The word ‘love’ is generally a term of affection used with those we know well rather than those we do not. In ancient Greece there were four words for love: storge for familial love and affection; philia for love in nonsexual friendship; eros for sexual love and attraction; and finally agape was the word used for pure, unconditional love.
It is the agape type of love that makes us better political or business leaders. It is a great shame today that people rarely talk about love for others without there being sexual connotations of some kind: it is high time to redeem the word ‘love’ and to be able to describe ourselves as loving leaders without any sexual innuendos. Over the last few years, I have started using the word love when speaking to other business leaders without any embarrassment.
Let’s consider how we bring love into our leadership within our business or organisation. To talk about love in a work context only a few years ago would probably have resulted in comments about us being hippies or that we had lost it and had gone ‘all new age’. It would have certainly also made the HR department a little nervous. Thank God we seem to have moved on, as I believe it is important to be able to love the people we lead. In the modern world, the workplace is the most important community in many people’s lives. Leaders are the modern equivalent to village elders from the pre-industrial era. Many think that loneliness will become an even greater scourge as we move through the 21st century – and being loved within the workplace will become even more important. When leaders learn to love their people, it helps to reset culture and company DNA.
Now, the great news about creating a loving culture is that it increases happiness, which in turn inspires excellent performances and results in more successful organisations. In addition, being a loving leader creates a better team dynamic with everyone rooting for each other, rather than trying to catch each other out and wanting to look better than them. What’s more, creating a loving culture will reduce stress in the workplace and increase positive mental health and wellbeing. So why wouldn’t you? Some would think that being loving is too wishy-washy a concept, that productivity will decrease, and less work will get done as people fawn over each other around the coffee machine. However, they are wrong. The drive for people to do well comes from internal motivation. It’s not external performance indicators that drive people to do well – as long as they know they are loved and they enjoy coming to work they will be excited to go to the second mile for their colleagues and feel excited about achieving excellent results, which makes for better productivity and teamwork. It really isn’t rocket science, is it? So, let’s look practically at how we can love our people.
A good way to be more loving is to imagining your work colleagues as your children. This isn’t to belittle them but to serve as a reminder that the loving behaviour children need from their parents is exactly what people need in their workplace. Children love to be appreciated when they have achieved a goal and love to be encouraged during the process of completing a task. We know children need boundaries and so do our work colleagues; being clear about what we are expecting from them and what we are not expecting helps enormously. Helping people not to feel overwhelmed is part of loving them, and so is putting your arm around them (metaphorically or not – up to you) and giving them the support that they need when they feel they can’t cope. Children need their parent’s attention so make sure you have clear and open spaces where people can openly communicate what they are feeling. Creating a family environment will enable people to be honest and authentic in their communication.
In our company, we often start our meetings with a period of quiet for a few minutes and a ‘check-in’ – when those present can let everyone else know how they are feeling at that moment. Initially, this might be in just a couple of words but sometimes we go into more detail. People are free to talk about work or personal stuff without fear of judgment, and this helps set the atmosphere of love and acceptance. Talking of home life, what better way to show love as a leader than giving people at work help with their difficulties at home? You could help your people sort a childcare problem, provide counselling if someone has lost a relative or resource financial counselling when colleagues have money issues. Because the sense of community has been lost for many and they do not know where to look when in trouble, part of being a loving leader is to help create that loving community around them.
I can’t think of a better way to finish than to reflect on the words that we have heard many times at wedding services, the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians. As you read these words, please think of your leadership in these terms:
‘Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’
What a great way to demonstrate love through all these qualities, as we seek to become more loving in our leadership.
Paul Hargreaves is a speaker, a B-Corp Ambassador, and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership