Leading with Love

30 01 2022

So what does creative and ethical leadership truly mean to me? This challenging question preoccupied me as I prepared to give a talk to business students at Falmouth University this week.

I could have written a whole chapter on the subject, but seeing as I had under an hour, I tried to distill the essence of what I believe ethical leadership demands of not only social entrepreneurs, but anyone who starts something they believe in.

Being fair, consistent, clear and transparent in my actions is important. I learned this lesson in leadership early on from my school students who would not tolerate any hint of unethical conduct, especially being inconsistent which would be immediately met with: ‘But you said (no homework, we could have extra time, music on…..etc) Miss!’ I learned from them never to make promises I could not keep, even tiny ones.

Leading with an open mind. I learned this as I started to work as a professional writer. When I was recording interviews, I learned to keep my own views and opinions to myself. To let people shine, you need to create space for their thoughts to surface and bloom. You need to guide this delicate process and not get in the way.

Providing breathing space is not something we associate with dynamic leadership. But if I think of how refreshing it is to feel that you can take whatever time you need to explain something that matters to you, I know this is important.

To be an ethical leader, you need to let your team know that you have their best interests at heart. You are concerned for their happiness. You want them to bring their whole self to the work and put their whole heart into it because you know, having travelled this path before them, that there’s a certain feeling of vitality and energised consciousness that comes with truly rewarding work. This has nothing to do with salary, roles or status. It has everything to do with loving your work.

There must be no hidden agendas. I avoid formal staff meetings with items to be ticked off an agenda. The reason is because I cannot recall any of the content of these meetings even half an hour afterwards.

Not having meetings saves a lot of energy for creativity. In the early days of creating Horsemanship for Health, we found we came up with our best ideas when we were grooming the horses or tackling yard jobs. Often we would be racing to the shed to write these ideas down and capture the good feeling of working in the moment. Conventional meetings are airless to me. Instead I make room for creative discussions which are recorded and, most importantly, acted on.

Ethical Leadership has its challenges, though, and when you begin a new company everything is challenging. The temptation is to cut corners and this never pays off. Taking time to do things properly is the only way to sleep at night knowing you have done everything you possibly could. I learned this from 20 years of looking after horses and lying awake wishing I had taken a little longer over something I rushed because I was tired. Not sleeping soundly is a worse form of tiredness than being so tired you haven’t got the energy to worry. It has taken me years to fully understand this!

Being an ethical leader above all means being honest about your own limits and capacity. I may have energy to burn on some days, other days I need to go home and rest. Leaders who drive themselves to exhaustion, and I saw many of these guys when I worked on newspapers, including one young chap who memorably spent the night with his arms around his keyboard, are leaders in need of support.

An unsupported leader cannot take joy in their work. I know the support I have in my work is vital for me. Support comes in many forms, and is not just practical human help. It may be a feeling of goodwill from afar. An upbeat phone call, a new commission, a warm day when all feels right with the world.

It is possible to do a lot of good in the world and end up disillusioned. Ethical leaders notice when things are going well and they take time to acknowledge the myriad factors that make good work possible.

Finally, ethical leaders share their work and encourage others. They do not feel the need to hoard or protect their ideas. They know their own worth is not measured by the amount of wealth they have accumulated in the bank, but by the flow of creative ideas that leads to new opportunities and connections. An ethical leader is aware that the source of creativity is limited only by their own temporary blindness.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: