Use the word “love” in the context of work relationships? We avoid that like the plague! Well, now it’s interesting that a couple of real plagues, COVID-19 and social injustice, may become the catalyst for introducing the idea that love has everything to do with leadership, healing the stress and divisiveness in our politics, our society, and yes, especially in our business cultures.

Before anyone assumes that I will advocate for a “kumbaya, let’s all hold hands and be vulnerable” approach to the profound lack of trust and the disengagement rampant in our institutions today, let me define what I mean by “love.” Especially because, “I don’t have to love the people I work with,” is a common sentiment. And if we’re honest, love feels like a huge stretch when we can’t even seem to like the people we work with on most days!

When we say “love,” our minds tend to go immediately to intimate, personal/familial, warmth-and-butterflies kinds of feelings. But the type of love I am referring to is much broader, less gushy, and more powerful. One label often given to it is agape love—the selfless, unconditional love commonly found in the Bible. This kind of love asks many us as human beings, especially when it’s hard to get through a day without getting sucked into difficult conversations about our ideological differences and judgments about our world.

But as I explore in my new book, Leadership through Trust and Collaboration, finding ways to practice love at work is not that hard, nor does it have to be uncomfortable for anyone. Here are four ways to get started:

1.  Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care: In the book, Trillion Dollar Coach about Bill Campbell, an executive coach who worked with some of the most successful tech companies in the world, the authors reveal that Bill attributed his impact as a business coach to teaching five timeless things, including getting things right in how you interact with people, building trust, collaboration, and his personal favorite, showing both love and appreciation as a leader. Bill is credited by his clients for helping generate over a trillion dollars in revenue. As the saying goes, the soft stuff is the hard stuff—it takes courage.

Market knowledge and strategy matter, but they are overrated as the essential leadership capabilities to drive growth and high performance.

2.  Be responsible for the energy you bring into the “virtual” room: Another way to think about love is as the most productive energy on the planet. In her wildly popular TED Talk, “A Stroke of Insight,” Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stroke on the left side of her brain, makes a compelling case for consciously choosing to bring positive, caring energy into any room you enter. She said that during her recovery (a miracle by medical standards), she could feel if people’s energy was positive or negative when they entered her room. It directly impacted her ability to heal.

Next time you are in a meeting, take a minute to notice what happens to productivity when the energy feels good (love) and when it doesn’t (anger/frustration/fear). The fact that our meetings are now mostly virtual makes it that much more important to create an emotional connection with people that positively raises the energy.

3.  Time and attention are the most powerful ways to show love: We continuously talk about time management; time is one thing no one seems to have enough of, especially if you are a leader today facing the relentless barrage of unpredictable business challenges. We have convinced ourselves that having limited time is the problem when, in reality, limited time is simply a universal truth that affects us all. This “problem” should instead be considered an opportunity to choose how we spend our most precious resource. 

When we consider prioritization as the challenge, how we spend our hours must pay significant returns. People know that your time and attention are your most valuable resource, so when you take the time out of your busy schedule to reach out and check in with people, they NOTICE. That builds loyalty and commitment, and it says, “I care” more clearly than anything else you could do.

4.  Ask people how they’re feeling rather than how they are doing: This may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s not. When you ask people how they’re doing, they tend to say, “I’m fine, thanks” or even, “I’m so busy!” They report what they are up to, what they are doing. When you ask someone how they feel, it’s more personal and lets them know you care. You also tend to get more honest answers, not autopilot responses. In his book Back to Human, Dan Schawbel talks about connectivity at work and the alarming rise in loneliness as one of the most significant health risks facing our country. He cites Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General, stating that the impact of loneliness on health is equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Unfortunately, in our society, people feel ashamed or embarrassed to share that they are feeling unconnected. A wise leader assumes that people struggle in our current work environments, then takes the time to make it safe to say so. Start by asking.