Leading with heart

By Faye Wai

5 min read

Leading with heart

Love at work? Your first reaction to that might be, “ew”! It’s an odd, rarely talked about concept that we saved for this season’s finale of Conversations at Work.

Two heart-centered leaders helped us unpack this strange yet simple (you’ll find out later) gesture of showing love at work. Dr. Lance Secretan is the author of 21 books about leadership, inspiration, corporate culture, and entrepreneurship, including his latest work, The Bellwether Effect. Jeff Melnyk believes we should all have the opportunity to do work we love. He’s a Founding Partner of Within People, where he helps people find purpose and grow the business they love.


Why is now the time to show more love at work?

Over the last year, there’s been a shift to focus on wellbeing and self-love. In addition, people are more conscious of equity and equality, especially in the workplace. Consumers are increasingly invested in the values of companies when they make purchasing decisions. And as public interest in these issues grows, organizations must respond. 

Changing the fear-based system

When we think of leaders, we often think of masculine attributes like strength, determination, and being clear-headed. In the traditional textbook definition of a leader, there seems to be an inherent theme of control and authority; and this is what we call fear-based leadership. In this scenario, the motivation to do well often stems from the fear of punishment and consequences on the job. Sound familiar?

However, Lance argues that inspiration can help us move from a fear-based system. And guess what? Inspiration is fueled by the emotion of love.

A 21st-century business principle

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, many employees experienced first-hand the lack of love, compassion, and support for them as individuals during the crisis and sudden switch to remote work. This has caused a lot of people to examine what they truly want from their work—alignment with their organization’s values, healthy work relationships, and inspiring leaders.

That’s why it’s safe to say that we could all use a little more love at work, especially in an employees’ market. For leaders, leading with heart means showing people that you’re concerned for their wellbeing, sensitive to their circumstances, and that you want the best for them.


Leadership as an act of love

Leaders set the tone for the culture of an organization. More and more, we’re seeing the demand for people-centric work cultures. So how can leaders shift towards a more heart-centered leadership mode of thinking and acting? Let's step into the practicalities of that, and hear some tips from our guests:

1. Start with awareness and reframe old beliefs

On an individual level, leaders who are intending to craft a heart-centered culture should evaluate some old behaviors or ways of thinking that aren’t serving them anymore.

Unlearning old fear-based tactics, and relearning the true qualities of leaders that employees desire, will help them embody these values more authentically. Instead of using command and control as your leadership compass, inject some inspiration and care into your day-to-day interactions. Scared of losing control and a drop in performance? Remember that people do their best work when they feel inspired.

2. Stop viewing work and life as two separate situations

Love isn’t just about romantic relationships. Our way of showing care and compassion for people around us has a deserving presence in the workplace. When we show up with our whole selves and our range of emotions at work, we begin to understand that we’re dealing with human beings that are more similar to us than we think.

Suddenly, the people we work with feel less threatening, incomplete, and incapable. When people feel respected and empowered, they feel comfortable bringing all their ideas to work, and discussing them—and that’s when they bring out their potential and we see the best of them.

3. Harness the power of words

This also extends to difficult conversations. When disagreement is in the air, oftentimes we feel attacked, angry, or untrusted. But when these arguments are rooted in compassion and vulnerability, we can strengthen and understand different perspectives.

As we always say, communication is key. By choosing love and recognizing people for their efforts, leaders let go of their egos and step into connection. How can we inspire others to do their best work and at the same time, make it a positive experience for them? Knowing that the absence of love is the space of fear, leaders can fill the fear void  with a habit of expressing gratitude and appreciation more often.


How to create love-centered cultures

After reading what you can do on an individual level as a leader, how can you show love across your wider organization?

1. Showing your values in action

When love is in your organization's DNA, it’ll be evident in every interaction you have with your people. For example, if a company is truly committed to equity and equality, chances are it has made efforts to increase pay transparency and support employee resource groups. It’s as simple as walking the talk.

2. Employee experience design

Most of us our worst workplace experiences are in fear-based organizations that are rigid and require conformity. By co-creating the employee experience and listening to what your people need, they’ll appreciate the proactive consideration and involvement from leaders. A great way of offering this is to be open-minded and flexible during the transition to hybrid work, being mindful that there’s no one-size-fits-all for people to work.  

3. Love isn't confined to the office

Do we really need an office to contain our love? As much as it might feel closer to gather in person, there are many things that we’ve grown to appreciate about remote work, and most people would rather stay this way. That’s why we shouldn’t focus on the limitations of not being in the same room together. Find rituals and observe what’s worked this past year, and invest time to connect with one another before getting into the business of the day.



Showing love isn’t that hard, but it certainly does take courage. And if you’re thinking this is all too fluffy and woo-woo—know that there’s the practical, business benefit side of things too. The reality is that the best work we've ever done in our lives is with people we love and an environment that allows us to thrive and be our best selves. It’s simpler for leaders too, because when you don’t need to always be in control, there’s a liberating aspect to watching your people grow together, in a happier and more loving way.  

Watch the recording below to tune in to the full conversation about love! 


We hope you loved the series as much as we did, and while our season of Conversations at work comes to an end, remember that the conversation about love still goes on. Let us know what your organization is doing to show more love in the comments below!

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Faye Wai

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