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Why LOVE is important
There are innumerable definitions of leadership that very influential people have espoused. Here are just a few:
“My definition of a leader . . . is a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.” — Harry S. Truman, Thirty-third President of the United States
“You cannot manage men into battle. You manage things; you lead people.” — Grace Hopper, Admiral, U. S. Navy
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” — John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States
While I do consider myself a lifelong student of leadership, I can’t claim any deep theoretical knowledge. But there are folks who study leadership as part of their careers. In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse, a professor of communication at Western Michigan University, summarizes from leadership studies conducted over the last hundred years, five traits that are central to leadership: intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability. According to Fleishman et al, as many as 65 different classifications systems have been developed to define the dimensions of leadership. Researchers publishing in the journal BMJ Leadership, classify the study of leadership as having four main eras: trait, behavioral, situational, and new leadership, with the earliest dating back to the Great Man Theory of the 1840s.
While the study of leadership has been around at least several hundred years, it was W.C.H. Prentice’s 1961 article (reprinted in HBR) that rejected the notion of leadership as the exercise of power and force or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Prentice defined leadership as “the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants” and a successful leader as one who can understand people’s motivations and enlist their participation in a way that meets an individual's needs with the larger purpose.
I think of leadership simply as getting people to accomplish what you envision. Some people are immediately onboard with your vision and just need periodic reminders of how things will be different once they accomplish their tasks, goals, missions, etc. Others, however, resist change and resist your vision. They are the ones that really need you to lead them. This resistance is what I want to focus on today. Why do people resist and what as a leader should you do about it?
As humans we are complex, multifaceted beings, and thus the reasons for our resistance to a vision is often nuanced and not reducible to a single item. However, a simplified model of resistance can be helpful to understand which one or one of many reasons you need to address to lead people towards your vision. Often people will have multiple reasons for resisting and you need to deal with them individually.
In my experience, people resist your vision because of LOVE - logic, obstinacy, visceral, or emotion. The first reason is Logic. This type of resistance you often get from engineers who are very logical in their approach to problems. If you want to get from A to C, they want to understand how A leads to B leads to C, the risks involved, the probability of success/failure, the alternatives, etc. Most of the time, they just need to be convinced of the logic of your vision and approach to achieving it. Admittedly, sometimes the logic just isn’t there to support your vision. Sometimes the most successful entrepreneurs endure and succeed despite any logicality that they will succeed. But just explaining that sometimes visions require a leap of faith can often help these logic-driven folks to get on board.
The second reason that some folks resist your vision is just out of pure Obstinacy. Defined by Merriam-Webster as “stubbornly adhering to an opinion, purpose, or course in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion.” We’ve all met these people, sometimes we are these people, who just want to argue and resist as if it’s part of their nature. In this case no amount of logic or persuasion is going to help. In this case, which is almost always a last resort, you need to use your authority, maybe based on your position, role, title, seniority, etc. to get these folks in line.
The third reason for resistance is Visceral. This is the gut reaction to an idea or vision that goes beyond emotions. It is something deeply felt and often difficult to put a finger or name on. An example of this would be the fight or flight instinct that people have to sudden dangers. It’s different from fear or trepidation. For these folks, your job as a leader is to give them time and to make them feel safe. This might involve helping them understand their place in the vision such as what their job will be if you achieve your vision. It might involve giving them time to process the expected changes and get comfortable with them.
The fourth reason that someone might resist the changes that you want to see is Emotion. There are anywhere from six basic emotions, put forward by psychologist Paul Eckman, to psychologist Robert Plutchik’s 34,000 emotions. Whatever the true number, you as a leader need to be prepared to deal with them. These typically involve feelings such as fear, anger, or sadness. If someone is feeling fear, you need to make them feel safe. If someone is feeling anger, you can try to console them or give them space to process. There is no single approach and there is no single right answer. We all have experienced an emotion such as anger and need different things given the circumstances. Sometimes I want to be left alone, other times I want commiseration. The better your skills in emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you, the better you are as a leader to help lead someone through an emotional resistance.
Whether we’ve studied leadership for a couple hundred years or possibly thousands dating back to Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus, we are still far from completely understanding it. However, as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated with regard to obscenity, “I know it when I see it” is also how most of us feel about leadership. Great leadership, while difficult to quantify and dissect, is easily observed and felt. Hopefully using an acronym like LOVE will help you reach your vision as a leader.