L.E.A.D. - L IS FOR LOVE

In the inaugural issue of Company magazine, I was invited to write an article on the topic of leadership. In it, I introduced what I believe are the four essential practices of an effective leader.  If a leader hopes for the team that he leads to be successful at what they do, he must become proficient at these four important activities.  In short, these four practices become the work he spends his time doing as a leader.

 

The four essential leadership practices are to love, empower, align and develop the members of your team. In this article, we will consider the first – and perhaps – the most important practice; a leader’s sincere love for the members of his team. Without the first, the other three are rarely effective.

 

 

 

"I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles;

but today it means getting along with people."

- Mohandas Gandhi

 

 

Read any leadership research these days and you will find that organizations of all types are coming to the realization that the CEO must demonstrate a genuine affection for the people he leads if he hopes to keep them motivated over the long haul. Intimidating and bossy leaders are out. Encouraging and supportive leaders are in.

 

Employees at one of the largest companies in the San Antonio area can testify to this truth. A previous leadership culture reflected an old-school paradigm that left team members running for cover and laying low under the heavy fist of its CEO. Oh sure, there were plenty of bonuses awarded in return for healthy profits. The company was profitable. However, the internal atmosphere of the organization was not very healthy. It had lost some of what had made such a wonderful place to work in the past. People were living in their foxholes cowering in fear of another tirade by their heavy-handed leader.

 

There is more than one way to measure the success of a company than its bottom-line. In fact, healthy profits don’t always indicate a healthy company. William Arthur War declares, "Wise are those who learn that the bottom line doesn't always have to be their top priority."

 

Fast forward just a few years and the word on the street is that the atmosphere in the company has completely changed with a new, more hospitable chief executive. The entire culture of the company has been renewed. The impact has been felt not only inside the corporation but outside of it as well. It’s reputation is changing and with it, an even larger opportunity to serve a larger market of potential customers. This profound shift has resulted in not only healthy profits but also the added bonus of a dramatically more enjoyable workplace environment and growing team spirit. In the long run, that spirit may be more valuable to the shareholders than the hefty annual dividend.

 

This profound shift can be easily traced back to the difference between two distinct leadership styles. One paradigm was old-school. The other one is a newer version of what has been found to work better. One may have been profitable. The other was just much more productive across a number of fronts. This wider range of corporate health positions the company for a more sustainable success trajectory.

 

Listen closely to the candid conversations that occur around the water cooler when employees are sure their remarks are safely concealed from upper management. Employees will tell you the same thing that the research reveals. People love to work for somebody who loves them. Unfortunately, this observation is a deduction made from the majority of these workplace conversations where employees reveal that they hate to work for difficult, rude and insensitive leaders.

 

It seems like a no brainer, right?  However, the prevailing model of leadership in past generations has been one where the power of position was protected by a distant and demanding authority figure.  The boss was more a hardened general barking orders at those “below” him than an approachable mentor providing support to those serving “alongside” him.

 

The entire organizational paradigm has been turned upside down over the past decade or so.  The new leader sees himself as serving those on his team. The old leader saw his team as serving him. Organizational leadership used to be very top heavy in authority. Today, organizations take on a more linear, synergistic and collaborative approach to how they accomplish their work.

 

These days, positional leadership and the title granted to it doesn’t carry the same weight as it use to in the past.

 

What caused this change?  Well, the short answer is that a number of significant social shifts in American society over the past thirty years resulted in a significant change in how leadership works. Less clout is placed in titles and more credibility is placed on character.

 

This is especially true among Millennials (born between 1980 to 2000), the latest generation of young people moving into the work force. They just don’t place as much importance in a person’s title as they do in their presence. Recent graduates entering the workforce these days do not see positional authority in quite the same way as their parents before them. Titles don’t carry a lot of weight with Millennials.  If they are not treated with a certain amount of compassion, they will quickly move on to another company.

 

They want to feel like they are a member of the team rather than a cog in the wheel.

 

I believe great leadership begins with a genuine appreciation and sincere affection for the people you lead.  Sure, leading out of position or title can produce short-term results. However, it doesn’t inspire a team over the long haul.

 

A leader’s love is particularly important to individuals working in volunteer roles. As a leader of a non-profit organization that is built largely on the contributions of volunteers, I have found that motivation becomes a completely different challenge when there aren’t paychecks, promotions or perks to award performance.  Love is the only incentive that truly works.

 

Leadership guru, Ken Blanchard, observes, “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

 

The sooner a leader learns the power of a sincere love for his team, the more powerful his leadership leverage will be. An important part of this process is to stop seeing employees as a cog in the wheel of the company machine or a tool to use to beef up the bottom line.  While employees may be a means to an end, they are people not machines. Getting the best out of people requires generous amounts of affection and appreciation. Employees must first be seen as people; valuable partners in the work you are hoping to accomplish with their help.

 

Loving the people you lead can look a lot of different ways. Here are just a few ways to show your employees you love them.

 

{C}·            Share verbal or written words of encouragement and praise.

{C}·            Celebrate their birthday or employment anniversary.

{C}·            Invite them out for a non-working lunch or a cup of coffee from time to time. (This is different from the company-hosted event to “reward” employees for a profitable quarter. This is more personal than corporate.)

{C}·            Show a sincere interest in their spouse, their children and their hobbies by asking them questions about these topics on a regular basis.

{C}·            Be one of the first people in your organization to check on them when they are facing an illness, injury or other personal crisis.

{C}·            Enjoy conversations with them about topics other than work related issues.

{C}·            Avoid letting the only interaction you have with them is when you want something from them. (“The only time my boss ever talks to me is when she needs something from me.”)

 

There are hundreds of ways that a leader can demonstrate a genuine affection for the people they serve. An effective leader will work on identifying the best ways to do that. (HINT: A leader might even invite his assistant to help him with some great ideas if he is not quite as creative or sensitive in these more thoughtful gestures. His assistant can also schedule some time on a busy executive’s calendar to honor this important leadership priority.)

 

Many organizations are attempting to define what some might call the “love language” of their employees.  What are some of the best ways people recognize (“hear”) the language of appreciation and admiration? While one person may appreciate being verbally told of their value to the company, another person may need a gift or plaque to really hear their boss’s appreciation. Somebody else on the team might need a pat on the back or a great big hug (as company policy permits) while another employee is going to need their boss’ undivided attention from time to time. 

 

It is important to recognize that not all love languages are the same. If you’re the kind of leader or company that always gives out plaques or similar tokens in recognition of outstanding performance, you need to need to pay attention here.  Some employees don’t hear the language of trophies and trinkets.  It’s not that they don’t appreciate the thought. It’s just not the language that means anything to them.  In fact, after receiving their umpteenth plaque, your gesture is seen more as convenient for you rather than appreciative of them.  They eventually become suspicious if you really appreciate them or if you just have a stack of plaques in your office to use as a reward with little or no thought about how valuable they really are to your organization.

 

If your best team member doesn’t understand the language of trophies, you risk losing her contribution with another plaque to hang on the wall of her office.

 

Author Gary Chapman has written a helpful book on this very subject entitled “The Five Love Languages.” While Chapman’s primary audience was married couples learning to express affection for one another, the principles apply to all relationships including those with whom we work. A good leader will read a book like this and guide his team through some kind of exercise that helps identify individual “love languages.” The effective leader then learns to be fluent in each of the languages understood by the members of his team.

 

Oh…and remember…you can’t fake this. The people you lead know if you really care or not. Remember, they are very intelligent. That is why you hired them in the first place. If they sniff out that you’re just doing nice things in order to get something out of them, you’ll lose leadership credibility in a hurry. 

 

Work is something you do; a task that requires you to be efficient. Relationships are something that you are; an investment that demands you be effective.  Trying to be effective at tasks and efficient at relationship will never get you very far in the world of leadership.

 

Loving others takes time. You must schedule it or it will rarely get done. It will always be time well spent in a leader’s schedule of priorities.

 

In closing, I can imagine a leader reading this article feeling a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to demonstrate a sincere love for every person in their organization. Recognizing, understanding and speaking the love language of every person you pass in the hall on your way to your office is next to impossible. Celebrating every birthday or scheduling another lunch appointment can push a busy leader over the edge.  Adding one more thing to remember to do in order to be a good leader exasperates busy leaders. Trust me, I understand.

 

To make time to show love to your employees amidst the push and shove of a busy and demanding work environment takes diligence and discipline. The temptation will be to neglect it as unimportant or unnecessary.  More often than not you’ll conclude, “I just don’t have the time!”

 

Taking the time to show your employees you love them will fall prey to the classic dilemma between the urgent and the important.  All executives know that struggle all too well. There never seems to be enough time to do what you know is important because what is urgent always screams the loudest for your immediate response.

 

The only time that demonstrating your love for your employees will fall into the urgent-category is when some of your best people are on their way out the door to work for your competitor. Unfortunately, then it’s too late.

 

Love will never been seen as a vital practice or priority when it comes to market shares and profit margins. In reality however,, it is one of the most important influences on these two critical means of success. Most leaders fail to see the connection. Don’t be one of them.

 

An effective leader must realize that the love he shows for his team is critical to the success of his company.


So how in the world do you find time to do it when you are already busier than your should be just trying to keep the ship pointed in the right direction?

 

The only realistic way to demonstrate sincere appreciation for the people in your organization is to break it down into smaller circles of people.  In the organization I lead, we refer to these circles as a leader’s “huddle.”  We want our leaders to know the answer to the question, “Who is in your huddle?” Like a quarterback pulling his offensive unit into a tight circle to call the next play, every leader has an immediate circle of people he thinks of as “my team.”  An effective leader learns to demonstrate sincere expressions of love for the people closest to him in the organization. 

 

A realistic “span of care” in a huddle is usually not much larger than ten people.

 

In my organization, we insist on it.  A leader must learn to show love to the members of his team. In a volunteer intensive organization like I lead, it is the only paycheck we have to give.  We believe that a leader’s team has to know they are loved if the leader is going to be effective at leading them. Love, not talent, intelligence or skill, is the foundation upon which great teams are built.

 

A really great leader understands that the better he models a sincere affection for those in his huddle, the more likely his team will imitate that same behavior for the people in the teams they lead.  When a culture of love permeates teams throughout an organization, the entire company enjoys a thriving spirit of unity and enthusiasm, which ultimately leads to increased productivity. And productivity is almost always a factor of profit.