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What’s love got to do with it? Pretty much everything when it comes to employee engagement (review).

I work for a dean who runs a research lab.

She leads a team of high school, undergraduate and grad students who conduct studies that involve people in the community. The dean volunteers to be the first test subject for each and every student. They wire the dean up with electrodes and put her through her paces on a stationary bike.

lab 1It’s a grueling endurance test that would leave most of us gasping and staggering to the showers. Yet the dean offers confidence-boosting feedback during and immediately after the test, letting students know what they did well and how they could do better.

The dean doesn’t need to tell anyone that she’s committed to students and research. Instead, she shows it by voluntarily getting on the bike over and over again.

So how about your leaders?

Do you know what they love?

Do they love your organization, your mission, you and your colleagues and the people you serve?

Or do they love the paycheque, perks and power that come with the job?

Eventually, everyone figures out whether their leader is all about making a difference or making a fortune. And getting dragged along for a leader’s ego trip eventually wears down even the best of us.

If you want an accurate read on employee engagement, look at what the leader does and loves.

“Employees will love what they’re doing only if their leaders love what they are doing and create a culture where love can thrive,” says Steve Farber, president of Extreme Leadership Inc. and author of Love is Just Damn Good Business.

Farber-3D“Leaders have to do what they love in the service of people who love what they do. This nips narcissism in the bud by moving the focus to a shared vision and to the people who can help carry it out. It provides the moral and ethical context to go with the business construct. It’s not serving others out of obligation or self-interest but out of a genuine desire to have a huge positive impact on the quality of their lives.

“And if you do that, what comes back? They reciprocate. They love you in return. That’s how you create an engaged culture that bakes love into the customer experience, creates a lasting bond, and produces a competitive advantage.”

Farber says organizational cultures rooted in love demonstrate mutual care and concern for colleagues’ needs, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Everyone is treated with dignity, respect and kindness.

Love at work includes tough love and the willingness to have difficult yet necessary conversations. It’s about holding people accountable and setting high expectations around excellence.

“Real love doesn’t produce organizations where everyone is happy all the time, where people walk around with big, goofy grins on their faces, where no one ever argues, where everybody does whatever they want whenever they please, where every so often you stop all the action and have a group hug in the breakroom.

“When you love people, you want what’s best for them. You don’t settle for mediocre. You strive for excellence.”

So if you’re a leader, it’s time to ask yourself if you wake up every day striving to do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.  Farber shows why, for your sake and the sake of your organization, you’d better answer with an enthusiastic and unqualified yes.

This review ran in the Oct. 26 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Reviewing business books for the Hamilton Spectator has been my side hustle since 1999. By day, I serve as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science.

Regain control of your time & attention – make yourself indistractable

Imagine if everyone in the City of Hamilton was admitted to hospital and given the wrong medications.

That’s what happens to roughly the same number of patients in American hospitals every year.

Along with harming and killing patients, these preventable medical errors cost an estimated $3.5 billion in extra expenses.

A hospital in San Francisco found a solution. Studies showed that nurses were interrupted and distracted between five to 10 times while dispensing a patient’s meds. So nurses started wearing bright coloured vests to let colleagues know when to stay quiet and steer clear. Four months later, medical errors fell by nearly 50 per cent.

Other hospitals have since added specially marked distraction-free zones or rooms where nurses can stay focused on making sure their patients get the right meds.

Hacking back constant work interruptions is one of the ways to make yourself indistractable. Rediscovering the ability to give tasks and people our undivided attention will be an essential skill in the 21st century.

indistractable“In the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world,” predicts Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How To Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. “Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable’. In this day and age, if you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions.”

If you’re not keen on wearing a do-not-disturb day-glo vest around the office, Eyal suggests putting a sign on your door or desktop to notify colleagues when you need to work without interruption.

To have fewer emails flooding your inbox, send fewer yourself and be slower to respond. Not every email needs an immediate reply. Batch non-urgent emails in a folder that you can work through during a block of time at the end of your week.

“Meetings today are full of people barely paying attention as they send emails to each other about how bored they are,” says Eyal. So don’t hold a meeting if you don’t have an agenda. On your agenda, clearly define the problem you want the group to tackle and attach a one-page digest discussing the problem, your initial thoughts and a straw dog solution. You’ll get to an answer faster and eliminate the distraction of unnecessary meetings.

no phone 2Along with having an agenda, make meetings screen-free. Put away smartphones and give a sheet of paper and a pen to anyone who insists on using their laptop to take notes. Everyone must be present both in body and mind and free of screen distractions.

Use group chats sparingly in very specific situations with a limited number of colleagues. “We wouldn’t choose to participate in a conference call that lasts for a whole day, so the same goes for group chat,” says Eyal.

Turn notifications off on your smartphone and desktop. Eliminate apps you don’t use. Rearrange apps into three categories, with primary tools on your phone’s home screen followed by screens for aspirations (like podcasts and audiobooks) and then time-killing dopamine-hitting slot machines (like Facebook and Twitter).

To become indistractable, Eyal says we need to get a handle on both our internal and external triggers that distract us and learn how to better plan and manage our time with intention. “You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.”

Eyal’s four-part indistractable model will help you find your lost attention span and show how to regain and retrain your brain in a world of relentless distractions.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.