In last month’s musings on How Leaders Grow, I posited that leaders grow most as they Listen, Learn, and Love. For some, the mixing of the term love into a “work environment” was likely a bit awkward - inspiring thoughts of backroom romances or worse. But it’s no stretch to say that the best business leaders I know love their people the most, and in ways that inspire no talk of scandal. From my perspective, love is more made of action than it is of emotion, and what makes it all the more confusing is that people give and receive love in so many different ways. And, love is such a pliable term - I love my wife, mom, team, motorcycle, creative cooking, and ice cream - all in wildly different ways!
Read on for an expansion of Curt’s thoughts on love in the workplace, and how leaders need to:
Thinking through this topic reminds me of a book that my wife and I were given early in our marriage - The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman. It’s a book and concept many are familiar with, but as with many things - the principals are tougher to internalize and make habit. The book posits the notion that a key reason people struggle in relationships is that we humans have different ways in which we prefer to express and to receive love, and we aren’t always speaking the same language!
The 5 languages identified by Chapman are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I won’t get into lengthy prescriptions of how-to’s or what-to’s in this forum. But, what I would like to relay is the importance of showing love in the way that your team members (individually) wish to receive it - not in the way that you naturally express it. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to learn enough about your team, that you can show love - through action - that helps them feel loved and appreciated.
I’m reminded of an occasion, (which I share here with permission) a few months into LoCo Business Developer Rory Schaar’s employment at LoCo. We were walking and talking through some sales funnel or web design topic on a beautiful sunny day, and had stopped at a crosswalk. As the walk light changed, we both moved to begin walking across College Avenue, but because I was turned toward Rory in conversation, only I saw the car speeding toward the right turn lane, looking to glide through the red light and head west on Cherry Street before the cross traffic could get across the intersection. On impulse, I stopped and put my hand on her shoulder to cease her momentum into the crosswalk, and was met with a look of alarm as I’d entered her personal space - and then relief as the car zoomed by and she realized that my action was taken for her protection.
In that moment, and reflecting back, it was obvious to me that physical touch - even pats on the back - was not going to be a way in which my appreciation for her work was likely to be received well. In the time since, I’ve learned words of affirmation are significant for Rory, and she likes a thoughtful - and professional - gift from time to time.
Words of affirmation may take a lot of different forms - a public thank you on LinkedIn to celebrate a big project win or a work anniversary, employee of the month or similar programs, a shout-out at team meetings - you do you, I would say. For you larger companies, you’ll need to systemize some things to be equitable and just, but for the managers within, be mindful of how you can show love according to an individual’s best way of receiving. If the public words of affirmation don’t feed this particular employee, maybe it’s a paid day off (quality time), or a gift card for a restaurant.
For Rory, one of the best things that I can do to affirm her is to give her hard things to do, and recognize her for doing them well. Virtually all of our digital presence has Rory’s fingerprints on it, including social media and outbound marketing efforts, and she’s Co-creator of the LoCo Experience Podcast. In this collaborative effort, I serve as the host of the long-format in-person Experience episodes, and she captures shorter business stories and learnings in the LoCo Shorts episodes. And, in this episode just released this week, Rory acts as the guest host of the Experience podcast, and interviews yours truly to get the backstory on the LoCo Think Tank journey as we celebrate 7 years in business!
Debbie Pyles is my other employee at Team LoCo, and she’s always reinvigorated by an “atta girl Debbie!” I don’t know for sure but I think maybe Acts of Service is her other primary language. She’s also a hugger, and we shared a great one before she moved to Minnesota this past week, moving a few doors down from her parents to help her father care for her ma, who’s increasingly suffering from dementia. I’m a hugger too, and in the pre-covid days I would often joke that three hugs a day was my goal.
Sidebar/pro-tip: Being a dude who’s a hugger can be a little tricky - my general rule is that hugs aren’t generally appropriate with co-workers (unless they are moving far away), or anyone where there is a commissioned sale or similar to be leveraged, and should as a general rule be initiated by the woman if in mixed company. And, if you’re married like me, and you think there is any chance the woman is flirting with you - do not hug! That said, when I see my former employees or past co-workers in the community, I often get a hug - or at least hope to again “when things get back to normal”. And, I’ve got a number of dudes who get a hug too. I like
‘em! In fact, if you see me out and about, and you need/want a hug - and you haven’t experienced any covid symptoms in the past 10 days - I’m your huckleberry!
I bring up Debbie and her move to Minnesota to set the stage for my second point. Love is revealed by action. It was last November when Debbie first brought up the idea that she might have to move to Minnesota. She’s spent time with them and noticed how much her mother’s condition had declined since the spring. A few months later and after about a hundred showings, her Colorado home was sold and she was off to love on her parents by moving to a lake house. (well, she’s not suffering so badly…) She’d only just purchased her Colorado home a couple years before though, and had no plans to make any major changes in life up until that point.
By her showing love to her folks, she gave me an opportunity to show love by making her job officially remote. She was mostly remote anyway, especially post-covid, but we’ll miss her in-person presence and support of special events. But as much as we’d miss her, I celebrate her decision to take action and show love.
That’s the way this world works you see, when you show love to another it opens up space for another to show love to you, and the circle goes round and round. In commerce, “add value” is the core principle around which everything else is built, but in life I would say it’s “show love”, and I encourage you to do it in your homes and offices in the ways that your people will best receive it, and remember that love is better shown by action than by heart emoji’s.
Also, BTW, in this blog it’s my aim only to plant seeds, and as it turns out, there’s a whole related book called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace - if this post has encouraged you to make Love in the Workplace more of a thing for your business in 2021, it’s a good place to start. Or for some quick tips on how to show love in the workplace, check these out.