· 2 min read · Features

The most crucial leadership trait? Love


If leaders are comfortable showing love in the workplace high performance and engagement will follow

My passion is to create a better working environment for everyone, thereby giving people a greater chance of feeling happy, valued, giving their best, and reaching their full potential. There are hundreds of ways to achieve or fail at creating the optimum environment for success. But from 20 years of diverse corporate HR leadership experiences, my conclusion is that the strength and depth of leadership is the single most important variable.

Increasingly HR departments are moving towards a strategy of driving incremental discretionary effort from people. So much of this stems from the style and approach of leaders. Without it other HR activities – recognition frameworks, reward structures, new work environment and learning for example – will only have a short-term impact.

Again, you will find hundreds of leadership behaviours and traits that all purport to be 'crucial'. Some will be more appropriate than others in different situations. But I have observed one that stands out: being a loving leader.

Bringing genuine love into the equation is a hard leap for many. Love is something that is often reserved for outside of work. But as a leader, if you can work on being more comfortable giving love and care in the workplace (as well as encouraging and embracing it if it comes your way), it unleashes the highest levels of performance and engagement. This will have a dramatic impact on reducing your staff turnover; it's very hard to walk away from anything in life if you feel loved and cared for.

My upcoming book Loving Leadership provides the following advice for adopting such behaviours:

1. Give trust

Ernest Hemingway said "the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them". Here are some ways you can be trusting in the workplace:

  • Share private information
  • Be human- don't leave your personality and passions at home
  • Take risks on others- remember how you got where you are today

2. Care for others

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." Leo Buscaglia, author and motivational speaker.

  • Treat people like family- involve, support, protect, think about them, check in regularly, talk
  • Worry for their wellbeing- physical, mental, financial, emotional, passions, stresses, priorities
  • Show them they are valued- say ‘thank you’ and proactively pass praise on

3. Be vulnerable

"Vulnerability sounds like 'truth' and feels like 'courage'. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they are never a weakness." Brené Brown, academic and author.

  • Admit when you are wrong
  • Be honest when you don't know
  • Don't take yourself too seriously

4. Shine a light

"There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than bread." Mother Teresa.

  • Be a talent spotter
  • Let others lead
  • Give public recognition

5. Create magic moments

"I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist.

  • Surprise people- everyone likes nice surprises, even those who say they don't
  • Remember little details
  • Be spontaneous

6. Really listen

You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author.

The distractions of modern life (both technology and tasks) have made the skill of 'pure listening' a dying art, but it's immensely valuable.

  • Get to know the whole person by asking deeper questions
  • Show that you have heard them
  • Take action on what they say- if peope see change, they know you’ve listened

7. Be sociable

"If you are not having fun you are doing something wrong." Groucho Marx.

  • Have fun
  • Don't dodge 'non-work' stuff
  • Get 'back to the floor' – there should be no task a leader won't do

8. Paint pictures

"Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door, and serves as a stepping stone to other things." Pablo Picasso.

  • Draw what you mean
  • Use memorable images

Richard Summerfield is group HR director at Jersey Telecom and author of Loving Leadership, out 10 March