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Leadership: What’s love got to do with it?

It's rare to associate leadership in the workplace with love. But if we separate the feeling from the actions which we take when we feel it, it becomes clearer how this can translate into the workplace, with myriad benefits for leaders and employees alike.

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Do the words “love” and “leadership” belong in the same sentence? And what does that word “love” actually mean, anyway? The dictionary definition is fairly simple: Love is “an intense feeling of deep affection”, or it can be “a great interest and pleasure in something”. Most of us will have felt love at some point. Love for a parent or a sibling; love for a partner or a child; even love for a pet. Of course, these types of love are all different from each other. The love of a mother for her child is different from the love of someone for their life partner, which again is different from the love between two brothers. Or is it?

I couldn’t say that I love my husband differently from the way I love my sister, or my cats. Yes, the intensity of the feeling might vary, and the physical expression of that feeling might differ, but the way I treat my loved ones is no different. For me, it means you want the best for that person, you want them to be happy, you want them to succeed. If you love someone, you will go the extra mile for them. You will put yourself out for them, or change your plans to accommodate them. Their welfare is important to you and you care about what they are thinking and feeling. These things are common for every type of love.

What do we mean by “love” in the workplace?

To begin, let’s separate the feeling of love from the actions which we take when we feel it.  Doing so makes it easy to see how this can translate to the workplace. Indeed, it can apply to any other situation in our daily lives.

We go to work for a variety of different reasons, the most fundamental of which is usually to earn money to fund everything else in our lives. But while we are there, we have interactions and dealings with other people. The vast majority of people want those interactions to be pleasant, friendly and helpful. Our colleagues can even grow into being personal friends.

I’d argue that for those interactions with others to be consistently pleasant and effective, then we really need to love those people. We need to want the best for them, want them to succeed, put ourselves out for them, and help them. Most of us do this, probably unconsciously, all the time. Maybe we thank and help people. Perhaps we teach people what we know, enabling them to do the best job they can do. 

The vital understanding, however, is that the underlying reason we do these things is, more likely than not, we want them to do the same for us. We all have a need for love, and the workplace is no different from anywhere else – we want to be “liked”, valued and taken into account.

Love and leadership

A leader – whether in the workplace, politics, or in a sports team – would do well to show these outward expressions of love to the people they lead. Surely a leader should want the best for the team, their team members to be happy and to succeed? If those things are true for individual members of a team, then they will be true for the whole team. In a position of leadership, I would say it is absolutely critical to “love” those you lead. Your success as a leader and the success of the outcome you are seeking depend on it.

So, how does a leader show love? Let’s be clear, we are not talking about office hugs, here! Showing love as a leader means putting every single possible step in place to ensure the welfare (physical and mental) of your team. Make sure your team are at the heart of all your plans and decisions. Be prepared to change course (or at least adjust it) if it will be a better option for people. Consult with your team regularly to temperature test your plans. Make sure everybody is included.

The benefits of love and leadership

One thing about love is that the more you give out, the more you get back. A leader who loves the people they lead will find that those people are prepared to love them in return. They will go the extra mile to meet deadlines, making sacrifices if necessary. If they are made to feel safe and secure they will do their best work and sing the praises of the leader while they’re at it. In short, they will love their leader. And the biggest benefit of all? You will find you love yourself, as well.

As a result, the question may not be “What are the benefits if I lead my team with love?” Instead, it is perhaps better to ask  “What will be the size and consequence of the failure, if I don’t love my team?”

What about the difficult decisions?

You may think you would lose respect if you are “soft” on your team. Yet my answer to that thinking is: love is not soft. It comes from a place of strength. People will ultimately respect you far more for being kind, helpful, approachable and, yes – loving.

There are of course times in business when difficult decisions have to be made and leaders have to do some difficult things (redundancies, disciplinaries, even dismissals). You might think that love doesn’t have a place in these types of action, but again, the opposite is true.  A leader’s duties include helping individuals through the bad times as well as the good. So, in what could be some of the darkest times of a person’s professional career, leading with love can avoid making a bad situation worse, and will undoubtedly foster a stronger, more resilient workplace culture with those employees who remain.

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