With today being Valentine’s Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about a topic I’m very passionate about: leadership and love. I think that love is one of the most powerful yet undervalued virtues a leader can practice.
It’s time to let love out of the corporate closet and make it a familiar and prevalent quality in business that’s viewed as a strength, not a weakness. Historically, business is discussed using hypercompetitive metaphors – war and the military, sports competitions, Darwinian “survival of the fittest” references, etc. This framing doesn’t allow much room for love because it encourages a “winner take all” attitude rather than suggesting that business is an opportunity to uplift people and communities by creating value for all major stakeholders.
One of the main reasons people resist the idea of love in business is because they think it signals weakness. This simply isn’t true! Embracing love does not mean you shy away from difficult conversations when there’s a problem or become a pushover. Think of it like parenting – sometimes you need to lead with love and tenderness, and other times you need to play the role of a “tough” parent. Both actions come from a place of love for a child.
So, why does incorporating love into business matter? For starters, love helps us understand what all the different stakeholders need and desire, making it easier to help fulfill them. When stakeholders feel loved by a company, they love it back. Love is one of the most human things we can do. We are beings who want to love and be loved. It builds trust and a sense of community that elevates business to more than just a place for transactions. We need to be able to go about our jobs without masking love when we walk through the corporate doors. By looking at the real human needs of those we work with and those we serve, love will take us so much farther as both a business and a society.
When it comes to putting this into practice, it’s helpful to think about the qualities one must model and instill: service, generosity, gratitude, appreciation, care, compassion, and forgiveness. All of these are so incredibly important and merit deeper discussion, but for today I am going to focus on appreciation, care, and generosity.
It’s very hard to keep your heart closed when people authentically appreciate you and it’s human nature to want to reciprocate. When you give authentic appreciation, you are also opening your heart and making more room for love and people can feel that! It’s very powerful and helps build trust among a team. Authenticity is so important when doing appreciations – people can tell when you’re not being genuine!
During my time at Whole Foods, we made it a point to build acts of appreciation into our company culture by making time at every meeting for anyone who would like to express appreciation for another team member. It’s an important part of Whole Foods’ culture and happens at all levels of the business, including with my former executive leadership team. It may feel a little strange at first, but I can promise you that implementing the act of appreciations into your meetings and day-to-day operations will have a positive impact on team dynamics and culture. Using appreciations helps to create a workplace of love and care.
This one is simple: if we don’t care as leaders, then why should our people care? The ripple effect is so powerful, especially when we go out of our way to care for a team member, customer, or another stakeholder. I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is for leaders to be aware of the behaviors we are modeling to our teams at all times.
In this context, the virtue of generosity does not only apply to giving money, but also to our time and service to others. True generosity should not be thought of as some kind of self-sacrifice, but instead as an extension of love from our own hearts.
By bringing love out of the corporate closet and leading with love, businesses and society can accomplish so much more. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check out my book, Conscious Leadership!