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Friday, June 21, 2024

Loving leadership

Paul Anderson-Walsh shines a spotlight on the priceless rewards that follow from helping others succeed

One of my initial questions when starting a coaching relationship with a CEO is how they want to be remembered as a leader. It is always smart to begin with the end in mind. If that’s a question you have yet to engage with, I hope this little provocation will help you with your thinking.

We are in the grip of a cost-of-not-really-living crisis. We are groaning under the burden of emotional taxation. People, your people don’t just want to make a living, they want to make a life. According to a Deloitte survey, 77 percent of respondents said they had experienced employee burnout at their current job. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report highlighted that 85 percent of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. If we are to reverse this dual rising tide of burnout and disengagement, we need to think differently about leadership, specifically about how we view our people… instead of seeing them as Human Resources at your disposal, we need to think about how to place resources at the disposal of humans.

Farming is a rich source of insightful parallels for leadership such as cultivating growth, adapting to the changing seasons, seedtime, and harvest, etc., and it is that community I turn to think about this crucial subject at the beginning of a new year. When I first read Robert Greenleaf’s seminal book, The Servant Leader, I was struck by his emphatic point that a servant leader is a servant first. Greenleaf’s vision has carried me along for more than 20 years. It was from him that I embraced the concept of what I call ‘loving leadership’. “Love”, says Greenleaf, “is an undefinable term, and its manifestation is both subtle and infinite. But it begins, I believe, with one absolute condition: unlimited liability! Knowing that explains, for me at least, that to be able to lead, we need to be free from the need to be the leader.

So, regarding my farming metaphor – the relationship I envision is that of a shepherd to their sheep. How the shepherd leads, seems, to me at least to hinge on one question: what is your end game? Are they farming the sheep for wool or for mutton? The answer significantly influences how they care for their sheep.

Wool or Mutton? If you’re planning to slaughter them, then that will take you in one direction; if you are planning to shear them year-after-year, that will take you in another. For the sake of the provocation, let’s call the Wool Farmer the consciously inclusive leader. A wool farmer is likely to:

  1. Value diversity and appreciate the unique qualities of each sheep’s wool; understands that each sheep has unique needs and strengths.
  2. Focus on long-term development, being careful to continuously nurture what is required for quality wool production.
  3. Adapt and adjust their care strategies based on each sheep’s needs, ensuring that every sheep is treated equally well.
  4. Foster a collaborative and inclusive environment. A well-tended flock is one where each sheep contributes to the overall health and productivity.

But perhaps, we need to look no further than what is arguably the most famous verse in the Bible, referencing the most famous shepherd of all: Ps. 23:1, ‘The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want’Great leadership ends the war on wanting and creates an environment where needs are met, and dreams can be realised. Of King David it is written, “So with upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skilful hand”. Ps. 78:72, now that is what I call loving leadership.

Paul Anderson-Walsh is the CEO and co-founder of The Centre for Inclusive Leadership


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