It's a time of year where we cherish those we love... but our society's narratives around love can be pretty distorted. They involve passionate embraces, sex, physical gifts, weddings, and other fairy tales which while certainly part of it is not the core of what love is. To me, deep lasting love is mostly about recognizing another's vulnerability and partnering with them to fill in their gaps, thus making them feel that their vulnerability is alleviated through their partnership with you. It's when you expose your fear or anxiety about something and your partner intercedes to mitigate and address what you cannot and affirms your value in spite of it.
The result of that kind of love is both an intense emotional connection and stronger performance as a human. The negative emotional energy and increased time requirements of doing things one is bad at creates a drag on productivity generally. In my personal life, having a loving relationship with my husband makes me a better parent, more productive at work, happier, and generally a better person. That gift of love is wonderful but it also maximizes my potential and my performance as a human.
Looking at love from that perspective, it seems that if we want to maximize the potential of our employees, customers, and partners in the work environment we should, in fact, love them. Instead we tend to have processes that are not only not loving, they are downright hostile.
- The basic assumption of hierarchies is that some people are better than others. Creating this narrative is hostile to love and, by extension, hostile to optimal performance.
- We have 'professional development' plans for colleagues - the underlying assumption is that people need to be fixed versus supported to achieve maximum performance.
- Negotiations with customers often tend to be thought of a zero-sum games - if one wins, the other necessarily looses. In loving relationships, everyone wins.
Until recently I was pretty protective of my insecurities - after all I worked in environments set up to make me defensive and insecure. The drag from hiding those insecurities and weaknesses kept me from fully exploring what I'm really good at because I was so focused on managing my weaknesses and trying to be competent in everything. It's been an interesting personal revelation that exposing weaknesses in trusted relationships reduces that drag considerably and allows me to focus more time on those things that I perform well. That equation change improves both my individual performance and really has an impact on team performance because as a team, we're better optimized.
What does this look like in my work context?
- A manager encouraged me to leave a position, despite it being a personal loss for her, because it was limiting what I could achieve.
- A colleague volunteered for a project that, while I could do it, was making me anxious and unhappy because it required a lot of work that played to my weaknesses.
- A customer made a number of referrals to my work, but took the time to also make sure I was presenting the work in a way that looked after my interests, knowing I might not do that entirely well left to my own devices.
I'm not actually sure any of these individuals would ever say they love me although they are definitely all partners and friends, but they all acted in a loving way which increased my performance.
Talking about love in a work context makes people uncomfortable but mostly because I think society has the narrative of love wrong. I'm proposing that love has a performance quotient and those organizations who figure it out will be rewarded. We've figured out hard metrics... it's the soft ones that are where performance innovation lie.
Here's to more love in the coming year.