Management Articles


Leadership - What's Love Got to do with It?

By: Lisa Earle McLeod

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist and inspirational thought-leader. A popular keynote speaker, Lisa is the principal of McLeod & More, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing in sales, leadership and conflict management. Her newest book is The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Jan 2010 from Penguin Putnam). (

We want our customers to love us.

We want our employees to love their jobs. Yet if you bring up the "L word" in the context of leadership, people get uncomfortable.

They envision an afternoon of holding hands around the company campfire with the staff swaying to the strains of "kumbaya" as the HR Director strums out the chorus on his folk guitar.

But contrary to what skeptics might like to think, bringing love into the workplace doesn't mean group hugs and trust falls.

Love is one of the most effective and efficient business strategies that ever existed. And infusing love into an organization delivers a better ROI than any other single investment you can make. Our hesitancy to acknowledge love as an essential element of leadership is particularly ironic when you consider the plethora of books, tapes, seminars and consultants out there giving pointers on how to harness passion at work.

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One need look no further than the extensive research behind the mega-bestsellers Good to Great, How Full Is Your Bucket and Vital Friends to find clear evidence that the leaders who proactively put love into their work are significantly more successful than those who don't. When you show up with your heart, your mind works at a much great capacity than it does on the days when you leave your heart at home.

The truth is, love has been the cornerstone of every successful venture since the dawn of time. From the American Revolution to Apple Computer, the great ones are always fueled by love -- by people who love what they do and who love the people they do it with.

Our reluctance to embrace love as a business strategy is rooted in three common misperceptions: feelings don't belong in the office; love is mushy and therefore unmeasurable; and loving your employees means letting them off the hook.

These are total bunk.

First off, like it not, emotions are at the root of every human endeavor. Whether it's work, home, or the Friday night bar scene, emotions drive the action. The idea that feelings are somehow unprofessional is a myth perpetuated by people who don't want to feel their own emotions and who are absolutely petrified at the thought of having to deal with someone else's.

However, we've all experienced the Darth Vader boss in the Cubicle of Darkness enough times to know that negative emotions can suck the life out of an organization. There comes a point when we have to get past our discomfort and openly admit that success or failure is determined by the way that people feel.

Emotions lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to words, and words lead to action. It's not a leader's job to minimize feelings. It's a leader's job to create systems that ignite positive ones.

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But how do you wrap your arms around measuring something as mushy as love? It's not like you can insert a heart meter into everyone at your office. And to be brutally frank, employee satisfaction surveys aside, measuring love isn't really about how much the employees love the boss, but it's about how effectively the boss loves the employees.

Leaders who know how to love make a practice of setting crystal clear expectations. They give consistent and accurate feedback, and they provide people with the tools they need to get the job done. They're like great parents; they set their team up for success. It's not about being a patriarchal jerk. It's about taking the responsibility for creating the conditions that will bring out the best in others.

Ask any working-class kid whose folks scrimped and saved to put them through college; they'll tell you that love is a completely measurable entity. It's not just about what you say, it's about what you actually do.

But you don't have to be demonstrative to be a loving leader. The true measure of love in leadership is how well your team understands the work that needs to be done and the significance of their role in the big picture.

Which brings me to the final, and perhaps most fatal, misperception about love and leadership -- which is that loving people means letting them off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, making the decision to love your people and your organization doesn't mean lowering your standards for them; if anything it means raising them.

The very nature of love is all about mutual accountability. When you love someone, you expect them to give you the best of what they've got. And if they don't, you care enough about them to let them know exactly how they can improve in the future.

The bottom line is this -- Love isn't for softies or sissies. Infusing love into your organization is just as challenging as infusing love into your family or any other relationship. And you don't really master the art of love until you stop thinking of it as a noun and start practicing it as an active verb.

Love isn't something that leaders should be trying to get from their customers or their staff. Love is the strategy that leaders need to apply to their own actions. Organizing your business around the discipline of love is no easy feat, but the payoffs are very measurable and real.

So let discomfort be damned. The real secret of lasting success is taking a good, long look in the mirror and deciding that your people and your organization deserve a leader who has the courage to stand up and love them

© Copyright 2009 Lisa Earle McLeod.

Books by Lisa Earle McLeod

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The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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