I had just started a new position in Lincoln, Nebraska. We left family back in Illinois, and a significant snowstorm was heading our way across the Great Plains. It dumped almost a foot of fresh snow on our house, and I was out of town for work. My wife was stranded with a new baby and a three-year-old. Without knowing it, my leader called my wife to ensure she was OK. He offered to go to the store and pick up groceries for her in his four-wheel-drive truck. This took place over twenty years ago, and I still get emotional thinking about this act of selfless love by my leader. Evidence suggests there is no habit with more significant implications for a leader's success and significance than loving followers. Unfortunately, there is likely no other leadership habit as rare in the workplace. But this could be good news if you're a leader looking for a competitive advantage. Here is one proven way leaders can bring selfless love into the workplace.
Why selfless love matters at work
Selflessness is being more concerned with the needs and desires of others than with your needs. And one of the best definitions I have come across for love in the workplace comes from St. Thomas Aquinas.
"To love is to will the good of the other." St. Thomas Aquinas
Selfless love in the workplace is to desire and put into action the will for the good of another ahead of your interest. It is a radically different paradigm from a transactional worldview of the workplace.
If you have nine minutes, the following video captures the essence of the meaning behind the definition used by St. Thomas Aquinas. Although the video does not use a workplace example, the intent of willing the good of the other is shown.
Broad evidence suggests there are several individual and organizational benefits associated with selfless love, such as:
Increased intrinsic motivation
Increased organizational citizenship behaviors
Improved workplace climate
Enhanced employee capacity
Selfless love creates increased leader and follower commitment, yielding increased intrinsic motivation that amplifies workforce alignment and business strategy benefits.
The following short video from leadership guru Ken Blanchard provides some thoughts on the power of servant leadership in today's workplace.
How you can love those you lead
The answer for bringing selfless love into the workplace is not hiding in metrics or data within the business- but in your routine practices, you perform automatically in your daily life.
A traditional transactional leadership style adopts a top-down view of an organization with the leader on the top. Transactional leadership is based on the belief that employees perform best:
within a well-formed chain of command
rewards and punishments motivate
and following the leader's directives is the employee's primary goal.
Transactional leaders give employees something they want in exchange for getting something they want. This leadership style adopts a mental model that workers are not self-motivated and require structure, instruction, and monitoring to achieve organizational goals correctly and on time.
In stark contrast, when adopting a selfless love worldview, the leader desires to bring out the best in their followers by giving them the best of themself. A servant leadership style aligns well with selfless love.
These servant leadership characteristics are tangible ways for a leader to bring selfless love into the workplace:
Listening to self and others
Healing self and others
Persuasion and not coercion
Conceptual thinking, not linear thinking
Applying strategic foresight
Stewardship of other's needs
Commitment to the development of others
Are you a servant leader?
Maybe you already understand the basic concepts but are unclear on how servant leadership differs from other contemporary leadership styles. The free Servant Leadership Style Checker answers these questions and provides your Servant Leadership Style Score. Take this free quiz to find out.
How can you cultivate selfless love in the workplace?
Selfless love may seem complex and challenging to articulate, much less measure; however, validated measurement instruments exist, such as the free Values in Action (VIA) survey.
Like competencies and behaviors, selfless love can be developed and embedded within organizational processes for talent management. Also, like competency development, developing selfless love can have various positive consequences for businesses. Virtue and character development should include the following:
Selfless love is primarily developed through role modeling with intentional time for feedback and reflection. Feedback is a gift; most people want more feedback on their performance. However, feedback on character gaps is not commonly provided, given the complexity of these conversations.
Additionally, most people spend little to no time reflecting on selfless love experiences because of blind spots. A dedicated and skillful executive coach can improve character feedback and purposeful character reflection. Numerous studies have found that dedicated mentors can also support character development by openly reflecting on insights gained from experience.
Research supports that organizations can incorporate selfless love development into existing competency development programs. It is not required for organizations to create separate programs focused only on character and virtue development.
Great leaders selflessly love those they lead to gain a competitive advantage in an uncertain world. What is your real challenge to bringing selfless love into the workplace?
Ferris, R. (1988). How organizational love can improve leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4), 41-51.
Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th-anniversary ed.).
Lok, P., & Crawford, J. (2004). The effect of organizational culture and leadership style on job satisfaction and organizational commitment: A cross‐national comparison. The Journal of Management Development, 23(4), 321-338.
Mulinge, P. (2018). ALTRUISM AND ALTRUISTIC LOVE: Intrinsic motivation for servant-leadership. The International Journal of Servant-Leadership, 12(1), 337-370.
Patterson, K. (2003). Servant leadership: A theoretical model [PDF].
Seijts, G., Crossan, M., & Carleton, E. (2017). Embedding leader character into HR practices to achieve sustained excellence. Organizational Dynamics, 46(1), 30-39. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2017.02.001
Zachary, G. W. (2013). spiritual leadership: Investigating the effects of altruistic love on organizational commitment. International Journal of Arts & Sciences, 6(2), 767.