Leaderly Love: Getting Any? Giving Any?

by | Feb 14, 2024 | 0 comments

A version of this article has been published at the Globe and Mail.

February, the month most often attributed to the winter blahs (aka February blahs). But it is also known for something else: The month of love!

Valentines day comes and goes. But may not be everyone’s cuppa tea. But the notion of love endures. Even at work. And maybe especially at work. What?!

(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay)

I’m not referring to office romances, but rather I’m thinking about the connections people have with those they work with. And more saliently – their leader.

A boss can make or break one’s experience at work and impact their career. Leaders, here’s a self-test:

Are you a leader who people will say “I really like (or even love!) my manager (or boss, or whatever title fits)?” Long after the time you’ve worked together, will you still stand out as the ‘one’ they will never forget? Why is that? Did you make a significant positive difference in their career? Their daily experience at work? Show them how it’s (leadership) is done? Help them grow, stretch, and feel safe taking courageous, appropriate risks? What else?

Or will you, unfortunately, fall into the ‘uggh – I can’t stand my boss,” category? Or worse, even be the reason they left the company? It is often said that people tend not to leave because of the actual job, but rather, they leave because of bad bosses. I have had amazing bosses over the years in my career. And I’ve also had one pivotal (bad boss) experience that prompted me to leave a job I loved until they became my boss. This is what led me to start my own business many years ago (a bad boss but a silver lining outcome — more on that another time!).

I can already hear some objections brewing like “It’s not a popularity contest,” or “leaders don’t have to be liked to be effective.”

True, but not completely. I’m talking about something much bigger than a popularity contest or just being liked to feel good.

The right kind of ‘leaderly love’ can have a positive influence. For everyone. Bottom lines included. People tend to lean in with more discretionary effort when they have a boss who cares and supports their success.

As a coach, I talk to a lot of people about their careers. Over the years, I’ve heard an equal share of folks who tell me about their favorite leaders as well as those they couldn’t stand. A senior manager who I coach told me that a leader he had more than a decade ago is still the one who had the most positive influence on him in his career. And when he later became a leader, he emulated some of the good leadership traits he saw in this previous boss who was a role model to him. The word ‘care’ kept coming up in his story. He said the leader cared about him and his career and it showed up in many ways.

Care is one facet of ‘leaderly love’. What else? What does ‘love at work’ mean?

Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD, psychology professor, author of the book, Love 2.0, and a leading expert on the science of positive emotion, says it’s time to upgrade our view of love beyond the limited lenses of romantic or familial relationships. She says love can also be about seeing, appreciating, and creating micro-moments of any shared positive emotion with another. That ‘other’ can be anyone – a colleague, direct report, and even a stranger.

The menu of positive emotions is vast and includes joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. Each of these emotions has been studied by a growing army of scientists and now there is a groundswell of evidence that points to the merits of experiencing (and better yet, sharing) positive emotions in our daily work and lives. Positive emotions boost thinking capacity, health, abilities to listen, to reach for higher goals, to be generous and to be happy.

So what does this look like at work? First, here’s what it does not look like:

Being stingy and holding back on positive feedback because the good work they did is expected and part of their job. Or saving up feedback for only official performance reviews. Not encouraging or supporting someone to grow because you fear they will leave your team. Never laughing, smiling or encourage some fun – because that’s for after hours. Hiding behind your title and not revealing anything personal because work is work, personal is personal. Creating a fear-based culture by holding back on communications and keeping people in the dark, guessing and afraid of what might come. The list goes on.

Here’s what “love” at work can look like instead:

Take a moment to acknowledge effort and good work in timely ways. Ignite some pride and feeling of accomplishment within the team. Convey hopeful messages when the going gets tough. Connect with a hello in passing — even a smile can go a long way.

Help your people learn, grow and stretch toward bigger aspirational career goals even if it means they may eventually leave your team. Celebrate individual and team wins – even tiny wins can fuel the tank for forward momentum.

Give ‘tough love’ feedback with grace and sensitivity – but do have those conversations. Holding back won’t do anyone any good. Encourage laughter, fun and team connection. There is no better medicine than a heartfelt belly laugh.

There are many more ways to do this. There’s no limit and no excuse about being busy. Because remember, the recipe for this is one micro-moment at a time.

Pay attention to what might occur when you model this kind of leaderly love. People might do better, feel better, and perform better.

Love at work? A scandalous approach, isn’t it?

What are your stories of love at work?

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, is an ICF credentialed, two-time ICF (International Coaching Federation) Prism award winner, who works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.


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