amount of potential.
Shift your focus from “me” to “we”
There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.
– Simon Sinek (more quotes)
My former manager could have easily been concerned about how this toxic work environment was impacting her personally. Or she could have tried to manipulate the conditions to her political advantage, or gain the acceptance of the VP.
At the very least she could have kept her head down until she was able to find another job. Many would say she had every right to do so. But she didn’t. She made a different choice. She took the focus off the “me” and shifted it to the “we.”
She made the decision to show up as her highest self and do the best she could in the circumstances. She considered the needs of her team over her own. She stood up to the VP when terrible decisions impacting people were about to be made. She was determined to portray a sense of humor and optimism in the face of a bad situation.
Whether she knew it at the time, her simple choice was an inspiration to me and to those around her.
I made the determined decision to pay that love forward if I ever managed people. So did many of the other colleagues I worked with that I keep in touch with today.
Although I will be the first to say I have been a far from perfect leader, she inspired me to be consciously aware of how I lead others – and where it comes from – as well as to consider the legacy I will leave.
I believe many of you have a similar story to mine.
I believe there are more people who fundamentally want to lead from their highest self than not.
And I believe that leading at your highest potential starts with a simple decision – to choose love over fear.
Will you believe with me?