Building and nurturing a strong team takes emotional investment—and we dare say, “loving leadership.” We’re certainly not talking about office romance and an array of behaviors rightfully frowned upon by human resources professionals. There are actually appropriate ways to “show love” in the office, and it all essentially comes down to how people conscientiously interact with each other.
You’ve no doubt heard of, and perhaps read, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, a wildly popular book by healthy marriage expert Gary Chapman. His premise is simple: a person should assess and discover which of five distinct “love languages” is their primary way of feeling they are loved or valued by others so they can effectively communicate their own needs, as well as better understand and meet the needs of others. While this particular book focuses on romantic relationships, the five love languages he identifies are relevant to any setting that benefits from people working together toward common goals.
At Milestone Leadership, we believe leaders worth following take the time to get to know team members and peers on a personal level. Understanding the motivations of coworkers comes from seeking insight about how they accept love and appreciation from others. Intentionally applied, this knowledge can help leaders establish and grow trust by connecting with team members in the most meaningful ways. Building relationships in this way takes work, but great results can happen when a leader willingly sees each person as unique and adapts his or her own behavior to support the individual’s needs and preferences.
By striving to understand the five primary love languages, a leader can focus efforts to guide and support others much more effectively:
Quality Time – People who value quality time are looking for focused physical presence and periods of undivided attention. Team members motivated by quality time don’t do well with leaders who are constantly checking their phones or half-heartedly listening while scanning email. The length of time needed for these individuals is not nearly as important as solid focus, consistency and a commitment to listening. Leaders can achieve this in many ways, from scheduling lunch or coffee…to conducting regular one-on-one meetings…to intentionally bringing a team member into a collaborative project that allows closer engagement.
Words of Affirmation – Those who thrive on words of affirmation simply need to hear they are valued and needed. When leaders verbally praise the behavior or work of this type of team member, the result is typically more of the same. It’s important when offering praise that the sentiments be completely genuine, or the outcome will be distrust. Written affirmation is very effective when combined with verbal kudos, and can serve as a positive and appreciated later reminder of a job well done. Leaders do need to recognize when team members shy away from public affirmation, however; the goal is not embarrassment if someone much prefers to hear praise spoken privately and authentically.
Receiving Gifts – When a person’s love language is receiving gifts, they are motivated by another’s thoughtfulness. They value gifts that reflect something about them or what they care about – it’s not about the expense but is very much about the personal nature of the gift. This can be challenging for some leaders to manage, but listening for cues of things important to a team member and occasionally extending considerate tokens of friendship can be enormously motivating to this type of person. It’s important to note that when receiving something from an individual who values gifts, one should be very purposeful in acknowledging and appreciating the gesture.
Acts of Service – Leaders have a range of opportunities to support team members who especially value acts of service. This type of individual values actions that demonstrate caring; they are less about words and much more about deeds. One of the most significant ways a leader can impart acts of service in the workplace is to identify what is causing difficulty for a team member, and then actively seek to remove barriers or adjust responsibilities where possible. When leaders show they understand another’s perspective and take specific actions to improve issues with workload or environment, the impact is significant for these team members.
Physical Touch – On its face, it could seem that nurturing an individual who values physical touch could be somewhat complicated in the workplace. There are, however, some ways to express this without crossing lines of appropriateness. Something as simple as a warm handshake and a sincere, enthusiastic greeting resonates with this type of person. This love language is not about physical intimacy—but for someone who values touch, it is a real way of connecting to another person. Knowing that people have a wide range of comfort or discomfort with physical touch, it is best to err on the side of caution and use other types of body language to convey appreciation. These individuals like and respond to open, friendly body language and warm facial expressions. When a leader shies away from touch or appears chilly or stiff during interactions, these team members feel diminished.
Even if a team never goes through a formal analysis of its members’ primary love languages, there is no question that simple observation and keen listening can reveal a lot about what makes different individuals feel valued and cared for. It is unquestionably the job of a true leader to continuously work to understand and uniquely interact with those they are entrusted to guide and support. Just as no two people are just alike, there are no one-size-fits-all answers for how to best encourage and affirm others. Leadership is deeply personal and dependent upon recognizing and acting upon the needs of others.
Kelly Hale Syer