In my work, I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership and the impact of leaders on organizational life. For quite some time now, I have found myself saying the following to the people with whom I work who are seeking to enhance their leadership and/or to become facilitators: Love the people you are leading. In fact, in my more bold moments I have been known to say: If you don’t love the people you are leading, you have no business being in leadership. This may sound pithy and trite or it may sound too “soft” for the business world, but I believe that if we allow ourselves to really live into this statement, the impact on us and those around us will be profound.
Recently a student reminded me that the psychologist Carl Rogers more or less said the same thing when he advocated relating to one’s client through the lens of unconditional positive regard. What Rogers believed and what I have found to be true is that when people recognise themselves as valued unconditionally they are much more likely to change than when these same people are only cared for conditionally. Rogers, of course, was referring to the therapist-client relationship. From my experience, the same can be said of the leader – subordinate relationship. Leaders, like therapists, are frequently engaged in seeking to support and/or challenge another’s behaviour. The problem is that people who do not feel genuinely accepted as they are will frequently respond to their leader with resistance and defensiveness. The great irony is that the more we accept people as they are, the more they will feel free to change to become the person they could be.This does not mean that underperforming is ok. It also does not mean that we accept poor behaviour in the workplace. It does mean, however, that the people we lead will more likely reach the high bar we set when they know in their bones that we first accept them as they are.