Just the title of this blog has probably had one of two effects on you:
- You are somewhat intrigued, either because I haven’t written something like this before or because you have some spare pennies of time you’d like to spend.
- You have made a gagging noise and rolled your eyes so intensely that they have almost fallen out the back of your head. You probably haven’t even read this because you didn’t click the link…
In all honesty, “Lead with Love” isn’t a theme I would have contemplated before being invited to give a presentation on it last week. I have never really stopped to consider what leading with love looks like in my own life or how it has guided my actions.
I was quite surprised to realise that a number of my former posts; Body Image and Female Athletes, Chasing ‘Raceweight’ and The Importance of your Digital Diet actually emphasise Leading with Love, but just articulate it as confidence, awareness, leadership and attitude.
After some brainstorming and personal pondering, I came to conceptualise Leading with Love as;
Leading with Love begins with a constant awareness of your own values and having the courage to live them out in daily life. To Lead with Love is to also have an objective and frank awareness of the language we use, both internally and externally, and whether we are able to manifest that in to action.
Leading with Love is not a fickle, fluffy ball of intangible wool. It can help improve performance, cultivate a winning mind-set and facilitate authentic communication.
Although the ‘L’ word may seem too mushy or turn you off because of its plethora of meanings, spending some time un-packing this idea has helped me realise how significant it can be.
If you weren’t at the Lead with Love event, here’s an overview of what I had to say….
Did you know when you type self-love in to Microsoft Word, narcissistic, self-centred, egocentric and egotistical are all synonyms?
I didn’t know that until I started brainstorming for the Lead with Love evening, and it fascinated me because I think many people would consider self-love to be a positive concept, yet it has so many negative connotations.
That example fitted rather snugly with one of two themes I hoped to share with the audience about what Leading with Love looked like for me, as both an athlete and person transitioning in to a professional career and ‘adult life’.
- Being fully aware of your values and acting on them, even at the risk of others misinterpreting or misunderstanding your intentions
Being conscious of values is something I became more aware of after joining the Black Fins, New Zealand’s National Surf Lifesaving team.
Thanks to parents and caregivers, I think many people are brought up with some great foundation values including;
However, putting these ideas in to practice as we start navigating the complexities of adulthood can sometimes be very hard.
It’s uncomfortable to be honest when it may hurt another person’s feelings (Can you really tell that guy why you don’t want a second date?) or to be accountable for work you know you haven’t done, or haven’t done to the best of your ability (you didn’t double check for grammar errors in an important email).
Even a concept like compassion can be difficult in modern day living. If you value compassion but aren’t willing to take a break from your desk at work even when you know you need one, your internal values are not aligning with your actions.
Embracing those uncomfortable emotions (such as the perceived judgment of workmates when you take a break from the desk) to stay true to your values can have an incredible impact on personal growth. It can help to build confidence, compassionate and self-awareness.
Being a part of the Black Fins team for the past five years has impacted me not only as an athlete.
While many sports train the body, fortify the physical fortress and strive for winning outcomes, the significance the Black Fins place on developing a team culture and values system is like nothing else I have ever experienced.
The skeleton of our culture and values was driven primarily by a committed team of coaches and management people. The body was then fleshed out as our entire team bought in to building a common culture and vision.
In his book ” Legacy” James Kerr says that “Performance= Capability + Behaviour.” The way you behave, the way you act, will therefore bring out the best or the worst of your capabilities.
While I won’t dive in to the intricacies of what our team does, the power of having a common goal, building an environment where there is mutual trust and respect distributed from the newbies through to the seniors helped us to win our first world championship title in 12 years. It helped us to repeat that feat at another two consecutive championships.
When you work from a place cemented in your values, you are less likely to compromise. You will be more competitive, more resilient., more successful.
2) Being aware of the language you use and how you put it in action.
There is a big difference between being a doer and a sayer.
Language is powerful. It is one of the defining differences between humanity and other species. It is what allows us to dream, reflect, imagine and create. As humans, we have a unique ability to use language as a tool to help drive us forward or as a barrier to inhibit growth or change.
Charles Winick defines it as, “a system of arbitrary vocal symbols, used to express communicable thoughts and feelings and enabling the members of a social group or speech community to interact and to co-operate.”
Like the word “self-love” mentioned earlier, language is a man-made construct and can be a slippery little concept.
Words like ‘authenticity’, ‘purpose’, ‘mindfulness’, ‘spirituality’, all sound intriguing, but I think there is sometimes ambiguity around them. Unless these words are put in to action they are essentially language fads used to align with popular trends, or even to promote a sense of superiority.
I’ve got a little story that illustrates what I really mean about putting language in to action
When the 2016 Black Fins team was selected for last year’s World Lifesaving Championships, there was something interesting about our team. There was only one new athlete from the team selected for the 2014 World Championships.
Our first camp together started very similar to all our former camps, but on day two the elaborate planning done behind the scenes with our coaches and management team came to fruition when we were all tested in ways we weren’t expecting.
And here’s what I came to realise;
Athletes are exceptional at pushing themselves outside their comfort zones- inside their comfort zones.
A little confused?
A swimmer knows how to swim hard. They will swim until the lactate grips their muscles and the acid creeps up their throats.
A runner knows how to run hard. They will run until their legs give out and their lungs burn like 1,000 suns.
But a runner or a swimmer might majorly struggle having to do an eight hour office shift or sit an accountancy exam, or mountain bike for four hours.
What separates the sayers from the doers is the ability to act on values in any situation.
Saying that you value hard work, that you enjoy challenge and encouraging others becomes distinctly more difficult in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment.
Day two of our first camp was riddled with moans and complaints, a dash of swearing and waves of confusion.
At the end of the day, as our team was expected to reflect on everything, there was a defining moment for me.
I can still remember the newbie standing up in front of the entire team. She asked us why we spent so much time discussing what it meant to be a Black Fin and to represent New Zealand when the way we had behaved in a new environment under unique challenges did not reflect what we had discussed just 12 hours before.
I can’t talk for my teammates, but that comment striped away an ego that I had kind of subconsciously built after two world championship wins.
I was unaware that I had started to become a little complacent. Our team wasn’t going to The Netherlands to retain the World Championships trophy, we were going there to win it.
Last year New Zealand was the first country to win all three trophies for top points on the beach, in the pool and overall. We were also the first non-European country in history to win the pool championship.
So why do I like this story?
Because leading with love starts with knowing your values, but it’s your responsibility to act on them. Language means nothing unless you can put it in to practice.
To conclude this exceptionally long blog, I’d like to share one of my favourite quotes by Robert Downey Jnr who summarised my thoughts exactly when he said-
“I believe we all do heroic things, but hero isn’t a noun. It’s a verb”