Business Leader: How to Lead with Love

  • 6 mins read

As a business leader, how do you lead with love? How is love practiced in your organization?

Given the volatility of 2021, I’ve been exploring this facet of leadership. Workplace tension and anger are rising, and some HR researchers anticipate this will continue throughout 2022.

In an article published by Harvard Business Review (January 2022), eleven current trends foster ongoing workplace volatility. Some of the top issues leaders and managers will face include:

  • Fairness and equity
  • Vaccine mandates and testing
  • Shorter work week
  • Employee turnover
  • Permanent shift to remote technology/tools
  • Permanent hybrid work model
  • Wellness tactics, technologies, and metrics
  • The need for a Chief Purpose Officer (CPO)
  • Manager-employee interpersonal relationships

There is a growing urgency to strengthen manager-employee interpersonal relationships and, for some organizations, to shift or add a CPO. At a minimum, the volatility we are experiencing creates stress for individuals, poor working relationships, and decreased productivity. Left unchecked, psychological abuse, violence, and ruin ensue. Great leaders can manage and even avoid these worst-case scenarios by leading with love.

Our Need for Love

All humans need love: we need to be loved, nurtured, and expressed. For many, having healthy business and professional relationships is a top goal. Even the smallest act of kindness can help meet this need.

Leading with love means doing the right thing at the right time in the right spirit (motivation). This type of love embodies courage, discernment, justice, and humility—it’s not about our natural preferences.

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Leadership, Love, and Blind Spots

Even the best leaders have blind spots when it comes to leadership and love. As Steven Snyder wrote in Leadership and the Art of Struggle, “Blind spots are the product of an overactive automatic mind and an underactive reflective mind.” This can be especially dangerous for leaders.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman describes how our fast, automatic mind reaches conclusions (re: judgments) quickly, typically prematurely, and frequently incorrectly; but our slow, reflective mind challenges assumptions, generates alternatives, and objectively evaluates and analyzes them.

Fast thinking happens frequently. Unfortunately, it does not address leadership blind spots, especially when it comes to self-perception. You see, most of us have a blind spot for our good qualities and a magnifying glass for our flaws.

The more we deny these blind spots, the more miserable we become. Instead, we can change the stories we tell ourselves that result from habitual fast thinking.

Practice Self-love

First, take a deep breath to slow your pace and clear your mind. Think back to something you recently did that was loving and kind. Allow yourself to linger in that memory to rebalance your feelings. Then, practice forgiveness. One helpful technique is a loving-kindness meditation:

  • May I be happy
  • May I be well
  • May I be safe
  • May I be peaceful and at ease

Extend Love at Work

The loving-kindness meditation published on Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley is a helpful way to extend love at work. This meditation was created by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education, who define compassionate love as:

“An attitude toward other(s), either close others or strangers or all of humanity; containing feelings, cognitions, and behaviors that are focused on caring, concern, tenderness, and an orientation toward supporting, helping, and understanding the other(s), particularly when the other(s) is (are) perceived to be suffering or in need.” (Sprecher & Fehr, 2005)

The Platinum Rule

People are starving for connection and hope amidst all of the uncertainty and fear we have experienced over the past two years. In light of these issues, it’s crucial for leadership to offer love using what anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher describes as The Platinum Rule: treat others not as you want to be treated (The Golden Rule) but as they want to be treated.

Ask, listen, confirm, offer, and if agreed, act.

Love What You Do at Work

According to a recently published article, “Managing a Polarized Workforce,” (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2022), “conflict is an inescapable part of work life for employees at all levels.” Their recent survey of US companies reveals that 89% of respondents report experiencing conflict at work and “spend about 3.5 hours a week, on average, dealing with it.”

Given this environment, especially for those who do not thrive in conflict, how can we love what we do at work? It boils down to identifying what is truly meaningful.

Language Matters

Language is powerful. It doesn’t merely describe. It shapes reality. Language becomes the filter through which we perceive the world.
When we talk about work that is truly meaningful, we are talking about the fundamental and essential human need of purpose. Great leaders and managers tap into what is truly meaningful by daily asking (and answering) three questions:

  • What ignites my passion in today’s work? Reclaim your resources, energy, time, and attention from the urgent to the meaningful.
  • How can I bring true value to this moment? Disengage from emotional entanglements and take constructive action.
  • What would I like my legacy to be in this assignment? Bring more value and meaning to a seemingly onerous task.

Workplace Romance

When co-workers seek connection and friendship, should love or dating be verboten? Views and opinions vary greatly depending on the size of the organization, the history (of the organization and the individual), and the perceived risk of intimate alliances. And so do company policies.

According to a 2018 survey published by Harvard Law School, the number of close personal relationship policies is on the rise. In 2017, more than 50% of respondents had formal, written policies, and 78% discouraged supervisor-subordinate relationships. However, this does not mean they have anti-fraternization policies. Why?

The Cons of Non-fraternization Policies

  • Grey areas: what is a close, personal relationship?
  • Enforcement: who monitors compliance?
  • Paternalism: should employers have the authority regarding personal matters?

The Pros of Non-fraternization Policies

  • Prevent sexual harassment
  • Mitigate the organization’s legal risk
  • Curtail workplace favoritism/toxicity
  • Outline accountability processes and consequences

Clearly, there are multiple considerations, including the approach, the scope, and the consequences. While every employee should review their organization’s policies, leaders and managers should review for:

  • How does the policy address employee’s concerns?
  • What channels are in place to support employees? How can they report/disclose their intentions/status? Who must do this? (The more senior in the relationship?)
  • Where are the grey areas? Who is responsible for decisions in these areas?

Truly successful organizations are led with love; what is happening in your organization?

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