I have been pondering how love became conceptually separated from leadership. For the better part of 20 years I have given multiple lectures and seminars exploring emotional intelligence, self-knowledge, and empathy within the context of leadership, but I have never spoken about the heart, and I have certainly never spoken about love. Perhaps there is no place for a conversation about love if leadership is understood as a charismatic gesture that either hypnotizes or controls. However, at this point in history, the conversation in leadership seems beyond the framework of command and control. Most of us recognize that with the level of specialization that now exists, the speed of change, the transformation of culture through social media, the overall complexity of a global business environment, and the enormous social challenges that we face, collaboration is central to leadership. At the heart of collaboration is love. Most of us think of love as an emotion. There is a love that is emotive, often referred to as affection. In his book, The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis describes affection as the most natural, emotive, and diffuse of loves. Affectionate love, however, is not necessary for collaboration. It is love without emotion, that is, compassion, which lies at the heart of a true collaborative process. Compassion arises when we recognize something universal about the other, dissolving judgment and separation and promoting understanding and oneness. It is an essential part of agape, defined by the Greeks as the highest form of love. In this case, love is an act, not an emotion. It is a selfless, spontaneous and consuming commitment to the well-being of others. There is, within this kind of love, recognition of the truth of the interconnection of all of existence. Agape is not based on preferences, on our likes or dislikes. It is the rare human being who develops this kind of love to its fullest potential. Nonetheless, we are born with an innate desire to develop and promote selfless love. Barbara Frederickson, in a wonderful piece called, "The Science of Love" shares research that demonstrates that the body is designed to love, noting that love energizes our entire system, broadens our mindset, deepens our attunement to others, and enhances creativity.
Most leaders have learned along the way that empathy is a critical leadership skill but few have an understanding of why. Empathy is a form of attention that goes beyond the intellect and involves directly sensing what it is like to be in someone else's shoes. How do we do this?We sense what other people are experiencing or feeling by sensations that arise in our own bodies. All of us are like walking antennas, receiving and registering the felt experience of those around us. Some of us are better at this than others. To accurately register this kind of information requires being in touch with our own emotional responses. To be in touch with our own emotion, we have to be in touch with the physical sensations in our body. For example, I know that I am fearful because my heart rate begins to speed up, my stomach clenches, and my hair stands on end.
The way that we pay attention is integrally related to the reality that we perceive as "true." By the time we have grown into adulthood most of us live within a certain repetitive and narrow band of attention; boredom and a certain degree of numbness is the result. Often, we can sense a kind of spaciousness outside of our habits of attention but rarely do we feel capable of accessing this. Our attention is habituated on many levels: We have a repetitive range of emotion that we continually return to, a narrow and habituated way of using our vision, a narrow range with which we attend to auditory input, a belief system that narrows our perceptual field and a way of processing intellectually that reinforces our view of the world. Often a "midlife crisis" or other kinds of struggles in adulthood are, in part, crises related to this narrow way of attending. We become bored with ourselves, longing to access a more spontaneous way of being in the world. We assume that our boredom has to do with the exterior world, so we buy a new car or get a new haircut. We are often unaware that our boredom arises from a self-created prison of habituated attention. We lose touch with the fact that the way we are attending affects the degree to which we feel connected to the world around us and to life itself.
Les Fehmi is a forerunner in the field of biofeedback and he has studied how we pay attention for over forty years. He contrasts two ways of attending when he describes a pride of lions relaxing together on the African savannah. They are breathing slowly, their muscles are relaxed, and their attention is diffuse and wide open. An injured animal comes into their sight, and suddenly the lions move from this relaxed state to an intense, single-pointed focus. Their muscles tense and their heart and respiratory rates increase. The lions have shifted to an emergency mode of paying attention. Once the injured animal has become dinner the lions quickly return to a state that is wide open, alert, and relaxed.
Buzzwords rise and fall in the world of business, and at their highest, serve as flags marking a place where we need to drill down. For some time, the need to “innovate” has been creeping into the lexicon of my clients, reflecting the fact that old paradigms on so many fronts are breaking down.When my daughter was in third grade, I had the pleasure of watching a creative little boy shift the paradigm of his art assignment. He, along with his classmates, was given scraps of paper to paint and paste onto a large sheet of paper. His classmates dutifully painted and pasted within the confines of their pages. However, this child asked for a pair of scissors. He began by reshaping his rectangular paper. As he glued his fragments of paper onto his redesigned template none stayed within the margins; curly cues, concentric circles, and folded accordions spilled over the edges redefining the boundaries. What began as one-dimensional became two. It was a paradigm shift in motion. Too often, when there is a call for innovation, we tackle whatever problem we face through the same mind that was shaped by the previous paradigm. We look at the problem from the confines of the past or the confines of expectation. How do we escape this paradox of the mind and its repetitive subversion of creative thought? Most of us make the assumption that consciousness itself emanates from, and is bounded by, the mind. However, when we quiet the mind through contemplative practices such as meditation, we eventually discover that awareness or consciousness exists beyond it. True innovation, along with any act of creativity, draws from this infinite field of intelligent awareness that exists beyond the mind. This is sometimes called pure awareness. And this state is directly accessible to all. How?