Several years ago I attended a seminar hosted by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin called, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. As you can imagine, several of my law enforcement peers opted not to attend because they got hung up on the word “emotional.” For them, it was too mushy and gooey a word to provide any real substance. Turns out, it was one of the most informative seminars I’ve ever attended; I truly believe everyone, not just law enforcement, can benefit from his teaching.
The English language has trigger words, like emotional, that get hijacked by our pop-culture filter, leaving us with a very narrow understanding of their meaning. The word love is another such word. We steer away from its use because of its mushy, ushy, gooeyness and end up with only a cursory understanding of its meaning and, more importantly, its power.
If you’ve read my blog posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I strongly believe leaders can be found at every level within an organization, not just within positions of authority and title. While I believe this message is beneficial for every leader in every circumstance, for the moment, allow me to direct my thoughts to those leaders who are actually in positions of authority and title, having subordinates or employees, and say: You must love your staff!
All too often we think of love in terms of emotional endearment and affection (mushy, ushy, gooeyness); a liking if you will. Therefore the statement, “Love your staff,” runs contrary to our contextual comprehension of the business environment. This is especially true when we realize that we don’t necessarily like all of our employees; and we certainly don’t like all of them all of the time. So what does it mean?
I define love, in this context, as the ability to deliberately choose right and positive actions toward a person or thing. It is a word of action, not feeling. Choosing to love, then, gives one the opportunity to supersede personal feelings and agendas and rightly relate themselves to any circumstance.
Let me explain by way of example. You have an employee who is habitually tardy. You give them a pass the first two or even three times, then they stop even attempting to get to work on time and certainly show no remorse for their tardiness. This brings their reliability into question, is unfair to their coworkers, and compromises the organizational mission—to say nothing of taking advantage of your benevolence!
There are generally two reactions to this type of behavior. The first is one of heavy-handedness, which seeks to punish the employee for flagrant policy violations—an example must be made! That reaction likely comes from bravado or false courage and does not reflect authentic leadership. The second is one of continued permissiveness, never addressing the matter directly. That reaction likely stems from fear or uncertainty and again, does not reflect authentic leadership. There is a third option, motivated by love, which is one of right action. This response points to authentic leadership, whose genesis flows from a desire to see the employee’s behavior modified in such a manner that they rightly relate themselves to policy, coworkers, and mission. In other words, it comes from a desire to see the employee do right.
Loving our employees—rightly relating to them—is easy when things are going well. When things are “broken,” however, there’s a tremendous temptation to react negatively and inject our own feelings and agendas. Authentic leaders are those who seek always to encourage others to strive to attain higher and better ways of being and doing.
Loving your staff is not about emotional feelings; rather, it is about desiring their greatest good.
4:30 a.m. comes very early in the morning! The alarm sounds off breaking the warm, cozy silence and dares me to hit the snooze button. Time to get up! What follows is an amazing volley of justifications and excuses for why I should stay in bed. You don’t really need to go to the gym. Who are you trying to impress anyway? It’s not like you’re training for the Olympics!
Raise your hand if you’ve had that conversation with yourself…okay, put your hands down. This is an all too common dialogue we have with ourselves, whether trying to quit smoking, learn to play the ukulele, or implementing any program aimed at tighter abdominal muscles.
One of my oldest friends is a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for a high school football team on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While the players may think that he’s there to help them get stronger, run faster, and play harder, the real conditioning those kids are getting is one of leadership and success.
He tells his players that before they can win the battle on the field, they must win the battle between their ears—not just today, but every day. He knows that late in the fourth quarter, the mind will fabricate all kinds of reasoning and justification for quitting. Too tired. Not strong enough. They’re a better team. You can’t win. He knows the mind will spew vile thoughts of defeat, just to test your resolve and see how determined you are in achieving your goals. A few will overcome; most will succumb.
The reality of life is that the biggest challenges we face are not external, but internal. It’s overcoming the obstacles of our own thoughts. Most people’s financial problems have nothing to do with math. The majority of relationship challenges are not about Mr. or Mrs. Right. And nearly every leadership problem has the mind at its root, not lack of skill.
Winning the battle between the ears is what Steven Pressfield calls “doing the work,” in his book The War of Art. It is settling the argument in your mind and doing what needs to be done. Not just today, but every day.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tse