In the current relationship economy, the currencies of trust and transparency define thriving entrepreneurial spaces and high performing work cultures.
But to clarify my headline, you can infer from the usage of the term "bad bosses" that I meant it to describe the opposite: bosses that micromanage, horde information, control people, and suffocate the very human spirit that fuels high performance.
Over the years, I've made it my life's work to discover and depict what great leaders do that sets them apart. For one, you will find, they are fierce defenders of their company's culture and will protect it against anyone and anything they find incompatible with that culture.
As "caretakers" of the people that make up the culture -- its employees -- there are certain attributes that define these leaders in action, which filter down to the frontlines in producing great results.
The most powerful leadership force in the universe
But here's where it gets interesting and even offensive to some people. Most of the attributes I've found in such great leaders points back to one overarching theme: they lead with love.
Before you raise your left eyebrow with skepticism, let's first zap any cringeworthy thoughts about romantic or friendship love from our conscience. The idea of "leading with love" is founded on traits of results-oriented leaders who understand human behavior; they know that people are inherently wired for relationships and innately designed for experiencing care, connection, and community.
This is where the power of love -- the verb, not the squishy emotion -- does it's best handy work in transforming the workplace. It's why employees with pulsating hearts will walk through walls and respond with unwavering commitment to heart-led leaders who care for their personal and professional well-being.
We're finding that actionable love shown in how employees are treated and cared for has been proven to raise performance, increase value and loyalty and raise employee engagement levels.
But rarely do scholars, thought-leaders, or the media intentionally call out these building blocks of the best workplaces as firmly embedded on a foundation or cultures of "love."
To that end, I've been interviewing countless leaders, executives, founders, thought-leaders, authors, consultants, and researchers to collect evidence for my latest manuscript that will inform the science and practice of love, and attempt to erase the fears and misconceptions attached to the word "love" from the business lexicon.
Drawing attention to the ever-increasing, human-centered leadership movement, as already evidenced by Humans First Club events sweeping across the country, love is being intentionally and unabashedly showcased as a business value that every company with a conscience will soon have to consider as a strategy for hiring and promoting future leaders.
What does "love in action" actually look like?
You can rest assured that the examples described below to define "love in action" aren't philosophical in nature. Leaders for this and future interviews that I will post here were carefully selected because it defines who they are as people. More importantly, these are the behaviors that they apply daily to motivate, inspire, and engage others for business outcomes.
For this entry, I interviewed Anna McMurphy, Head of People, Culture, and Entertainment at SteelHouse. I asked her to explain the key tenets of "love in action" that she practices, and which define SteelHouse's culture.
1. Leading with love means building honest relationships.
She told me that everything surrounding her leadership starts with building honest relationships founded on trust, which, in her words, makes the good times better and the tough times easier to endure. She said, "If you know your team well, you can help them play to their strengths, allowing them to pursue their intellectual curiosity which can lead to creative growth on a group level. If you trust in your team, you know they're making the right decisions with the right intentions, and that can lead to wonderful things."
2. Leading with love means not immediately discarding employees who don't work out.
Even when employees are not cutting it on performance, leaders can show up with love to demonstrate value and show dignity for others as they transition out because, after all, they're human. McMurphy relays a story about a time she had to let a team member go.
I made it a point to keep her spirits up -- it's easy to fall into a hole when feeling rejection. I knew it was important to frame things properly in her mind to have her understand the relationships she had formed at this company would live on.
I invited her to our social events so she could continue to be connected. I stayed in touch with her, catching up on a weekly basis to remind her in that she is powerful, beautiful and strong as she powered onward towards her next opportunity.
3. Leading with love means acting with compassion.
I asked McMurphy to explain what she would advise other leaders do in order to leverage "love" as a business value that leads to results. She said, "Lead with compassion because it sets an example for the entire organization."
Compassion is too often misconstrued as soft for business, but its true power resides in people lifting each other up in time of need. When compassion flexes its muscle, people will produce more effort on behalf of each other and the company. Here's McMurphy:
When you create an environment with compassion in mind, team members will push each other to be better and do better. Anyone who goes out of their way to ensure a fellow teammate succeeds should be recognized. We recently adopted a system where team members can call out one another's hard work and give each other points, which can then be cashed in for small prizes like gift cards to popular stores. There's a running tally of who gives who points, and for what, and nearly every single instance is someone going above and beyond to help another teammate. We turned our team's compassion into a reward system, which shows the team that not only are they valued, but their actions and hard work are as well.
4. Leading with love means advocating for your employees' well-being.
I asked McMurphy if she's seen a link between SteelHouse's culture of love and improvements in work environment and company performance. To no one's surprise, she noted that it has made a difference in team member engagement and employee retention.
She also attributes SteelHouse's company perks, like "SteelHouse Days," to help employees stay refreshed. This perk allows employees to take three-day weekends each month. "It's amazing what an extra day off can do for people's well-being," says McMurphy.
And then there's love demonstrated through their vacation policy. Here's McMurphy:
We offer an unlimited vacation policy, as well as a yearly $2,000 travel stipend to motivate team members to actually take time off and explore. We're actually pretty strict with the vacation stipend -- team members have asked in the past if they can use it for other expenses, but we say no. We want them to use it to go out and see the world, because new experiences rejuvenate the body and mind.
Since trust is one of the pillars of SteelHouse's love culture, McMurphy told me her team has never abused their time-off perks; team members communicate their availability and never leave anyone in a lurch by taking too much time off at the wrong times.
"We've shown our team love and encouraged them to take care of themselves, and they've repaid that with loyalty -- it's a rare sight when one of the team moves on to a new opportunity," says McMurphy.