Leading with love

  • Published
  • By Col. Leslie Knight
  • 49th Medical Group
The suggested topic for this week is "Excellence in All We Do." If you know me, you know I don't always feel bound by the rules. If you don't know me...well, now you know that part about me. It's a great topic, and in light of the Unit Effectiveness Inspection that just wrapped up, I agree it's appropriate. However, that's not what has been on my mind for the last few months. The topic I have in mind regarding "UEI speak," is one of the four major graded areas: leading people.

Of the four areas, this is the one that I get fired up about to most. What I have been thinking about lately is leading with love. That concept is the central theme of the book, "Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders" by Joel Manby. I used to call this concept "caring about people." The book gave me the courage to call it what it is..."loving people". That may sound corny to some, and to those who have seen me in action or have been on the receiving end of my love, it may not have felt much like love. But I'm convinced that you cannot be a highly effective leader unless you love the people you lead. Oh, you can be effective without showing love toward your people. But to be highly effective, to get the most out of your people every day, to inspire them to want to be better than they are right now, and to inspire them to want to inspire others? No. To be highly effective, you have to love your people.

Wait! Hear me out. By love, I don't mean mushy flowery talk, bringing your people presents, showing favoritism or going easy on them. I don't mean letting them skate by, doing less than they ought to so they can have an easy day. When I say love your peeps, I mean to treat them with honest, heartfelt respect, consider them equal to yourself, and know that they have life experiences that make them experts on topics you will never know anything about. I mean that you should value them and their contributions as much as you value your own. I mean look out for them and really, really care for them as human beings, not as a means to getting your job done.

Leaders generally have more experience, perhaps more training, and hopefully, more vision. They have been put in charge by someone else, but by no means does that make us as leaders any "better" than those we lead. If you as a senior non-commissioned officer or officer think you are better or worth more than the lieutenant or airman who works for you, you are absolutely wrong. Trust me. They will know it, and they won't follow you. You might be able to push them, but they won't willingly follow you.

I truly believe to get the best out of people and show them the love that they crave (they do, really!), we must protect their individual dignity. Even, and perhaps especially, when they are being disciplined. When I was a squadron commander, I made clear that my standards were high and disobedience would not go unpunished. My exact words were, "If you make a mistake, but you were doing the right thing, even if someone dies, I will back you up as high as it takes. But if you cheat, lie or take shortcuts, I will punish you."

That probably doesn't sound much like love, does it? But it is. My job was to accomplish the mission while protecting my good people and protecting the patients for whom we cared. The public places a huge amount of trust in medics - they tell us things they won't tell their spouse or parents, and they trust us with their lives. So, there is no room for a lack of integrity. When someone failed badly enough to receive Non-judicial Punishment, that airman went through the usual process. But after it was over, I always called the individual and their supervisor into the office. I reviewed what the individual did wrong, told him or her that the punishment had been served, and now it was behind him or her. I assured that I would never look at him or her as the person who did such and such, and I that fully expected that person to be awesome members of the squadron from then on.

What I did was restore the airman's dignity and show him or her that someone loved, respected and cared for the individual as a fellow human. And then I made sure his or her supervisor gave them opportunities to demonstrate that the episode had been put in the past. Nearly every person told me later how much he or she appreciated that approach and what a difference it had made in the person's life.

There are a lot of ways to show people that you care for them. If you do it well, you will have troops who want to follow you up the hill, not troops that you have to push up the hill. Love shouldn't be a dirty word in the corporate or military world. Do you love your people? If not, why not? How can you get there? What are the consequences of not loving them? Could you be a more effective leader if you did? Could more love in your own life help you find even greater satisfaction in your leadership position?