“A company is stronger if bound by love than by fear,” the late Herb Kelleher, co-founder, CEO and Chairman of Southwest Airlines, once said.
I remember very clearly the first time I heard the word “love” uttered in a leadership context. I was about to teach a workshop on leadership to a group of up-and-coming junior officers. Before being introduced, the unit leader told the room full of mostly men they needed to love the people they were responsible for leading.
You could have heard a pin drop. Coming from this soldier’s soldier, the L-word was utterly unexpected.
Is it okay to use the word “love” in the workplace?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines love as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.” As leaders, we need to understand that we may be the most important person in the lives of the individuals we lead.
I don’t recall ever being told that a Boss loved me, but I can remember, as if it happened yesterday, the times when a boss called me by my first name, told me they were proud of me, protected me from someone who was blaming me for something I didn’t do.
All demonstrations of love. All demonstrations of belonging to something bigger than myself.
This isn’t just my opinion. A considerable amount of evidence suggests that social disconnection is widespread today. CIGNA first reported data in 2018 that chronic loneliness in the US has reached epidemic levels based on its research findings.
Beyond helping people feel safe and belonging, there are several compelling reasons outstanding leaders see the difference love can make in the workplace.
Love inspires performance excellence and resilience. Serving others is a reflection of love. Research shows that love has improved performance and protected people from stress and burnout. Call center staff raising money saw their revenue quintuple after meeting a recipient of that aid in person. Radiologists increased their diagnostic accuracy by 46-percent when the CT scans included facial photos of the patients. The most effective leaders inspire people by connecting them with the people they serve to show them how their work is helping others.
Love pulls together. Taking time to get to know and care for the people you lead brings about greater unity, especially as your team faces adversity. When love exists among the team members, they are more likely to pull together than tear one apart. They feel the bond of connection helps them overcome the inevitable obstacles every organization encounters.
Love overlooks minor offences. When love is present in a team, department or organization, people are more likely to assume the best in others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Absent love, potentially offending words or deeds are more likely to bring about retaliation and sprout rivalries that undermine performance.
Relationship Excellence Enhances Task Excellence
Critics say that love makes a work culture too soft. They are concerned that promoting the positive relational side of work will negatively impact productivity or make it harder to hold people to a high standard.
This is quickly addressed by having leaders communicate that being intentional about achieving excellence and results is expected so people don’t lose sight of their importance. And when standards are not met, take action to close the performance gap. This reinforces that, along with love, task excellence and results are essential to serving people well.
What critics miss is that relationship excellence enhances how tasks are performed. People who work in an organization love the people they work with and serve through their occupation. They work harder to please them. They care about the quality of the product or service they provide, and they offer it in a way that reflects love.
Employees of a business that reflects love also interact in loving ways. They are supportive, encouraging, patient, kind, empathetic and caring.
Gallup Research has shown that the people we work with and how we interact with them are more important to job satisfaction than we do. Engaged workers give more effort in their work, align their behaviour with their company’s goals, communicate and cooperate more, and actively think of ways to innovate.
So, what’s love got to do with it?
Few leaders use the L-word.
So the next time you hear a leader speaking about “love” in terms of how colleagues treat one another and work together, pay close attention.
As it turns out, love is a powerful source of competitive advantage.
In the words of the great philosopher, Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it?