Leading with Love in Health Care

Sheena Howard

Inspiration for Graduate Research 

Grappling with research is a major challenge for graduate students. And in just over a year since beginning a masters degree, you are faced with leading your own action-oriented, engaged research project. While the online courses you take, and your second residency, will set you up with the skills and feedforward to begin your project, conducting research can sometimes feel like a daunting prospect.

Inspiration can be found when looking at projects that other students have completed. One such student is Sheena Howard, who graduated from the MAL(H) program in 2018, earning both a Founders Award and a distinction for her thesis. But it wasn’t easy, particularly given the unconventional nature of Sheena’s idea – love led leadership. She encountered resistance from skeptics, who couldn’t see the potential for a thesis and almost abandoned the idea, only to reclaim it, after reflecting on her deep commitment to the topic and its potential to transform our health system. Now, just over a year later, Sheena’s research is more relevant than ever, as the health system struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, and social distancing is increasingly called for.

Love-led Leadership in Health Care

In Sheena’s Master’s thesis, she offered a leadership framework that can help health care leaders make a commitment to use love as the basis of their decisions and interactions. Using love in their leadership will help them to promote a connection between people and help to maintain and preserve people’s dignity.  Sheena’s definition of love-led leadership is “a philosophy of engaging in leadership practices guided by feelings of concern for others that promote strong affection between people and give risk to a dedication to others’ well-being and the maintenance of their dignity” (Howard, 2018, p. 26). She proposed the characteristics of love-led leadership as authenticity, passion, vulnerability, humility, accountability, and empathy. T

he participants involved in her thesis research suggested that love-led leadership can challenge the status quo of organizational cultures and systems which have created a regenerative loop, reinforcing depersonalization of care as well as decreasing the potential for burnout in health care providers. When these conclusions are taken together, the potential positive impact of using love-led leadership as one’s leadership lens can be seen.  Love-led leadership can have a profound impact on mitigating the risk of burnout for health care leaders and the operationalization of humane decision making and leadership during the complex and chaotic contexts of this collective, global health crisis.

You can read Sheena’s thesis in full here. And if you are interested in joining the Global Love-Led Leadership Movement, which aims to support leaders to share their experiences and the effects of using love-led leadership, educate other leaders about love-led leadership and engage other leaders to consider utilizing love-led leadership in their own personal and professional leadership, you can join the Movement’s private Facebook group here.


Howard, S. (2018). Inspiring positive change in the healthcare system through love-led leadership [Master’s thesis, Royal Road’s University].  http://dx.doi.org/10.25316/IR-3205

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