August 25, 2022

Leadership – What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Does love have a place at work?  This is not a question we would have asked a decade ago, but now in an age where people are quitting their jobs in record numbers and others are seriously weighing their options, it’s a notion that leaders should seriously address. What do I mean by “love”? Basically, it’s about a real emotional joy with the work as well as a more empathetic and human relationship between employee and manager. Are you ready for this?

Marcus Buckingham, in a recent essay, states that “only when a company intelligently links what people love to their actual activities will it achieve higher performance, higher engagement and resilience, and lower turnover.” He calls this a Love+Work organization. “To attract and retain the best people, we must redesign jobs around a simple but powerful concept: love for the content of the work itself.”

There have always been people who have stated they “loved” their jobs, but for many today, a job is just a job, hopefully aligned with what they had in mind as a career, but often filled with less than-inspiring tasks, too many meetings, and a growing sense of discontent. Leaders, the compassionate ones anyway, have struggled to create a comfortable environment within the constraints of the workplace, while others see their employees as just vehicles for getting the job done.

One might scoff at the idea of love as a factor of work satisfaction. So much has changed since pre-Covid, and certainly because of it. Among those changes is a new and highly individualized idea of what work should be. And with individualization comes a desire for personal satisfaction on a task-level but also on a human level.

Buckingham says that an employee’s love for their job does not have to occur for 100 percent of the job. His research shows that just 20 percent is the magic number: “Data from the Mayo Clinic suggests that 20 percent is a useful threshold. Its research into burnout in doctors and nurses suggests that if less than 20 percent of your work consists of things you love to do, you are far more likely to experience physical and psychological burnout. “

In addition, there is a need for leaders to move beyond concepts such as servant-based leadership to a more individualized style of empathy and communication. A great example of this can be seen in the words and actions of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who has made it his mission to re-establish the mission and vision of the company by seeking to ensure that all 150,000 of his employees have access to this type of energy. (Here is a summary of his approach and his career with Microsoft.) He understands the value of conversation and speaks quite openly about love when referring to his employees. His approach is well-worth watching given the success of Microsoft and its history of leadership through the decades of its life, in which it went from the straightforward business logic of Bill Gates to the go-go-Wall Street branding energy of Steve Ballmer, to Nadella’s more contemplative and relationship-focused style more suited for today.

Each leader must identify their own style, but it is important to step back and see that leaders can only be leaders when they have people to lead, and increasingly the “people” are expecting more. If they don’t receive it, they will choose to go somewhere else. Taking an interest in each person as a whole person is far more effective in motivating and energizing employees than is asking “what are you working on, and how can I help?” says Marcus Buckingham.

There’s no doubt about it – this is time consuming work, and many managers feel they do not have the time for these types of conversations, even if they wanted to have them. But that’s where the big irony is. The time spent working on relationships and on hearing people speak is like the time spent refueling or recharging your car. It makes further driving possible. The humble work of building teams and energizing employees through the concept of “love” is far closer to ground level and is within every manager’s reach. Are you onboard?

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