Managing Through Love

Managing Through Love 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, recently gave the commencement address to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduates. 

In his comments, he provided some interesting and compelling advice to these graduates, most of whom are entering into a life of service through public health. Among his closing remarks, he said something that struck me:

“Love is the world’s oldest medicine. Your ability to give and receive love is your greatest gift and your greatest power. It is what will sustain you on every step of your journey ahead.”

Love is your greatest gift. 

Love is your greatest power. 

Not medicine, math, or science. 

Love. 

While he was speaking to newly-minted public health professionals, these words also ring true for anyone who takes up the mantle of “manager” of other human beings.

The Pandemic’s Reality-Check for Management

One of the silver linings of the painful journey we’ve been on has been that many managers were confronted with an uncomfortable reality check. They discovered that their people are actual human beings with lives outside of work that dramatically impact how they show up for their jobs.  

This is particularly true for managers who were abruptly forced to move from working in the office to working from home.  

Like it or not, they had to become aware of all the challenges and issues people were facing because these “life” issues were interfering with their ability to do their best at work. And, perhaps most inconveniently, managers had to face the reality that there is no real separation between work and life, regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise.

Managers were forced to care about their people’s lives beyond what they could produce at work. And, in many cases, they were forced to engage with their people in conversations about issues that stretched far beyond the traditional employee-manager relationship. 

What Happens When We Love Our People?

Of course, not everyone successfully managed this transition. Many did not, choosing instead to keep their head down and wait until things went “back to normal.” Then they could go back to ignoring employees’ real needs and pretending everybody’s fine. 

But for those managers who did make the transition, they discovered something powerful. When you invest in understanding and caring for your people and their needs, they will rise to the occasion, and performance will elevate.

To echo Dr. Murthy’s words, they used their power to give the gift of love to their people. 

When we love our people, we commit to understanding who they are and what they need to thrive. We listen to them more deeply. We prioritize their success above our own.  

When we love our people, we give them the gift of believing in them, often at a level beyond which they even believe in themselves. 

As a manager, love is your superpower—if only you chose to use it.  

4 Ways to Love your People as a Manager

If you’re still reading this, kudos. Talk of love at work is scary for a lot of people. Think of how many people you know who can’t even muster the words “I love you” for the people in their lives who mean the most to them. If that’s you, the good news is that you can fix it today. Right this moment. 

Tell your kids, spouse, best friend, significant other, family members—whomever you love—that you love them. And keep showing them too. Every day.  

Love is a renewable and endless resource. Giving your love to others will never deplete you. In fact, when you give love to others, it multiplies. It makes them feel more worthy of love and capable of loving. 

I think that’s likely part of the “power” of love that Dr. Murthy referenced, although I can’t speak for him. Our capacity to love is boundless once we learn to tap into it.  

Now, don’t get the wrong message here. It’s probably not a great idea to start telling your direct reports you love them—at least not right away. Freaking people out isn’t very productive. We’ll get back to this in a minute. 

What’s most important is that you show them love through your actions. If you aren’t sure exactly what that looks like, I’ve got you covered. Below are a few examples of what it looks like to demonstrate love for your people as a manager. 

Give people the benefit of the doubt and forgive quickly. 

I once had a member of my team who’d gotten tangled up in some office drama. She’d created some tension and hard feelings in the office to the point that some senior leaders were calling for her to lose her job.

When we sat down to talk about it, I tried to really listen to her experience of what happened. I asked some pretty hard questions about why she had chosen to behave the way she had. It became clear to me in our conversation that she clearly had no ill intentions and had just gotten carried away. 

She was heartbroken by the impact her actions had on others in the office. At one point, she broke down in tears. We talked through what had happened and where it went wrong. She understood and committed to learning from it in the future. 

Then, I gave her my commitment that I had her back and would support her 100% moving forward as long as she learned from this. She never got caught up in anything like that again and proved herself to be perhaps the most loyal team member in the office.  

Make sure they know that you love them.  

Okay, back to saying “I love you” out loud. You should definitely do this in your relationships with those you love. At work, it is probably a good idea to use different words (at least at first).  

Instead of directly saying “love,” use language to reinforce that you care about them and that you are committed to them. You can and should say “I care about you” and “I’m committed to your success here” and mean it. Yes, some people may be a little uncomfortable with those words on the surface, but deep down, it’s exactly what all of us want to hear from our manager. 

Saying this out loud to your people (or putting it in writing) does two things. First, it reinforces to your people that you love them. And, it creates accountability for you to show up for them in a way that strengthens these commitments. 

Invest your time in them. 

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the lesson my daughter taught me when she was seven years old. I’d asked her one day how she knows if someone loves her. One of the first things she said was, “they spend time with me.” 

Time is the currency of relationships. Time is our most precious and fleeting resource. What we do with our time says everything about what we value and what truly matters to us. 

My daughter understood this truth even at such a young age. People who love you will invest their precious time to be with you. There is perhaps no more powerful way to show people you care about them than this. 

As a manager, if your calendar isn’t full of appointments to spend time with your people doing things that matter or are helpful to them, you should fix that.  

This doesn’t mean that you should smother your folks by micro-managing and constantly being up in their business. What it means is that you should have regular, dedicated time on your calendar for them individually each week. And, when they need time with you, you find it for them.  

Model Accountability

The most significant thing people misunderstand about loving your people at work is that they think it means avoiding the hard stuff, like having tough conversations or providing feedback when things aren’t going well.

It’s exactly the opposite. 

When our teenage son took actions that endangered himself and his future, as his parents, we had to take hard and heavy steps to hold him accountable for that behavior BECAUSE we loved him, not in spite of it.  

In any meaningful relationship, accountability goes in both directions. That means we must do the hard work to ensure our expectations of one another are clear and be willing to do hard things when things go off track. It also means that as managers, we’re accountable to each person we manage and that we accept that they should hold us accountable when we don’t live up to our end of the deal as well. 

Love requires mutual accountability. That accountability is the necessary fuel of healthy, trusting, and lasting relationships. 

Good Management Requires Love

We are entering a new era of work. 

We will be more distributed and separated by time and space than ever before. Trust can not be assumed—it must be earned. And, a new generation of employees will continue to rightfully demand a different kind of work experience; one defined by equity, inclusion, and community.  

This will require a different approach and mindset about managing and what it means to be a manager. If you want to thrive in this new era, start with love. If you can learn to love your people, you’ll be well equipped for the changes that lie ahead.

 

Related Reading:

Management, Parenting, and Love

Work is a Relationship, Not a Contract

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives?

The #1 Management Imperative for 2021

2 comments
  • Hannah

    Great write up. Thanks for talking about this. For managers who constantly have to make tough decisions at work with a weight of accountability hanging over their shoulders, sometimes their actions feel as if they don’t love us when in actual fact they do.
    Also I think culture has a role to play in the expression of care in the workplace.
    How do we express care and love to our subordinates without them feeling as if it is forced or fake but genuine??

    • Jason

      Culture is absolutely a part of. And how you express love is going to depend both on your style and that of the other person. Thanks so much for the comment.

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