Love-First Leadership: Creating Deeper Connections in the Workplace

By: Kelsey Schurer, Executive Editor, Round Table Companies in Core Values

The Benefits of Emotional Engagement

In light of the pandemic, Yolanda Knight tells why she chooses a love-first leadership style with her team. Leaning into love fosters more emotional engagement from employees, which, in turn, fosters a deeper connection and collaboration in the workplace.

Yolanda describes what leading with love means for her: “I’ve chosen to love my team, support my clients and friends, and give my family 100 percent commitment. It can be tough to stay optimistic, but it’s the best way to make it through these uncertain and unsteady times.”

The benefits of leading with love in the workplace are far-reaching. According to McKinsey & Company research findings, workers whose organizations have responded to the coronavirus in supportive, pragmatic ways have shown four times the job engagement. Leaders who respond and lead with love can make a huge impact on their employees’ emotional engagement in the workplace.

Part of that engagement includes creating a safe space for employees to feel vulnerable and to show heart-felt emotions, from compassion to commitment to even the truthful admittance of overwhelm.

Yolanda says, “When emotional engagement in the workplace is consistent, it becomes part of your cultural fabric. Everyone speaks the same language. Team members know their guiding compass and can use it to guide their decisions. They’re kinder and more eager to collaborate because you were willing to establish core values built on openness, empathy, and vulnerability.”

In other words, emotional engagement opens the door to empathy and an eagerness to succeed together.

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Leading with Love Can Be Difficult—but Necessary

Yolanda points out the bumps in the road toward leading with love in the workplace. For starters, she notes that the concept of love-first leadership is a rarity, and therefore there’s going to be a learning curve. Leaders should not shy away from this opportunity to grow but rather lean into even the more daunting aspects of change and connection.

Another roadblock is inviting—and showing—vulnerability in the workplace. Yolanda highlights that the usual image of a leader is a “strong” persona during tough times, but this image only perpetuates “the illusion that they’re invincible.”

And, no matter how you spin it, an illusion is an illusion, creating emotional distance between leaders and their employees.

“Employees want to see more than strength,” Yolanda says. “They want to know that leadership shares their fears and insecurities.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic, some leaders might worry about modeling emotional engagement and fostering authentic connection in virtual office spaces and video calls. But Yolanda encourages leaders not to worry: “I’ve cried with team members and clients on UberConference lines, sharing the hardest times in their lives. . . . These experiences have only strengthened our bonds and increased our trust.”

Leading with love might seem daunting at first, but ultimately a love-first leadership mindset makes for positive impact all around.


Five Techniques to Leading with Love in the Workplace

Yolanda gives five techniques to help navigate your employees through difficult times and meet them where they are at. Leading with love means recognizing the humanness in each and every one of us and creating a safe space to be authentic and trustworthy in order for deeper workplace connections.

  1. Make a genuine effort to understand your team. Understanding your team requires listening more intently to their problems and concerns. Spend time talking with your team and lean into cocreating solutions together.
  2. Accept that we all have flaws. To lead with love means to be authentic and stop wearing a mask. Accept others for their humanness, extend grace where needed, and empower your employees to act authentic, too.
  3. Be brave enough to have tough, vulnerable conversations. Leading with love can sometimes mean leading with tough love; be brave enough to give constructive, honest feedback and invite a safe space for showcasing vulnerability in the workplace.
  4. Show appreciation without expecting anything in return. Gratitude welcomes repetition. Showing gratitude to your employees for a job well done is incentive for them to do good work again. Yolanda cites research from the University of Pennsylvania, which reports that workers enjoy a 50 percent higher success rate when their leaders show gratitude.
  5. Be a coach, not a critic. A true leader takes on the role of a mentor or a coach—not a critic. Coaches encourage and engage with their team, which leads to more creativity, innovation, and connection.

Ultimately, leading with love means recognizing the humanness in each and every one of us, and putting our hearts front and center. When we lead with love, we create a safe space in the workplace to invite authenticity and trust, strengthen our bonds with our teams and our clients, and watch the ripple effect of compassion and connection take over.

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