Love isn't something that most executives spend a lot of time thinking about. It generally occurs as a burden or an afterthought. Something we pay lip-service to, and use to correctly apply the "shit-sandwich" to our clients and staff (one of my client's brilliantly referred to the "open-faced shit-sandwich" as providing only a dose of love at the end, rather than the start and end). However, love is crucial to leadership. It's one of the things that most high-performers do not have a lot of access to, and it's what gets in the way of them taking on what's next, not only in their careers, but also their relationships (with themselves and others).
No surprises here, that's been my relationship with it as well. This week, it's started to show up just a little differently. Here's some perspective I've generated on both the light and the dark side. As you read it, look for yourself and see what you can distinguish about your own relationship with love, both in work, and every other area of your life.
First, let's talk about the dark side.
This past weekend, I’d enrolled my team in sourcing a place for me to stay while I was in San Diego, leading our coach training. My colleague, Nicki Gorini, was generous enough to offer me her place and a ride to and from our training. Fantastic.
We had a tremendous weekend together. I stepped in to lead the new team of leaders that were going to be running our quarterly program, giving me the opportunity to be with more fear, confrontation, and, as is always the case, more possibility.
Confrontation takes a lot out of you. Simply being with confrontation is challenging in itself. Actively choosing, and then choosing over and over again, to relax into it and allow yourself to experience what is happening, instead of resisting it, is another level.
This morning, before flying back home, Nicki and I met up for breakfast with another colleague, Brian. We sat together eating breakfast, enjoying each other’s company, while I stayed grumpy and snippy.
Well, I sat in denial of this fact. “Oh, I’m not being that bad”, I would think. “Oh, here’s why I did that”, I would say, when one of my friends courageously pointed out that I was, in fact, being a dick. (my words, not theirs).
I didn’t want to admit that I was taken out, or triggered, or put-off, because I was embarrassed by that fact. Nicki had been so generous, and yet I was annoyed by her care-taking of me. And then when I got annoyed and she laughed at my frustration, I got annoyed about that.
As I sat trying to distinguish what was going on, I got clear that I was struggling to be with that much love. Nicki cares deeply about me, and wants to make sure everything is great. I struggle to be with that, because I have it mean that I’m not totally capable. “I should be able to do everything on my own!”, my inner voice rages. My old story of support meaning I’m a failure was rearing its head again. All there really was to do was let go of my desire for control and allow support and love. I just wasn’t willing.
See, the thing is, control actually allows me to stay separate and alone. It lets me keep things in rigid order and ensures that I’m able to achieve whatever I can within my own capacity, but nothing more. As long as I have total control, things will go the way I anticipate, but there will never be any room for serendipity.
It's kind of ironic that I would be resistant to love, isn't it? That's not what you would normally expect, but it's also really common for high-achievers.
Now, let's look at the other side.
I arrived for my flight home with some time to spare and at the wrong airport terminal. Continuing my grumpy streak, I grumpily walked over to the next terminal, got to the airline kiosk and started to check in. I saw that I’d been put in a middle seat (ugh), and tried to change it. The only options available were “Economy Plus” seats, costing an extra $30 to upgrade to. Seriously?
I was sitting in the funk. Stuff happens. I didn't need to be at the effect of and victimized by the circumstances, but that's what I was choosing.
After boarding the plane ride home, I noticed that the couple sitting in the row in front of me were opening a lot of cards. Some of those cards had gift certificates and gift cards to various stores, and others had money. It slowly dawned on me that they must be newly weds and were opening the cards from their wedding. How cool!
As I walked back to the bathroom, I thought to myself “I should really do something for them, like congratulate them”. Then my defences took over - “Oh, whatever, who cares, they’re happy enough”.
See, my default is to resist love and support, because I have a story that it doesn’t make a difference (and that story is true, because I refuse to allow it to make a difference). This time, I was projecting my own story on to other people. There’s no way my actions would make a difference to them, so what’s the point?
I started to head back to my seat, but then I turned around, and decided to choose differently.
I asked the stewardess in the back if she could do me a favour, and shared with her that I the couple sitting in front of me were recently married. Would she allow me to buy them each a glass of champagne anonymously?
She was thrilled at the idea, and told me that even though they didn’t have champagne, she’d be happy to treat them each to a drink, and tell them that a passenger had asked to buy it for each of them.
That was kind of cool. She came back up while serving drinks, and I surreptitiously pointed them out to her, and she checked in with them, asked them if they’d been married, and told them a passenger on the plane would like to treat them each to a drink. The look on their faces lit me up and filled my heart.
As she came back down the aisle to serve the rest of us later, she told the crew in front of her that she'd just noticed me and I was one of her favourite customers and to provide me anything I asked for.
I wasn’t expecting that.
At the end of the flight, the stewardess announced on the plane that the couple were recently married and on their way off to their honeymoon, and the cabin applaused for them.
What I took away from the experience was that spreading a little love can often have no cost, and provides exponential benefits.
I could have sat with my awareness and in my funk, easily. In fact, I'm very practiced at it.
Instead of choosing the grumpy story, I actively chose outside of my fears, interpretations and context, and leaned into sharing love. In doing so, I created an experience for myself, that couple, the stewardess, and anyone else that may have been present to the interaction.
So notice the choice you're making, and your relationship to love. How does it fit into your own performance context?
Where do you allow love to show up in your life? Where don't you? Where is the cost of love too much, and what are those costs?