Leading with Love

Work is love made visible – Kahlil Gibran

The first time I ever heard of Agape love in the context of work, I was baffled. After working for organizations like GE that were dynamic and result driven, I didn’t usually associate ‘love’ with large corporations. Not until I heard a keynote address by Fred Kofman at one of the Cisco leadership events. In his book, Conscious Business, he writes about how the Greeks saw Agape as the noblest form of love. or a commitment to other’s well-being.

He goes on to say that Agape is not a feeling. It’s what we cultivate. It comes from the soul. Agape is a commitment, independent of our likes and dislikes. So what happens when we begin to think of business and leadership as acts of service and love? How does it transform teamwork? What potential does it have to propel young careers? The answer is: Magic. In immeasurable ways. Here are 4 stories that serve as reminders:

Leadership of Kindness

During one of my recent business trips, I made a horrifying discovery. On opening my hand baggage, I realized that I had run out of prescription medication because of a leak in the bottle. The mere probability of no medicine for an entire week was a nightmare. I had a doctor’s prescription but of course it wasn’t a US-based, doctor prescription! But thanks to my colleague’s kindness, I went from “Oh my! How can I resolve this in 24 hours?!” to “Done” in less than 2 hours!

It took extraordinary kindness and generosity from a colleague who changed the situation from ‘problem’ to ‘resolved’ in lightning speed. Before I knew, she had booked an Uber for us. She had the foresight to plan our arrival at the Minute Clinic 20 minutes before they open. She waited with me till I finished my appointment and collected my medicine. Sarah led the way, without even being asked!

The Marcus Buckingham Company (now acquired by ADP), conducted a StandOut Global Engagement Index study a couple of years ago. One of the 8 items on the Engagement Pulse is in the area of Support and states: “My team mates have my back“. My colleague Sarah, showed empathy, supported me when I needed, and followed up with tangible action. This was a non-work related problem. And yet, it was a powerful moment of truth and trust for me.

Engagement to the team, the work we do, and to our organizations begin at an emotional level (not at an intellectual level). The head kicks in when the heart and gut are aligned.

Leadership of Listening 

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting a Cisco exec for a leadership coaching session. We had never met before. Our meeting was face-to-face. During our 2+ hour discussion, I know his phone kept begging for attention. And his laptop kept receiving notifications. But he didn’t reach out to either device, even once. He was fully present and listened deeply. I knew this conversation meant something to him. I knew that he truly cared. And the power of his commitment was evident in the engagement scores of his team.

23 of his 29 team members chose to respond to his survey request. That’s a nearly 80% response rate. And the results were off the chart impressive. The team clearly indicated high levels of trust and confidence in the leader. Importantly, they were emotionally engaged. When I asked him what the data meant to him, his response did not surprise me (especially after what I observed during our conversation). His eyes lit up when he said he cared about their success as human beings and professionals, within and beyond the realm of their careers at Cisco. It was a true example of leading with love, care, and commitment towards his team, business, and the organization.

Leadership of Abundance

Earlier this week, my dear friend and former team member in IBM excitedly talked about the new developments in her career. She was thrilled to have found a sponsor and mentor coach who was helping her build a list of coaching clients. The mentor coach went out of her way and provided incredible support. She genuinely (and joyously) believed in my friend’s capability to go places. In fact, her elation on my friend’s potential seem to know no bounds. I asked my friend what this meant to her and she said:

“In the spirit of See the Tree, Not just the Seedling, my mentor saw the flourishing tree in me. She generously built my confidence. She said my coaching capabilities were higher than practitioner level and that I could enroll directly in the master level. What’s more? She actually shared project artifacts that she had used before to enable my success here in India.”

In a world that often (and fearfully) operates in a scarcity mindset, how’s that for leading with love! A mentor coach with 5000+ hours of coaching experience was elated at creating success for another coach. By paying forward her wealth of wisdom and experience, she created hope and endless possibilities for my friend.

Leadership of Generosity

As a life-long student of music (and now social media, blogging, and writing), this illustration by the incredible Doug Savage is painfully true at times! Whether it’s music or blogging, the struggle is real. It takes time, effort, endurance, and stamina to plan and execute on a disciplined schedule.

In June 2017, I had a great coaching call with my social media coach and teacher, Mark Schaefer. My brain was on fire with all the ideas he so generously shared. But make no mistake! Some days are harder than others. In his much-read blog post, “How to get off your ass and start blogging”, he addressed many of my fears and his no. 1 advice was: Begin. 

(Well) begun is half done. The other half of the challenge is to persevere at my craft, no matter what. So when we closed our call that day, he said: “I believe in you. And I believe in what you’re doing.” When someone who has spent more than 30 years in marketing, has written 7 books (and counting), and is considered one of the top 10 marketing influencers in the world says that, you find your confidence back again. Suddenly, blogging once a week didn’t seem so daunting anymore. He gave me the courage to keep at it. He also took a leap of faith and generously gave me the opportunity to guest blog on his website.

All You Need is Love

When you consider these stories of kindness, listening, an abundance mindset, and generosity, it’s not difficult to see that love is at the very heart of leadership. In teams, organizations, projects, and collaboration efforts, it is the foundation of all human interactions.

No it doesn’t always look like Red Velvet Cake but the joy that comes from enabling others to succeed is truly priceless. Leading with love doesn’t require title or authority. It doesn’t stem from privilege or entitlement. Instead, it guides and connects, invests and inspires, and moves people to transformation and action.

How are you shining the light on the people and communities you lead and serve? I’d love to hear from you.

References: Let Love Inspire Your Leadership by Meghan M Biro 


Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.

THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS. 

2 thoughts on “Leading with Love”

    1. Care and compassion help drive real engagement, at the heart. The head will then, follow, without too much trouble. Thank you for commenting regularly on my posts. It means a lot to me.

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