This month I’m delighted to share a guest blog from Kamala Katbamna founder of Chirp, an award-winning leadership catalyst. She shares with us her thoughts and experience of the kindness that results when leaders choose to show love and what that means in practice.
The other day a client asked me to define how I work with leaders.
I show them the love.
It’s true. And often why clients hire us. But it still feels bold to say it out loud.
Which is odd, because showing the love is a leadership superpower. And powerfully enabling: it channels you to elevate everyone. So why doesn’t it get the recognition or analysis it deserves?
Several reasons, perhaps. But it probably doesn’t help that showing the love is so tricky to pin down. You know it when you feel it. But what does that mean?
What is showing the love?
Showing the love isn’t something you do. It’s a feeling you communicate. But it’s hard to quantify a feeling. And even harder when it can be created differently by different people. But again: you know it when you feel it. Which is exactly what happened last week.
I was observing a workshop. My colleague was in the thick of it, delivering to a polite if wary crowd of senior execs. But as the session unfolded I noticed their reticence give way to a kind of, well, exuberance:
- Enthusiastic chipping in instead of hoping others volunteer
- Intense curiosity about alignment and divergence instead of keeping it safe
- Having actual conversations instead of just stating answers
What was behind that shift?
Right away, she showed them the love. She dialled into who she is: upbeat, irreverent, unafraid. She showed up with clarity of intention: she wasn’t vague or hesitant. And, although showing the love isn’t without risk, she embraced that risk and leaned right in.
But how do you show the love?
Not necessarily like someone else. Let’s dive into an example with a different vibe.
A mate of mine tutors on a residential, application-only course. The tutors are experts, the attendees cock-a-hoop to be there. It’s marvellous. Except last time, the final exercise flipped his group into freak out. A week of excited thinking, talking, doing then:
S I L E N C E
He could have ignored their discomfort. Or rescued them. Instead, he showed the love.
What did that look like? Enabling them, with all his compassion and acuity, to get curious about their discomfort: What was its texture? Where might it have come from? Where might it take them?
The love was there in his choice to dial up who he is: perceptive, compassionate, kind. It was in his clarity of intention. The feeling of safety he communicated. His willingness to risk his own vulnerability. And because they felt the love, his group was able to swim with their discomfort and back again.
My mate and my colleague showed the love differently and for different reasons. But they exercised similar muscles to help people feel it:
- Leaning into who they are to create a personal connection even in a crowd
- Leading with clarity of intention instead of being vague or intermittent
- Dialling themselves up to be extra instead of doing extra
- Meeting people where they are so they feel seen, not unsafe
- Embracing the risk of being yourself, with no guarantee of the response
What does it feel like?
Noticing how you feel the love can help you figure out how you show it. Here’s how it once felt to me.
I was leading a precarious project. Think: widespread reluctance, endless provocation, dysfunctional everything. It was relentless.
Through it all, the client showed me the love. What did it feel like? Unstinting trust: in who I am and everything I bring. How did they create that? By being themselves on full beam – not inadvertently but with clear intention. So when they eventually asked why I hadn’t run for the hills, my answer was instant:
You showed me the love.
It wasn’t nice, or kind or cheering. Showing me the love was powerfully enabling. I didn’t need someone to hold my hand. I needed someone to have my back while I rebuilt the ship, held off the storms and steered us to shore. Bruised, but with success in our sails.
The power of love? I think so.
So how do you show the love?
Curious about how you show the love? Some impertinent questions might help. Why impertinent? Well, because impertinence often provokes a response beyond the glib, or easy. Likewise, impertinent questions ask you to reach for answers that are more interesting, creative, uncomfortable or surprising than the nearest go-to. Those answers might arrive with lightning flash speed; they might take ages; they might change. But they’re answers that you deeply feel to be true.
So get impertinent. Ask yourself: is that true? But is it really? But why, and how do you know? And give yourself a friendly eyeroll if you start reaching for something plausible but insincere.
🤔 When have you felt the love?
How did you experience it? What did it enable in you? What did safety feel like?
🤔 Where do you notice the love?
Who elevates an interaction? What feelings are they channelling? How do people respond?
🤔 How do you show the love?
When do you make a difference by being, not doing? Which qualities do you dial up? What vibe are you creating?
Of course, you might show the love and… nothing.
If so, don’t be downhearted. (Get curious instead. Refer back to your impertinent questions. What still sounds right? What doesn’t? How can you gather more evidence?)
Whatever happens, showing the love sharpens your mettle. It exercises your muscle for risk. It clarifies who you are as a leader, and builds your confidence to show up with that clarity. Not hesitantly or inadvertently, but deliberately and courageously.
What’s love got to do with it?
Kamala says her approach was born out of a frustration with crap leadership and equally crap leadership advice, much of which assumed that leaders are all the same. She helps leaders get radically curious about who they are and what actually matters so they can craft clarity, navigate uncertainty and lead courageously. Find out more via The Curious Leader newsletter, a month of Impertinent Questions, or her brand new short course, The Ditchery.
Photography credit: Retha Ferguson. Licence: https://www.pexels.com/license/