It's OK to Love Your Employees!
A week ago Monday, I had the privilege of delivering the keynote to the IBM Watson Customer Engagement organization at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There were 2,000 people in attendance which included 1,500 sellers (sales reps) and 500 IBM leaders and partners. It was very gratifying knowing that we really touched a whole lot of folks in the audience. As echoed by Richard Hearn, General Manager, Global Sales, Watson Commerce, “Pete, thank you for such an amazing session. I received so much positive feedback from the IBM sellers on your session. You are an inspiration to all of us!”
Beyond that, I was shocked at the 100+ requests on Facebook and LinkedIn which I received within the first hour of the keynote. My first takeaway was the notion that we really do live in a world of instant communication, and in this case, instant gratification. But as I read through the comments associated with the requests, I was struck with the number of comments about references I made to the word “love” and my belief that no professional relationship will ever reach its maximum potential without love as its foundation. A couple of examples:
“I attended the IBM Sales Academy and heard you speak in Vegas and wanted to send you a thank note. You really touched me and while I know your talk was rushed in only one hour I loved every minute of it. In my years as a sales leader you are the first person to bring up the word “love” anywhere in a conversation about leadership.”
“I have always prided myself in loving my employees but have never openly spoken about it as it quite frankly has been taboo or viewed as strange in a business environment. Your talk was incredibly inspirational and has freed me up to lead from the heart going forward.”
When I ask audiences in my workshops who has been the greatest inspiration in their lives, the answers are always parents, spouses, coaches, clergy, friends, etc. When I ask them what was the one thing they all had in common, they eventually get the answer: they loved me! So why the reluctance, why the reticence to let people see the loving side of us in the workplace? Maybe Bob Sutton from the University of Michigan, one of our thought leaders at the Center for Leadership at UD, had it right when he said, “transformative leaders are enormously demanding but also enormously caring.” I am convinced that as leaders we are all at the top of the scale on the demand side of the model (and pretty good at it as parents) but far too often fail miserably in letting people see our caring side for fear that it will expose our vulnerability. Quite the contrary; I believe it exposes our uniqueness as a human being.
While this can be a slippery slope, I drew three distinctions to get the audience comfortable with the word “love” in our business vocabulary. The first distinction is about sharing what love looks like in a professional relationship. Love for ourselves in a professional relationship is simply about faith in who we are and confidence as we approach our lives each and every day. Love for each other is about trust and mutual respect for one another, and love for what we do every day is about our passion! That is the first distinction.
The second distinction, as I shared with the IBM audience, “is the one I want you to get your arms around. It is one of the most important discoveries I will share with you today.” It’s not a love without responsibility, it is love with consequences attached. There were times at The Berry Company that I had to tell people “I love you”, but you just do not get to work here anymore. It was never about me. It was being fair to them. Is it uncomfortable? Of course it is! And why it’s so challenging is because it’s a paradox. Unconditional love is the bond between parent and child. It is at the core of marriage vow. However, it’s that same tacit agreement that gets in the way of sharing honest caring feedback. Without it I can assure you there will always be serious limitations on our ability as leaders, parents, coaches, friends, spouses, and siblings to provide honest feedback and allow people to experience their God given potential.
The last distinction is that blending strength of character and love for your fellow man does not diminish one’s womanhood or manhood. Remember, people can handle the truth if they know you care!
Being successful as a leader, a parent, a teacher, a coach, a spouse, a sibling, a friend can only happen when we amplify the quality of our lives through the joy that comes when we commit our love, our passion, and ourselves to making a difference in people’s lives.
I have a poster in my exercise room that I read every morning. Steve Prefontaine, the great long distance runner who died tragically at the peak of his career, said it best, “To not give the best of ourselves every day is to sacrifice the gift.”
Everything you do every day means something to someone. Make them all count!