How (And Why) Great Leaders Practice Love In The Workplace
A CEO client recently asked if I’d help him develop interview questions for his CFO search. I agreed and worked up a set of fifty questions a CEO might ask a potential CFO.
Since my client planned to delegate technical interviewing to a board member with financial expertise, I decided to devise questions focused on other success factors I’d experienced as a CFO at companies like Microsoft and Novartis. My questions ranged from exploring candidates’ core values to helping shape the company’s strategy.
While all my proposed interview questions were important, one of them was causing me some trepidation. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how my client would react to it.
The Question I Almost Didn’t Include
As we reviewed the questions together over a video call, that very question stopped my client cold. He actually stepped back from his webcam, did a slow 360 spin, and exclaimed, “Yes! I have to ask that. I will learn so much about each candidate with this question!”
The question was, “What role do you think love plays in the workplace?”
Love in the workplace? Yes.
Of course, I’m not talking about romantic love in this context. I’m talking about admiration, esteem, respect, and appreciation. If the word “love” isn’t working for you, replace it with one of those. Whatever term you prefer, practicing love will dramatically improve work relationships, collaboration, influence — and ultimately, your effectiveness.
In short, practicing love accelerates your success.
Humanity Doesn’t Vanish Past The Reception Desk
As a CFO, the most frequent challenges I faced had more to do with human relations than with income statements or balance sheets. Specifically, these challenges arose from the difficulties people have playing well with others. I think I saw it all during my 25-year finance career: spiteful office politics, turf battles, back-biting, cat-fighting, customer disparagement, and Machiavellian deception.
Of course, none of that nastiness improved financial performance, market share, customer satisfaction, or employee morale. Instead, it derailed careers, wounded souls, squandered business opportunities, wrecked relationships, missed synergies, and wasted tons of financial resources.
But after living and working across four continents, I’ve concluded that human goodness is everywhere — even in the corporate sandbox. Sure, we all have quirks, foibles, and defects. And yes, there are a few genuinely evil actors out there.
Still, I have found that most people are inherently good and want to do the right thing. Humans want to love and to be loved. And those wants don’t disappear when we’re at work.
Four “Love” Practices Of Great Leaders
If the idea of practicing love in the workplace feels awkward, think about this: great leaders aren’t ashamed to bring love into the workplace. Consider the leaders you admire most and ask yourself why you admire them.
Chances are, the leaders you admire consistently follow the four practices listed below. Even if they don’t consciously think of their behavior as love, they act out of sincere regard for the people around them. Isn’t that love?
Put it to the test yourself with these four simple ways to practice love on the job:
Be curious. Being a know-it-all puts people off as arrogance. On the other hand, when you’re curious about others’ ideas and points of view, you foster an environment of learning and exploration. Curious questions invite people to share more of their thinking, elaborate on their ideas, and potentially enlighten you. By first seeking to understand, then to be understood, you create emotional space for collaboration and mutual learning.
Assume positive intent. It’s easy to make up diabolical stories about people’s actions. The Ladder of Inference explains how we often layer inferences on limited data without checking our assumptions. These inferences can lead to imagined offenses. To overcome this, give the benefit of the doubt. Check with the other party by stating what you’ve observed. Own your interpretation by saying, “The story I’m telling myself is ________.” Then ask how they see the situation. I bet you’ll be positively surprised.
Take an interest in people. You may think sharing your own stories engenders trust and collaboration, but doing so shifts the limelight from others to you. When you show interest in them by inquiring what they care about most, they feel seen and respected. You don’t need to be best friends with your colleagues, but it’s essential to keep your attentive spotlight shining on them. They’ll come away saying they love working with you!
Help others. I know you already have too much on your plate. But here’s the thing: helping others has a virtuous multiplier effect, kind of like 1 + 1 = 3. When you consistently help others, you generate goodwill exponentially accruing to you and the people around you. I can’t explain it in scientific terms, but somehow the universe pays you back, and then some. Warning: this won’t work if you only do it occasionally. You’ve got to practice it consistently. When you do, the ROI is enormous.
Love isn’t something you need to relegate to your private life. The truth is, there isn’t a distinction between personal life and professional life. There’s just life.
Yes, your life has different departments, stages, and venues. But it’s all still your life. If you don’t show up fully across all its facets, you’re operating with at least one arm tied behind your back — you aren’t using your best talents, gifts, and attributes where they could be most beneficial.
Great leaders accelerate their success by practicing love in these ways. We all can do the same. And as we close one of the most challenging years in a generation, it’s worth remembering that doing so can make a positive difference in your world beyond work too.