The Avett Brothers tell us:
Dumbed down and numbed by time and age //
Your dreams to catch the world, the cage //
The highway sets the traveler's stage //
All exits look the same
Three words that became hard to say //
I and love and you
The big thing for me and my sixth grade classmates wasn't kissing your girlfriend or boyfriend under the monkey bars. It was saying "I love you." Liberated by the magic of the telephone (back when call waiting was a luxury), I remember calling my sixth-grade girlfriend every Friday night. After all, I wouldn't see her again until Monday (going on dates wasn't really a thing). And after a few weeks' worth of these calls, we closed one of the phone sessions with a reciprocal "I love you."
I remember feeling so grown up, mimicking what I'd seen my parents do on their calls to each other. I walked into school the following Monday to tell my best friend Drew the news (he'd been telling his girlfriend Jessica the same for over a month). Newsflash: things were serious.
This four-letter word - LOVE - does that. It makes things serious, especially at work.
Love vs. Fear
Fast forward 20+ years to a chamber of commerce event I attended. The keynote speaker was taking input from the audience on what companies they loved to do business with. Cries rang out of local and national companies and reasonings and the speaker then (weakly) challenged us to similarly grow a business people love.
Not so fast, haircut. Love is not a word that belongs in our corporate vernacular. Right?
Think about it:
- When was the last time your boss told you she loved you? Or even loved your work?
- When have you told a colleague you love him? Or his contributions?
- Have you let a customer know you love them? Or their recurring loyalty to your products and services?
We're all fearful of saying the word "love" in our board meetings and stand ups, mainly because ever since attorneys got their hands on our employee manuals, we're scared that sharing a feeling as serious as love will land us in the hot water of HR's crosshairs.
We've replaced love with fear.
The worst companies have been doing this for decades. They're selling products that appeal to customers' fears rather than their love. A fear of attack, a fear of solitude, a fear of missing out - these all peddle products and bring out the worst in us. Imagine if company leadership today took a different approach and shared how their offerings helped you love your family more or show love to your neighbors more often.
It's easiest to talk about love when it comes to customers. We want customers to say they love our products. But it usually stops there. Love doesn't make its way into culture manuals.
But it's time it should.
Here's a case for it. Research shows that a loving culture (complete with hugs - oh my!) results in higher job satisfaction. Need more proof? When you share personal stories from the heart (love!), you and your employees are more likely to reach your full potential.
Where love comes from
We want our employees to say they love their jobs. We want customers to say they love our products. But we leaders need to model love if we want it to take root in those ways.
For leaders, love can't originate at work. Especially for entrepreneurs, whose heart, soul, talent, and identity is wrapped up in the company we birthed, it can be easy to seek love within the confines of this work, especially since those confines can extend (if we're not careful) to every aspect of our entire life - nights, weekend, dreams, nightmares. We would do better to find hobbies we love, spend time with people we love, read books we love, go to places we love - and bring this to our work - as a model for our teams and customers.
Secondly, we can all work on saying the word "love" more. Perhaps we should bandy it about like my sixth-grade peers did, allowing for the seriousness to sink in a bit. Yes, love is serious business. So is work. Why shouldn't the two meet? If anyone is going to tie them together (work and love) it should be those in charge.
No; you can't make anyone love anything by sheer force of will. But you can create something wonderful that speaks to our collective human drive to share and give love. And whether it's a workplace or a solution to a problem that someone will pay for, love can show up there.
Love is serious, but it's also a force that can't be stopped. When it grips you - or your team or customers - it'll take your work to new heights. But its authenticity must be palpable, like Mary Oliver (who writes beautifully about life and love) notes:
Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.
If you want to create products people love and a place people love to work, don't go about it slowly. Race headlong into a life of love yourself and watch everything that love touches transform anyone who comes into contact with it.