by Florine Weiß.

In studies on the welfare state and in the field of social policy, approaches to empowerment and capability are fiercely debated. In Attachment Theory, John Bowlby and Amartya Sen, suggest the Capability Approach which argues that an individual with increased resilience during childhood – supported by a strong attachment to the mother – develops a stronger personality. Also, Bowlby and Sen emphasize that empowered individuals, with increased capability, have more opportunities to succeed in life.

In the following post, the Attachment Theory and the Capability Approach are outlined as the theoretical basis for a new perspective on leadership. Subsequently, this article examines why and how motherly love helps to build sustainable, ethical Transcultural Leaders.

The First Thing Humans Experience

In every culture, women give birth to babies and parental love is the first thing human beings experience. New-born babies need, apart from food and physical care, one crucial thing: unconditional love and strong attachment to their parents, especially to their mother. A mother holds her crying baby tight to her skin, nurses and talks to him or her. Her body produces a hormone called »oxytocin« which is developed during pregnancy and breast feeding. It reenforces attachment and enables her to be highly productive and emotionally strong.

Attachment Theory by John Bowlby (1988) argues that new-borns who experienced a strong bond with their mothers become adults with fewer fears and a stronger sense of self-confidence. The determinant of attachment is not food but love and responsiveness. Mothers raise their children to become strong individuals in a collective system where individuals need to assert themselves. A mother’s ambition is to rear an independent human being free from fears and capable to reach goals. Mothers enable their children to become moral adults. They care for, love their children, and try to raise individuals with the ability to thrive and have a positive impact on the society. The attachment between mother and child is common to all cultures. Hence, core values in this first relationship are trust and love. Raising a child with a strong bond based on love and trust is a transcultural endeavour all mothers share!

However, according to Bowlby, there is also a high risk for the child to be less resilient which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and, therefore, the strong likelihood of failure in all future social relationships. This is because, Bowlby suggests, long term consequences of maternal deprivation might lead to depression, increased aggression or reduced intelligence. Therefore, the attachment relationship acts as a prototype for the growing child.

What Humans Need to Flourish

As part of the Capability Approach, Amartya Sen (1982,1988) emphasizes that there are certain capabilities humans are required to possess in order to succeed in their lives. He states that the question of capability goes beyond concepts that simply focus on life standards and human rights. His approach articulates the responsibility one feels to contribute to society, develop a community and foster a better life for the members of that community. The core of the theory states that a population needs to empower resilient, responsible individuals which can contribute to a successful society.

Personally, I feel that a Transcultural Leader must push globally shared interests and values without neglecting cultural differences. Therefore, the internalization of transcultural values, on the part of the leader, is at the heart of good stewardship. Motherly love, which creates a strong attachment and thereby empowers individuals, is a globally shared value. Transcultural Leaders must enable individuals within their organizations to become responsible decision-makers; mindful and self-confident. This is especially the case, if Transcultural Leaders aim to establish a relational leadership style.

What Leaders Can Learn from Motherly Love

A mother teaches her children to be become self-reliant. She does everything necessary to ensure her children can feed themselves. Her main goal is to see her children able to walk and able to decide for themselves where to go. Overall, the relationship and the core issues of raising a child is the trust in that child’s skills. This is transferable to a Transcultural Leader: The more an individual embodies the organisation’s inner morality, the more trust the individual is given. Mothers want their children to walk by themselves and similarly, the Transcultural Leader wants her or his employees to be able to make positive contributions on their own. The Transcultural Leader creates an environment of trust and self-confidence amongst individuals who are capable of looking beyond outdated patterns.

Values such as trust and love need to be considered in a transcultural leadership context. These values are shared by mothers all over the globe and take place in a micro-sphere relationship. This concept can be projected into the meso- or even a macro-sphere relationship between the good leader and the organization’s members or stakeholders: A leader who cultivates a rapport based on the values people are introduced to in their early lives can be considered a good leader. Following this, we might lead in the most natural and transcultural way – the way leadership was first experienced.