14 Ways Great Leaders Show Their Love

Love is as important in the executive suite as in the bedroom suite. Love simply means having deep affection. It means caring. Why wouldn’t you have deep affection for people you spend most of your waking hours with, who share with you the challenge and joys of overcoming obstacles, and whose success means your success? More to the point of leadership – if you, the leader, don’t care about the team, why should the team care about you, your goals and your priorities?

So how do you show you care, you really care, and do it in the business context? Here are 14 ways to show your team love today, tomorrow, and every day based on examples from 14 great leaders:

How great leaders show love for their teams

1. Expect your team to be great. If you love your team, you will want them to do great things. Vince Lombardi and Jack Welch are examples of how expecting greatness lead to greatness. Lombardi held his teams to high standards on and off the field. They were to strive for perfection in every block, tackle, and run. And they practiced the basics over and over until they got them right. The team was to wear suits, act morally, and be polite off the field. In return, his team won 5 championships in 7 years. Jack Welch is known for many things, but mostly for expecting his team at GE to be at the top of whatever field of business he was in. He hired, fired, and led based on greatness. And GE was the top in their industries as a result.

“My job is not to be easy of people. My job is to make them better.” – Steve Jobs.

2. Lead your team on a mission. Great joy and great results happen when people are on a mission they believe in. Having a larger purpose is a powerful motivator. It’s emotional. It’s heart-based. It gives meaning to one’s work and life. It’s more powerful than money and status. When your team feels like they are doing something meaningful, they will love you for it. And they will go after results with their full head and heart because they are excited about where they are heading. Elon Musk changed the car business with the purpose: “Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Jeff Bezos changed commerce with the goal of being “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” And Mark Zuckerberg changed the way we communicate with “Making the World Open and Connected.”

3. Create their dream job. As Richard Branson says, “If you follow your dreams and do what brings you joy, you are more likely to find success.” Great leaders apply this self-love to their team. What better way to show your team you love than to ask, “given where you are in your career, what would be a dream job?” and then help them make it happen?

4. Use their talents and passions. Have you ever asked your team members if they feel like their talents and passions are being leveraged to the max? If not, then you are not loving them enough. Asking this question shows you care about who they are and what they have to offer, as long as you do it in the spirit of them having meaningful days at work, and not as a way to squeeze more out of them. Indra Nooyi is known as a great leader from her successful leadership of Pepsi since 2006. She says, “I want people to excel at what they do so they can aspire to me in the future.” How can your people excel if they are not leveraging their talents?

5. Connect. Your team, especially your millennial members, want a real, authentic connection with people they work with. They want to know you care and that they matter. Take time to learn about their families and lives outside of work. For real. Not as a tactic, but authentically care about them. Then, they will care about you and what you want from them. I worked with an executive team over the course of 9 months on creating more collaboration in order to create better products. When we debriefed the project, the CEO said that he asked each of his team the most important thing we did. They ALL said, “we connected more.”

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Colin Powell

6. Be a friend. When your best friend calls you late at night with a pressing problem, do you help them? I hope so. Friends help friends. Richard, a great IT executive, takes Colin Powell’s philosophy to heart. He recently told me how he gets calls in the middle of the night from team members about their marriage problems, kid problems, etc. To him, that is a good sign. I agree. Think about it… The only people you would call about such things are people you trust and you know care about you. Don’t you want to be someone who your team trusts so much they will open their heart to you? If you don’t, then you don’t understand that people follow who they trust. And if you don’t believe Richard, then hear this:

“Framing the issue of work life balance as if the 2 are opposed practically ensures work will lose out. Who would choose work over life?”Sheryl Sandberg

7. Optimize life, not just work. Everyone experiences stress differently. Research shows that different people feel at their optimal work pace at different paces. For example, salespeople may want a fast pace, while accounting and engineering colleagues may want slower paces. Work with your team to help understand their ideal pace, the ideal level of stress for them. Then work with them to design their work-life balance. This is showing true love of your team—you care not only about the results but also about their life as a whole. They will love you back and go the extra mile when you need them, guaranteed.

8. Tell them what you expect. Psychologists say that the best way to create anxiety and defiance in kids is to not be clear about what you expect of them. In my experience, it’s very similar with professionals. If they don’t know what you want from them, they will make up an expectation and work to achieve that. They will push back on what they don’t think is “their job” because you never explained it. Some will even experience anxiety based on the increased ambiguity. Maureen, a great pharma executive told me recently, “All I am working on now is making sure everyone knows what is expected of them. If that is clear, then everything will fall into place.”

9. Have heart-to-heart talks. When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, tell them! Ask them what happened. Listen to them to understand where they are coming from. Explain why their results matter to you, the team, the customers. When you care about their results and challenges, they will care.

10. Recognize them. When people exceed your expectations, take notice. Not everyone acts like they want recognition, but most do. I spoke to an extremely smart, capable, successful junior executive yesterday about recognition. He shared that he didn’t get much recognition from his parents, and he wished he had. He learned to be independent and charge forward without it. So, he doesn’t seek it out; but in his heart, he wishes there was more it.

11. Lead them to learning. In case you’ve been living in a hole, workers today care more about learning than status. As Daniel Pink points out, mastery is a motivator. Besides, in today’s world, workers know that all they have when they leave a job is what they have learned and can take to the next job. And if you don’t help them learn, they will leave faster.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

12. Encourage your team. Leaders are in front. They are the ones who are looking ahead and who have the extra job of encouraging their members that the goal far ahead is doable. I witnessed a leader recently who tried to encourage people by pointing out the problems and gaps. This works to a point. Eventually, though, the team gets frustrated because they don’t feel encouraged. Use your time and words to encourage your team by pointing out the progress and how “we” will fill the gaps.

13. When they fail. Applaud them. Congratulate them on taking a risk. Help them pick themselves up. Help them understand what they learned from it. Then move on. Isn’t that what unconditional love is?

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again. Nelson Mandela

14. If you love them, set them free. If you do all of the above and things are not working out, and it’s clear that their job or your company isn’t a good fit, then do as Sting sang and set them free. Help them find a new job within your company or somewhere else. What good is a team member who isn’t succeeding, isn’t happy, and isn’t growing. True love lets people be who they need to be.

Doing only one of these things will put your team in good shape to succeed. Doing several will accelerate success. Doing them all will be team bliss. But even more, these 14 actions will create an engaged, trusting team ready to conquer whatever you put in front of them.


Lawrence Polsky
Lawrence Polsky
Lawrence Polsky is co-founder of Teams of Distinction, a world-renowned firm focused on creating and enhancing organizational cultures, and building teams that collaborate with near perfect synchronicity. He spent 20 years in OD & Learning, teaching thousands of professionals worldwide. His lifelong education in human behavior began at the age of 9 at the kitchen table. With a Master’s in Organization Development, and post-graduate work focusing on the impact of emotions on communication, problem-solving and relationships, Lawrence prides himself on bringing his kitchen table wisdom to boardroom roundtables. He has helped leaders improve results at technical and scientific companies such as Facebook, Pfizer, Dell, Intuit, Bayer, and NASA. You can reach him at [email protected] or (609)333-0653.

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