How to lead a loving organization


In the recent pandemic year when so many businesses were forced to demand a remote workplace, many have come to realize the power of human relationships. In truth, it was the power of human connection that laid the foundation for a successful telecommuting environment. Now, as employers bring staff back to the office, it’s an opportunity for leaders to rebuild those much-missed working relationships.

Sadly, this is the rare leader who recognizes the importance of cultivating romantic relationships and laughter at work. Yes, it is true: to love. And no, we’re not talking about the romantic love type, but the compassionate and caring type. And yes, it’s true: cultivate laughter. And no, we’re not just talking about telling jokes.

Too often, leaders reduce interactions with employees only to a measure of their performance goals. Nothing matters but the work done. As a result, the organization feels sterile and empty of passion. Yes, professionalism has its place in the workplace, up to a point. But it’s important to note that humans weren’t born to be professionals – we were born to love and laugh. And professional organizations so often miss the mark on real human relations.

Leaders also often focus on a self-imposed desire for external certification and development through formal channels. While these are valuable, they are not enough if the leader lacks a foundation of what matters most – the ability to love and the willingness to laugh. Really, it is a certification in itself that is the foundation of true leadership.

Research undeniably supports the impact of love and laughter in the workplace and its ability not only to reduce burnout, absenteeism and stress, but also to promote employee well-being, teamwork and commitment. The results are true across a range of industries.

Leading with love and laughter involves a lot of put it there, both professionally and personally. The path of loving leadership can be uncertain, unpredictable, and frightening. The path of laughing leadership can be daunting, uncertain, and risky. Leaders, like everyone else, fear shame and ridicule. They fear they are not good enough. There is resistance to truly showing staff that they care about their well-being beyond their performance at work.

Creating a loving organization is a conscious choice that requires deep soul-searching and intentional work. Bringing more caring, kindness and laughter into a workplace requires the development of self-awareness, recognition and understanding of oneself and one’s emotions. Leadership requires the removal of the cloak of formality behind which many leaders hide.

Here are a few ways that leaders explore self-awareness by intentionally cultivating a loving and laughing organization:

  1. Show your vulnerability.
    Teams look for connection, engagement and relativity. This does not happen without vulnerability. Vulnerability is a matter of openness. It comes from being frank and honest. Instead of analyzing communication to avoid bad news, leaders are open and candid with their observations and assessments. They are willing to admit that they don’t know everything, and they ask questions. They are transparent when communicating with the teams they lead, creating an environment of shared information that enables innovation, creativity and open questions. Vulnerable leaders have a fundamental leadership asset: they are themselves. It sends the message that they are not above those they are leading, but that they are with them.
  2. Practice humility.
    Studies have shown the compelling benefits of humility in leadership. Humility at the top of organizational leadership is directly correlated with improved performance, teamwork, decision making, visioning, and information sharing. Humble leaders are sincere and modest. They know their flaws and are able to laugh at themselves openly about the daily trials they face. They are unpretentious despite their success and understand that organizational success is linked to more than their talents. They are confident but not arrogant. Genuine and humble leaders will always gain the trust and commitment of those they lead much more easily than performers.
  3. Reframe defensive reactions.
    Leaders who demonstrate strong self-awareness are in tune with their emotions and feelings. If, for example, they receive feedback where their first reaction is to adopt a defensive posture, they are able to put reflective feelings aside, knowing that this is of no use. By consciously sensing the feelings certain comments evoke and understanding how they affect their performance, they are able to reframe their reaction more productively. They are open to learning, growth and development.
  4. Take a fourth-person perspective.
    Taking a third-person perspective on a problem is taking a step back and looking at a situation from another angle. Still, it’s even more effective to take a fourth-person perspective using self-awareness. This happens when we take the time to observe ourselves looking at a problem while embracing all the biases that we bring. This is the first and most significant step in getting to know us.
  5. Embrace humor.
    Self-mockery has an essence of innocence and purity. It allows people to connect. Simple erased comments can immediately bring leaders up to the level of those they are leading. Their accessibility factor skyrockets, and people are more easily able to relate to the leader. Self-laughter comes from being real. It also gives others permission not to take themselves or their work so seriously. While humor can be the ultimate bridge, leaders also need to have a social conscience to understand when and how to use humor appropriately so that it doesn’t offend anyone.

Leaders who demonstrate strong self-awareness and are comfortable in their own skin are in tune with their emotions and feelings. By embracing a little humor, being humble, and showing vulnerability, they create a loving organization of compassion, caring, and trust.

Written by Zina Sutch and Patrick Malone.

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