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There are many ways to lead a successful business. Often, when thinking about leadership, we conjure up images of Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko who famously said, “It’s not about the people. It’s about the game.” That said, there exists an endless variety of leadership styles and philosophies – some more successful than others. This topic was a point of discussion during a recent dinner with several CEOs from our portfolio companies. We focused our conversation on attracting and keeping top talent, motivating employees and driving high performance. Everyone in the room agreed that it all came back to one important factor: company culture. And that starts at the top.
The type of culture a leader instills in his or her company has an enormous trickle down effect. Approaches to leadership tend to fall on a spectrum. On one end are ‘fear-based leaders’ who believe fostering fear in employees is effective. According to one leadership expert, when fear is the primary motivator, we infrequently get what we want. What is achieved is a toxic environment that causes stress and anxiety, likely stifling creativity and productivity. On the other end of the spectrum are those who lead with love, compassion and a genuine desire to help others grow.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, it seems like an appropriate time to shed light on a leadership style that goes beyond the norm: leading with love. Many are of the opinion that there’s no room for love in business. But more leaders are starting to realize that kindness is key to employee loyalty and happiness, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. Studies show that compassionate behavior can create a more collaborative workplace and “promoting a culture of safety—rather than fear of negative consequences—helps encourage the spirit of experimentation that’s so critical for creativity.” Additionally, positive work environments are more productive and lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees and the bottom line. These organizations experience an improved company culture, one where employees and partners are passionate about their jobs and spread that sense of satisfaction and fulfillment across the company and even to their customers.
In my years in business, I’ve observed a variety of leadership styles and philosophies that have worked, but have experienced far more leaders who have been trained to lead by fear rather than by love. This is an unfortunate truth.
It’s been said that when people quit their job, more often than not they’re leaving managers, not companies. According to a recent study by PwC and the London School of Business, people who experience feelings of anxiety and fear in the workplace are less likely to engage in creative and innovative thinking and more likely to engage in unethical behavior. The report also found that if managers focus more on encouraging employees to do their jobs well and work towards solutions instead of focusing on negative outcomes and problems, businesses are more likely to have greater success in inciting motivation in the workplace.
Anand Sanwal, founder and CEO of tech market intelligence platform CB Insights, demonstrated the power of leading with love when he started signing his daily business data newsletter with “I love you.” It started out as a simple way to spice up an otherwise dry B2B newsletter, giving it a more conversational and approachable tone, albeit unconventional. Sanwal was curious to see if people were actually reading the newsletter and paying attention to its content. But ending these emails with some iteration of “I love you” did more than catch people’s attention. As a result of adding those three little words to his newsletter, Sanwal saw an uptick in subscribers, higher open rates and ultimately attributed $1 million in revenue to this effort. That’s a nice payday in exchange for the simple act of offering kindness as a differentiator.
Leading with love even translates on the typically tough-guy football field. Tom Herman, super successful former coach of the University of Houston Cougars, took a new approach to leading his team to victory by openly showing his love for his players, including giving them kisses on the cheeks before each game and ultimately changing the team’s culture. “How do you motivate a human being to do things against his own nature?” Herman has said. “There’s two things: love and fear. And to me, love wins every time.”
If this blog post has got you thinking about amending your leadership style, maybe consider how you manage your day-to-day – is there room for an extra dose of positivity? Have you asked your employee how her weekend was? His family? Getting personal shows kindness, caring and differentiates you from most other leaders. In the words of personal development teacher and expert Zero Dean, “If you want more kindness in the world, put some there.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!