Loving the Ones You Lead

Why love in the workplace is a good thing

At the risk of my employer firing me, or my wife leaving me, let me explain.

The world is enamored with love…but it lacks a good working definition.  In its cheapened form love amounts to like, lust, and feelings.  Popular media bombards us with artists, musicians, and movie-makers watering it down with empty words, immature feelings, and meaningless sex.

The best working definition I’ve ever heard for love comes from Tim Kimmel.  As an expert on parenting and marriage it makes sense Tim would have authored a solid definition.  Pencils ready…you’re gonna want to write this one down.

“Love is the commitment of my will to your needs and best interests, regardless of the cost!”

Your mind is perhaps drifting to first loves, true loves or pizza.  Stop that.

Think about the people you lead as I unpack the definition and explain why it matters so much to you as a leader.  Let’s talk about loving the people you lead.

Love is the commitment of my will…

This is a paradigm shift for many, but love is not a feeling.  Love is not an emotion.  Love is a choice.  A decision.  As leaders, we commit to lots of things.

  • To our customers – by meeting their needs.
  • To our shareholders – by delivering bottom line returns.
  • To our employees – by creating a great place to work.

In all these situations we’re committing our own will to things we deem important. We’re making personal decisions.

The Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines “will” this way: The mental power used to control and direct our thoughts and actions, or a determination to do something, despite any difficulties or opposition.

That doesn’t sound like a feeling, it sounds like a decision doesn’t it?  It also doesn’t sound easy.  As though I might encounter adversity.  Which brings us to the next part of our definition.

…to your needs and best interests,

What I’m committing my will to in loving another person is THEIR needs and best interests.  Not mine!  Love is about the person I love. Important to remember is that if I’m going to commit myself to someone else’s needs and best interests, I must actually know what those needs and best interests are.  As a leader, this means I must study my people.  Take an interest in them.  Contemplate their strengths and liabilities…and envision an evolved version of them.  I must think about where they struggle and stumble as a result of their shortcomings, and devise strategies to help them avoid the potholes on the road ahead.  I must discover and appreciate their greatest attributes and reveal ways to leverage these assets to maximize their potential as a professional…and more importantly a human being.

Are you starting to see how this has nothing to do with my needs?  In fact, I’m ignoring my own needs and elevating the needs of others. Which brings me to the final point.

regardless of the cost!

The cost of loving the people we lead according to this definition is extremely high.  Committing yourself to someone else’s future, no matter the cost, is incredibly sacrificial.  And this is precisely why this form of love in the work place is not only appropriate, but also desperately needed.  Imagine your company if every leader in every seat, over every employee…actually loved the people they led in this way.

Imagine if, to the person, every leader committed their own will to the needs and best interests of every employee in the company…and selflessly did so at very high personal cost.

Now that would be a place I’d want to work.

Skeptics will try to poke holes in this definition claiming people will abuse their leaders or get away with murder.  As a rebuttal let’s return to our definition.

When we say we’re committing our will to someone’s needs and best interests, sometimes we’re confronted with an employee that is lazy, incompetent, negative, or burned out.   What’s in the best interest of this employee?  As leaders who love them, we must roll up our sleeves and confront these unacceptable realities to either lead them out of the valley or usher them out of the company.  To tolerate these behaviors is to lead poorly.

Sure, the cost of doing the hard work with our people is high.  Sometimes very high.  It means having hard conversations, stepping into conflict, holding people accountable, putting them on performance plans, or doing things we dread as leaders.  But to not commit our will to these hard things is to NOT love our people.  Sitting idly by while one person holds everyone hostage is unloving.  Unloving to everyone we lead because it’s in the needs and best interest of the entire team…to deal with the one person holding back the collective group.   That one person is denying the group a bigger future.  And if we love the people we lead…we want them to enjoy a big future.

My challenge to you as a leader is to ask yourself, “Do I really love the people I lead?  Have I committed my will to my team’s needs and best interests…regardless of the cost to me?”  If yes, you’re leading from the right foundation.  If no, maybe you shouldn’t be leading others.  Maybe you should return to being an individual contributor…putting yourself under the leadership of someone who can love you in the way I’m suggesting.

What do you think?  Am I right in saying it’s OK to love the people you lead?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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