We say in our culture that we will be happy if we follow our hearts and love what we do. Leadership is not something we typically associate with our hearts. Most leaders are not enjoying the job or the people. However, in the role of leader, people and love are inextricably fused. What if we were to love the people we lead? Probably not something most of us have considered. To be a fulfilled leader, loving the people we serve is required, and we have to love ourselves first.
How do we learn to love ourselves? It’s an idea most of us have heard a lot but don’t know how to practice. Until we learn how to practice self-love, it’s just an idea. A big part of love is self-acceptance. We do not have to be perfect to be loved. To the contrary, we want to be authentic and be okay with all the messiness that we are. Instead of turning away from that messiness, we can take a good, loving look in the mirror. With awareness, we can see the barriers and limits to the vast capacity to love.
The barriers to love are things like judgment, worry, fear, and comparison. It’s easy to see these traits in other people and not so easy to see the same in ourselves. We can so easily see when people are judging, controlling, and comparing. We know when something is just not right. If we bring these observations home and we see them in others, we can look to see when and how we are doing the same things.
Learning how to look at our thoughts and behaviors is a foundational process to self-acceptance and ultimately, gives us a choice in what we think and do. By becoming self-aware, we are open to internal and external feedback. We are practicing vulnerability by removing the armor and owning our thoughts and behaviors. When we see what we do and how we are, we can consciously extend love to ourselves despite any judgment or disapproval. We can deliberately extend compassion once we are aware of the barriers to love. We can convert the obstacles into channels of love.
We all have blind spots, negative emotions, and self-defeating thoughts. We all act in unfortunate ways at times. By accepting all of it, we can love without reservation, and we give others permission and a way to do the same. By being authentic and vulnerable, people will trust us.
People learn more from what they see in action and less from what they hear. People follow what leaders do, not what they say. Also, no matter how hard we try to be someone we aren’t, others can always see how we are. You don’t have to be someone you aren’t. Who you are is marvelously acceptable. As you get to know yourself and realize you are worthy of love and respect, you can extend that love to yourself consciously with thoughts, words and caring actions. In turn, you can then think and act in ways that extend love and acceptance to others. To be a leader who loves what you do, the work is to learn how to accept yourself as you are and the requirement is to love others.