Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love never fails.”
Paul of Tarsus
ON Valentine’s Day, when love took centre-stage, my thoughts started to drift to my apartment in Dallas, situated near Love Field, the home of the “love” airline Southwest. The company’s NYSE ticker symbol: LUV. The largest and only consistently profitable airline through tumultuous times, Southwest’s model of success has inspired countless others, including AirAsia.
Astonishingly, Southwest founder and former leader Herb Kelleher built the entire business on love. I heard Kelleher at the tail-end of his career attributing Southwest’s greatness to love, saying, “If you seek long continued success for your business, treat your people as family and lead with love.”
He named Colleen Barrett, who started her career as a legal secretary, his successor, because “she knows how to love people to success”. Barrett claims that she spends 85% of her time on her people. Kelleher adds that “an infusion of love is an essential, but oft overlooked ingredient in any business”.
Interestingly, rarely is love described as a leadership competency. Yet, a lack of love in some form is generally the cause of failed leadership. We want our customers to love us and our products. We want our employees to love their jobs and their company. Yet, when we talk about leadership, we ignore love. Says leadership guru Ken Blanchard: “It might sound slightly bizarre, but one of the keys for effective leadership is to be madly in love with all the people you are leading.”
So, why is love ignored? First, love is synonymous with sex, beauty and its physical form. This makes it dicey to talk about or express love in an organisation. Furthermore, love is intangible, causing leaders to be sceptical. Most leaders fear love, believing it is about group hugs, soft mushy talk or holding hands around a company campfire singing Rasa Sayang.
But what Kelleher meant by “leading with love” means truly caring, serving and loving people both employees and customers. “We’ve never had layoffs,” he once declared. “Our people know that if they are sick, we will take care of them. If there are occasions or grief or joy, we will be there with them. We value them as people, not just cogs in a machine.”
He really loves his employees and customers, knowing all by name and unselfishly delighting in their well-being. Although Southwest is a low-cost airline, its salaries is on par with those of other airlines. Its employees’ productivity remains the highest, allowing it to price tickets low. Its pilots spent more time flying and less time on the ground. Southwest can turn around an airplane in 20 minutes while others struggle. Its short hauls are more fuel-efficient than most big airlines’ long hauls. Because the leaders at Southwest love their employees and have a “love” strategy, their employees always deliver.
Entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s love for customers ultimately led him to becoming a billionaire. When it comes to customers, the owner of NBA team Dallas Mavericks, passionately believes that customers should be happy, even if it means working 24 hours a day to please them.
Love strategy for business
According to “love” guru Patch Adams, every organisation needs a “love strategy” as it delivers a better ROI (return on investment) than any other investment. According to new research, leaders who put love into their work are significantly more successful than those who rule by fear.
Great leaders are fuelled by love. They love what they do and they love the people they do it with. Indra Nooyi , CEO of PepsiCo, reinvented Pepsi by caring for people and the planet, pushing PepsiCo into becoming a “green company.”
Most business leaders have a disinclination towards embracing love as a business strategy because they are conditioned to believe leadership means being cutthroat, aggressive and mean. In their eyes, love is for sissies, and by being nice, they risk being viewed as soft and this can result in losing their grip on leadership.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Leaders who love their people are more likely to push their employees to perform at their potential through honest feedback. They raise the bar consistently just as a parent who loves their children do, disciplining them and ensuring the children face difficulties so they can learn and grow.
My yearly performance appraisals with managers who cared were never pleasant but at the end of the day, I knew exactly where I stood. Milton Mayeroff believes love is “the selfless promotion of the growth of others”.
Love is action
Love is not what you say or feel, but what you do. Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership was driven by passion and action. He lived humbly because he loved people and wanted to engage with all walks of life.
Love is action. Love leads to positive thoughts, thoughts to words, and words to action. Negative emotions destroy organisations. Biologist Humberto Maturana notes that love is the only human emotion that consistently generates productive and intelligent actions.
Leaders cannot ignore feelings as leadership is emotional, dealing with dreams, passion, inspiration and love.
The opposite of love is hate. Hate manifests itself through fear. Fear restrains behaviour. Love liberates it. Fear freezes enterprise, suffocates creativity, and deters people from stretching and growing. Fear drives compliance but not commitment. Unfortunately, most of our leadership practices are fear-goaded and insidiously rooted in our work structures and culture.
Love brings success
Basketball coaching legend John Wooden, who won a record 10 NCAA titles, considers love the “most powerful thing there is”. The power of love powered his coaching career. He exclaimed: “Your players must know that you care for them more than just as athletes. Certainly, they understand that they are there because of their athletic ability. But when you have them under your supervision, it’s up to you to make sure that they understand that you care for them as individuals. I’ve never had one I didn’t love.”
John must have learnt from Sun Tzu’s Art of War “… he who loves them as his own beloved sons and they will stand by him until death”.
Research shows love being more effective in driving organisational cultural shifts than visionary statements or brilliantly worded goals. Even hard-nosed leaders such as Rudy Giuliani believes that “if you don’t love people, then don’t be a leader”.
In studying successful leaders, we find success driven by the quality of loving relationships within an organisation. These loving relationships are seen through behaviours like compassion, commitment, care, kindness, reflection, intuition, inclusiveness and forgiveness.
Prominent leader John Hope Bryant believes there are four laws of love-based leadership for business:
l Fear fails Leading through fear is antiquated and crippling. Love is the antidote to fear.
l Love makes money Long-term loving relationships with customers and employees make everyone wealthy.
l Vulnerability is power When you open up, people open to you.
l Giving is getting Giving inspires loyalty and confers true wealth. John D. Rockefeller, regarded as the richest man ever, was governed by love and believed it was greater to give than receive. People rallied to him because he gave. He later used his wealth to build universities and fund great causes.
Surprisingly, we find high levels of trust in military leaders. Most expect fear to be the dominant leadership style but according to retired colonel Scott Snook, it boils down to love, adding “it’s a deep abiding love and respect for one’s comrades” that matters most in battle.
A study by sociologist Shils and Janowitz attempted to understand why soldiers fought till death and they concluded that a soldier continued to fight well beyond the point when the battle was lost “as long as he gave affection to and received affection from the other members of his squad”.
Soldiers love each other and are willing to lay down their life for each other. If love can be the touchstone of leadership in a vocation as violent as the military, then why not in business?
Snook adds that even during military training at West Point, love is emphasised continuously: Love your country, love your classmates and friends, and love the future officers you will someday serve with and love the soldiers you would someday lead. Great commanders love their troops and put their well-being above theirs.
Here are some questions you can ask to help you get love into your organisation and start your journey to being a love-based leader:
1. When was the last time you did something unexpectedly nice for someone at work?
2. When was the last time you thanked or recognised someone for a particular special effort for the company?
3. Whom have you not thanked who has done something really nice or been especially helpful to you recently?
4. Who goes the extra mile routinely (for example, working late or doing things technically not part of their job) that you take for granted?
5. What are things you could do regularly to add “love” to your workplace?
6. What are actions that I can take to truly “love” my customers? (Not actions just for marketing reasons)
7. What can I do to bring fun and joy to the workplace?
Decorated army Maj-Gen John Stanford, known for extraordinary loyal troops, claimed that the secret to success is to stay in love. He said: “Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite others. A person who is not in love doesn’t feel the kind of excitement that helps them to lead others. I don’t know any other thing in life more exhilarating and positive a feeling than love.”
Many of us remember the dizzying joy of being in love. We need to get that energy in the workplace too. Leadership is an affair of the heart.
Love begins with you. So, this weekend, your people need you to take a good long look in the mirror and decide that your people and your organisation deserve a leader who has the courage to stand up and love them.
l Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics, a social enterprise passionate about ensuring love permeates across the business landscape. To learn from great leaders from across the world, login to www.leaderonomics.com/theleaderonomicsshow.
Listen to Roshan Thiran’s interview as he further elaborate about “Leading through Love” at Leaderonomic’s soundbytes.