(Agape) Love is in the air….

On the day before Valentine’s Day 2021, I look out my window at the beautiful snow on the ground while falling snow and ice create a scenic view of the woods and farmland around my house. As I ponder the experiences of nurses and other healthcare providers since our last Valentine’s Day – I am struck by the beautiful stories – even more beautiful than the snowy landscape – of these people comforting those in need around the world and how those stories reflect a love much greater than the popular intent of Valentine’s Day. This also reminds me of James Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s bold thesis in a Journal of Business Ethics article from 1992 that “Love is the magnetic north on the leader’s ethical compass […] comprises transformational leadership, […] and constitutes the soul of ethical leadership.” (p. 480).

Kouzes and Posner continue by demonstrating how such leadership generates staff confidence, creates a desire to grow, transforms followers into leaders, and fosters people’s sense of purpose, fulfillment, and fun in their life. So who would have considered that as leaders, we are actually loving those we work with, care for, and report to?

In the EMU nursing department – at all levels of education – we emphasize that nurses are leaders in all they do, if they choose to accept the challenge. One’s role – whether one is a staff nurse or a nurse executive, or one’s practice setting – whether working in the geographic outreaches somewhere or in an urban tertiary care setting – all provide for nurses to demonstrate love. Leadership has more to do with making a difference in someone’s life rather than being a parade leader.

The EMU nursing philosophy describes that nurses demonstrate this leadership through the practice of agape love. Such love affirms the characteristics of leaders as described by Kouzes & Posner – listening deeply and empathetically to another, providing compassion through bearing other’s pain, emphasizing service first, advocating to right injustice, demonstrating the value of all, and communicating with honesty. Further, they cite Ferris who indicated “[…] there is a connection between love, trust, and energy. Felt love inspires trust, trust fosters a commitment to something other than the self, and these then foster creativity, commitment, and energy” (p.483).

Jesus role models this love as he comforts, heals, and serves. Most dramatically, he engages the outcast, dines with tax collectors, heals the leper on the Sabbath, and washes the feet of his disciples. How can we also demonstrate our love to those we report to, work with, or provide direction to through figuratively washing their feet? Washing the feet of students, colleagues, and patients daily through all I do continues to challenge me.

Over the years as well as most recently, I have also been challenged that love as a nurse and human being also includes loving those whose life stories, responses to life events, and worldviews contrast with mine. This could be patients, students, colleagues, employees, supervisors, spiritual leaders, or even neighbors. Jesus serves as the role model here as well when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV). I would hope to believe these are not enemies. Almost 20 years ago, Chip Anderson – professor at Fresno Pacific University at that time – called us as faculty to see persons through lens as God sees them. While I have not been consistent with this invitation, I am continually called and strive to see others through God’s eyes. Thus, loving them as God loves them. Are you also willing to so love others?

Such leadership love can emerge in any setting –

  • comforting a new parent;
  • consoling someone in isolation;
  • grieving with a fellow worker who lost a family member;
  • encouraging staff about a new procedure;
  • walking with a student as they choose a different profession or through a challenging time;
  • sheltering someone struggling with depression or abuse; or
  • inspiring someone to create a new nursing model.

The greatest payment for serving as a nursing faculty is hearing how our graduates and current students offer this love around the world in all kinds of settings and circumstances. Then I hear how those nurses inspire others to love – and the idea of leadership love then literally spreads around the world similar to throwing pebbles into a pond. Multiple ripples intersect and spread over a wide reach of the water. Love can spread to the far reaches of the world from one toss.

I am old enough to remember with fondness Dionne Warwick singing the Burt Bacharach song “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…” That song might sound shallow or sentimental – but really – that is exactly what everyone all over the world needs in this year of illness, violence, racism, isolation, and loss. In addition, so many people have worked tirelessly in health care, education, service industry, and factory settings – who all need a strong gift of love from their leaders. May we all as leaders be challenged this Valentine’s season to give love to those around us.

With love….from EMU nursing. Happy Valentine’s Day to all.