With Valentine’s Day just behind us, the consumer marketing machine was in full effect with everything “love”.
It’s a term our culture throws around flippantly with talk about “loving” our lattes in the morning but love is a term that should be better translated as deep commitment. My trend-setting pastor, Mark Clark from Village Church, said it well that “Love is action that saves.”
Okay, but what does this have to do with business? A lot. Imagine being so committed to someone or a group of people that you are willing to save them if needed? If you knew your boss thought this way, how would that make you feel? How committed would you feel toward them? OR If you knew the car salesman was committed to your well-being like this, how would you feel buying a car from him? Would you tell others about his service and approach?
Simon Sinek in his new book Leaders Eat Last states that when people know that their leaders are providing protection from above, they can work hard on the ground, without being concerned about the dangers of the outside. He calls it the “Circle of Safety”. To create this type of trust, people must believe that you are committed to their well-being and are willing to sacrifice if needed. An organizational culture that doesn’t have this type of trust operates individualistically with everyone looking out for themselves and only cooperates when it’s in their best interest or are motivated by monetary gain.
I’ve spoken with many owners, especially those with union employees, that say it’s extremely difficult to create the right culture when trust is weak. A lack of trust slows down execution, doesn’t foster innovation or bottom-up ideas, and is emotionally draining which leads to burnout and higher turnover of good people. It’s a viscous slow-cooking demise.
Jim Collins, in my favourite business book Good to Great, talks about successful Level 5 Leaders who possess a professional will and personal humility. A humility that is found in making decisions for the betterment of the company, it’s people, and it’s customers.
So how do you become a leader that loves?
1. Work on Empathy.
This is the main trait that Simon Sinek emphasizes in Leaders Eat Last. Empathy is about understanding or sharing another person’s feelings or experiences. In order to gain empathy, you need to get to know people. Ask questions, understand their family dynamic, personal interests, and listen to their own story. Stephen Covey, in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, called this “Seeking First to Understand”.
2. Value the Human Element.
One of the issues that typically stop leaders from this behaviour is the pressure to meet financial objectives. Objectives are clear and easy to measure. How someone feels is very subjective. Even with the best employee engagement surveys, it’s very difficult to measure the financial impact or upside. In many circumstances, making decisions to improve stakeholder situations (i.e. better ingredients, better working conditions etc.) are hard costs that can be difficult to justify when they hinder short-term profitability.
3. Have the Courage to Lead with This Intent.
Leaders who truly act loving are not doing it because of the potential financial gain. They love because it’s the right thing to do even when it’s difficult. They care. They care about their employees. They care about the clients and customers they serve. And they are willing to sacrifice short-term gain for their sake. This is a heart issue and cannot be trained with a well-thought-out professional development plan. It’s a worldview that influences your mindset that reinforces a loving behaviour. Faith and religion are typically at the root and that was certainly the case for me.
Being a leader that loves is not a destination, it’s an up and down journey. Some days you’ll get it right and some days you want but the key is to always want to strive for it.