“Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.” –Bob Goff, Love Does.

This quote has so deeply influenced my authentic leadership style in support of my leader philosophy. First and foremost, I choose to lead with love. I truly am passionate about making people & organizations better through leader development; this comes from a genuine wellspring of love for people and their/our work. And still, the longer I lead and the more I experience, the more I find this conviction to be true.

Ultimately, I think it surfaces the need for leaders to show up, genuinely care about others, and create leadership space for them to fill. More often than not, it’s these things that best enable team success and improvement, and less about me as the leader occupying leadership space by fixing, directing, and even speaking.

But how do we accomplish this? I think the mere idea of leading with love and creating leadership space for others is easy to value but exploring what that looks like in leader behavior can certainly be more challenging. So, to help in this important exploration, I wish to offer four behaviors to inject into our leadership and the books that have been personal champions in educating and inspiring me to lead in my authentic way. I hope these can influence and equip you in the same way.

Understand and Demonstrate Vulnerability: Vulnerability, empathy, and an understanding of shame are all keys to unlock organizational trust and psychological safety. I know of no better primer on these topics than Brené Brown’s, Daring Greatly.

Listen, Actively and Empathetically: An important foundational book that has influenced my life and leadership is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. In it, he introduces habit 5, which is, “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” Sometimes we just need to talk less and learn to listen better. Covey’s introduction to this habit is quite accurate:We have such a tendency to rush in, to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first.” I often try to simply just remember a short acronym each day – WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

Lead with Questions: In an interview on The Learning Leader Show podcast, L. David Marquet, famed author of Turn the Ship Around!, talked about shifting the leader culture of his Navy submarine from a ‘knowing and telling’ organization to a ‘knowing and asking’ organization. He stated, If you’re the kind of manager who tells your team what to do from the position that you know everything that’s necessary and you know the right way to do it, you’ve created a ‘knowing and telling’ culture. On the other hand, if you create a ‘knowing and asking’ organization, you might know the answer and direction you prefer your team takes, but you let your team discover that for themselves through dialog and encouraging questions. Instead of telling your team what to do, you give them the opportunity to figure it out on their own.” Marquet’s second book, Leadership Is Language, dives deep into the idea of leading with questions and explores the power of what leaders say…and don’t say.

Become More Coach-Like: Expanding further on Marquet’s idea, Michael Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit, asserts we all have an advice monster, where we desire to come in, be the hero, and fix everyone’s problem. But he argues that becoming a bit more “coach-like – a little more lazy, curious, and often [present]” – we can better empower our people, create shared ownership, encourage critical thinking in others, cultivate self-sufficiency across the team, and create more leadership space. His model in The Coaching Habit offers seven great questions for leaders to achieve exactly those things. These are questions I love and routinely turn to.

So, I challenge you to think on how you can better lead with love by genuinely care for others, by showing up, addressing challenging leadership voids, and ultimately creating leadership space for others to fill. These are simple ways that we can work to lead those within our care well.

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