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How Does Love Show Up in Organizations?

I’ve been thinking a lot about love…love in the workplace that is. My brain was primed in a summer Leadership Book Group on Spirituality and Leadership. Our expansive discussion facilitated by leadership coach Susan Palmer ( took a deeper dive when we explored the role of love in leadership and how it can show up in the context of organizations. Some might say (maybe you!) that there is no place for love in the workplace or that emotion shouldn’t enter in. Here’s my take on it.

I am convinced that transformational and meaningful relationships cannot exist without the presence of love. In an organizational context, the question may be “What conditions need to be present for this expression to be felt, conveyed, sought after, encouraged, and even expected?” At least part of the answer is the presence of a leader who truly cares about people and creates opportunities for peers and direct reports to connect with each other, and to connect around the mission and work of the organization. When people are matched with the purpose or the “why”, great things can happen. What does this look like?

Developing people has always been at the center of my consciousness and as a young leader, sharing advice and leading people to “growth” opportunities was my way of expressing generosity, love and support. Yet, this approach, despite good intentions didn’t always work. What I didn’t realize at the time is that telling employees how they should grow as professionals is not always the loving path. Years later, as a coach and more experienced leader, I now know that there are better, more loving ways to build connection with employees and support their professional growth. For example, an expression of love may be listening without judgment, asking good questions and encouraging exploration of answers and actions that make sense to them. More specifically asking “What do you care most about?” and “How can I support the work you are doing so it aligns with what you care most about?” This loving offer builds trust, transforms relationships and provides a courageous path toward ultimate employee engagement. Love = “uber” employee engagement.

If love expressed in the workplace contributes to the best in employee engagement - an engagement superpower – how then might it be deployed as a strategy that drives connection as well as the values of an organization? How is it baked into the culture? It’s very easy to say, “We want employees to be more engaged.” The tricky part is defining and implementing tangible ways to encourage, and sustain, connection that generates a safe, creative and caring organizational environment in which love can grow.

Here are some leadership guide posts to support greater engagement:

  • Love thyself (Self-compassion.) Being kind to yourself creates a path to empathy and compassion for others. Quieting your inner critic through mindfulness practices can help you stay balanced, calm and extend kindness to colleagues when they are challenged by new tasks or learning.

  • Assume best intentions, especially with difficult peers and direct reports. Hold the idea that employees truly care and are doing their best.

  • Stay curious, ask questions and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

  • Lead with purpose. Explore what matters to your employees and as their leader, make connections between the work and their values.

  • Lead with clarity, transparency and kindness. Hold people accountable to work deliverables, call out behaviors that diminish trust and offer support to improve.

  • Savor success. Celebrate big and small events where trust behaviors (see Covey, Speed of Trust) drive connection and collaboration within the organization.

  • Enhance culture. Bravely include discussions about trust, empathy and compassion behaviors in performance reviews and professional development planning.

What did I miss? Please share your high impact leadership guide posts, super powers, or stories.

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