Years ago, when I was a new manager, I was taught to keep the people who reported to me at arm's length. I was told that I should keep a professional distance at all times and not get caught up in their private lives, nor reveal too much of my own private life to them. I should be friendly, but not too friendly.
In retrospect, I think this was a huge mistake.
An increasing number of CEOs and leaders are proclaiming the remarkable power of a particular four-letter word in business. And what's that four-letter word?
While there are many kinds of love -- from something akin to "like," to intensely romantic -- the kind of love I'm talking about is a deep caring for your employees, customers, and the communities in which you do business.
In the case of employees, love means genuinely caring about them and their happiness and well-being. As a leader, you have the ability to inspire your people and build a culture that gets them excited and fully engaged in their work. You can help your employees learn new skills, take on new responsibilities, and grow. You support them when they need a helping hand, and you applaud them when they achieve a difficult goal.
In the case of customers, love means providing them with innovative, quality products and services that offer real value. And it also means providing the very highest levels of customer service -- far above the norm.
And, in the case of the communities in which you do business, love means reaching out to everyone -- not just your employees and customers -- to create a better, more prosperous, and vibrant place to live and do work.
Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally is considered to be one of the greatest business leaders of our time, turning around a company that before he arrived in 2006 had posted a loss of $12.7 billion. In an interview on CBS This Morning, Mulally revealed the cornerstone of his philosophy of business and life: "The purpose of our success is to serve others because that's the ultimate reward. The purpose of life is to love and be loved."
These weren't just words, Mulally really meant what he said. Dave Wilson witnessed a speech that Alan Mulally made to 4,000 Ford dealers and corporate employees in 2006, soon after he became CEO. Says Dave,
"When Alan concluded his speech, we were in for a surprise. He asked his entire executive team to stand up, turn around, and tell us (the dealers) they loved us. The first try wasn't good enough for Alan. He asked them to do it again -- louder and mean it. I felt the love and sensed at that moment that the culture of the Ford Motor Company had begun a transformation that would be second only to the era of the legendary Henry Ford."
So, while love may indeed be a four-letter word, it's one that every leader should consider using more often at work. As Alan Mulally and other leaders have shown, the benefits can be tremendous, and long lasting. Who, after all, doesn't want a little more love in their life?