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Bringing Love Into The Workplace

I had just started a new position in Nebraska. We left family back in Illinois, and a significant snowstorm was heading our way. It dumped almost a foot of fresh snow on our house while I was out of town for work. My wife was stranded at home with a new baby, a three-year-old, and a dog. Without me knowing, my leader called my wife to offer to go to the store and pick up groceries in his truck. Although this took place over twenty years ago, I still get emotional thinking about this act of love by my leader. There is no serious debate that well-designed organizations with clear organizational strategies influence desired behaviors, culture, and performance. However, while organizational alignment is essential, it is not sufficient. Evidence suggests love brings out the best in how people think, act, and feel. Unfortunately, this four-letter word is rarely discussed in the workplace. But this is good news if you're a leader looking for a competitive advantage. Here are two practical ways leaders can bring love into the workplace.

The benefits of love in the workplace

The well-documented individual and organizational benefits of love include:

  • Intrinsic motivation

  • Increased creativity

  • Discretionary effort

  • Better workplace climate

  • Enhanced employee capacity

  • Enhanced leader-follower alignment

Two complex challenges leaders face today are attracting and retaining top talent and creating inclusive workplaces that bring out the best in all employees.

Diversity in the world and workplace is increasing. Globalization and technological advances are projected to continue to increase workgroup diversity. This increase in diversity can have many positive workplace effects, such as enhanced performance, creativity, innovation, and decision quality. However, workplace practices rooted in favoritism are costly, leading to increased relational conflict and a lack of team cohesion.

In-group favoritism results in actions that favor one group.

When leaders demonstrate love, they cultivate an organizational culture where healthy and caring leader-follower relationships break down the adverse effects of in-group and out-group differences.

All you have to do is drive down any street or walk through your local retail district to see the signs for help wanted and understand the challenge of attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees. Organizational commitment is a term used to identify an individual with a particular company. Research has directly connected higher levels of organizational commitment with lower employee turnover rates. Studies have demonstrated that love enhances organizational commitment.

The following short video from leadership guru Ken Blanchard provides some thoughts on the power of servant leadership in today's workplace.

What is selfless love?

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.


The following poem called "Outwitted" by Edwin Markham captures the belief that love creates a radical sense of belonging for everyone:

He drew a circle that shut me out—Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!

Aren't empathy and compassion just different words for love?

Empathy, compassion, and love are interrelated, but distinct differences exist.

Empathy is the ability to be aware of, feel, and take on the emotions of what another person is experiencing. Empathy plays a vital role in moderating the effects of workplace conflict. Research has linked empathy with forgiveness and healing relationships. The following is a short video from Brene Brown that explains empathy and its value within the workplace.

Compassion is an empathic understanding with a desire to help another person. Recent studies into the benefits of compassion at work link it to improved job performance, mental health, and leader-follower relationships.

Although having awareness (empathy) and a desire to help (compassion) is essential, the world needs leaders who put the will for the good of others ahead of their interest.

Leaders who emphasize love bring out the best in how people think, act, and feel in the workplace, leading to success and significance both personally and professionally.

How you can love those you lead

The answer for bringing 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 love into the workplace:

  1. Listening to self and others

  2. Showing empathy

  3. Healing self and others

  4. Being aware

  5. Persuasion and not coercion

  6. Conceptual thinking, not linear thinking

  7. Applying strategic foresight

  8. Stewardship of other's needs

  9. Commitment to the development of others

  10. Building community

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 to cultivate love in the workplace

Love may seem complex and challenging to articulate, much less measure; however, validated measurement instruments exist.

Like competencies and behaviors, love can be developed and embedded within organizational processes for talent management. Also, like competency development, developing love can have various positive consequences for businesses. Virtue and character development should include the following:

  • knowledge transfer

  • reasoning

  • and practice.

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 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 love those they lead to gain a competitive advantage in an uncertain world.

What is your real challenge to bringing love into the workplace?


Ferris, R. (1988). How organizational love can improve leadership. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4), 41-51.

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.


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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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