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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.

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