Many words make professionals in positions of leadership uncomfortable; accountability, feedback, or coaching. And yet, as distressing as those words may be, there is still one word that they can’t imagine ever using at work — love.

It turns out that this complicated four-letter word is a critical element of effective leadership.  

What I found in my research, that studied more than 40,000 organizational leaders for my book Building the Best, is that those leaders who simultaneously use high levels of love and discipline are the most effective. Leaders who lead like this are using what we call the “elevate” style of leadership. Not only do leaders with this style of leadership get the best results over the long term, but on average, they see a 14 percent increase in employee engagement and an 11 percent decrease in voluntary turnover.

Love and discipline are words that can be ambiguous, so we must be on the same page about what these two words mean in the context of the workplace.

Love (verb): To contribute to someone’s long-term success and well-being.

Discipline (verb): To promote standards for an individual to choose to be at his or her best

While these definitions are easy to read and comprehend, leveraging them in how you lead is not easy. But, if you don’t use love, you won’t connect with people and get their best possible performance. If you don’t use discipline, you aren’t going to get anyone to levels they didn’t think possible. If that weren’t enough, it’s tough to be tough on people, and it’s tough to love people when you don’t feel like loving them.

Words like love and discipline in leadership mean nothing unless they are put to use, because power does not come through knowledge, but rather, through the application of knowledge. This became real when my mentor shared a valuable lesson with me: 

  • Knowledge is Information
  • Understanding is Comprehension 
  • Wisdom is Application

In an age of the Internet, information is readily available to more people than at any time in history. Anyone with an internet connection can find information at little, to no cost. This presentation of information is accompanied by the opportunity to comprehend it. Sometimes we can understand the information on our own; other times; we might need a teacher, instructor, or expert to help us. 

While understanding is an important step, the real test is the ability to apply. Wisdom and application are supreme because there is so much you can understand, but never implement. A dentist who smokes cigarettes, a person with diabetes who chooses to eat sugar, or a music student who can read music but cannot play an instrument. These are all examples of comprehension without application. What you should strive for is gaining a level of wisdom that also creates an ease of application. 

If you are going to leverage love in the workplace properly, it will require a lot of hard work and effort. It isn’t going to happen overnight because leadership is a journey, and not a destination. But like all essential transitions, it starts with choice and habit.  

There is a simple 3-second habit that you can implement to move toward a leader mentality; it’s what I refer to in Building the Best as the “PTS Method” — Prepare to Serve.

Anytime you change your environment, say to yourself, “prepare to serve.”  

When you walk into your house each night; before you open the door, say, “prepare to serve.”

When you walk into the office each day; before you open the door, say, “prepare to serve.”

When you get ready to walk into a team meeting, say to yourself, “prepare to serve.”

The simple habit of transforming your mind to think about others (and serve them) will be reflected in your actions. While there are many skills and competencies to develop around love and leadership, this is the simplest and most effective.