I Led 26,000 Employees Across The World — I See This Leadership Skill Being Overlooked The Most By My Industry Peers.

I Led 26,000 Employees Across The World — I See This Leadership Skill Being Overlooked The Most By My Industry Peers.

I Led 26,000 Employees Across The World — I See This Leadership Skill Being Overlooked The Most By My Industry Peers.

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On the plane, I’m that guy sitting next to you who asks 100 questions before we touch down. “Chuck, would you please leave those folks alone?” my wife always says, to no avail.

You see, I just can’t help myself. I care about people and take an interest in them, a philosophy I’ve applied to growing a business.

I’m a scientist by training and the former CEO of a publicly traded tech company with over 26,000 employees. But I need to share something: I truly believe that for any leader, the true driver of success isn’t necessarily technical expertise or management savvy. It’s love and care. Ultimately, that’s what enables their people to navigate challenges and take risks. It also stops amazing talent from walking out the door.

Related: This Leadership Technique is the Secret to Optimal Team Performance

What I’m talking about when I talk about love

I love each and every one of my people. It’s a strong word to throw around in business, I know. There are obviously many types of love, so let me explain what I mean in this context.

I’m talking about the kind of selflessness I saw growing up in modest circumstances in Providence, Rhode Island. My family and friends had limited resources but infinite generosity. They didn’t think twice about sharing whatever they had and finding ways to be of service to others.

Being loved like that shaped who I am today. We always hear about the self-made person, but that’s a myth. No matter how successful they become, everyone needs others to uplift them.

The love I share with employees also comes from my faith. Regardless of what your background may be, all faiths share a notion of love at their core. It’s a deep appreciation and empathy for people’s challenges, along with a willingness to extend a bond to them. Think of it like the strong chemical bond that holds atoms together. By taking that step, I make myself part of someone else’s life and make them part of mine.

It’s often overlooked by business leaders, but the affinity that results is a competitive advantage. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to lead with love, both on a personal and a global level.

To show your people love, get personal

On an individual level, conveying love isn’t rocket science. I simply show people that I care.

How? I ask questions. I listen. I empathize. By putting myself in someone else’s shoes, I start to understand what they’re all about. I like to get to the essence of how they feel, think and dream and find out what keeps them up at night.

People know when their boss cares, and they respond accordingly. Less than 10% of mid- and senior-level leaders are superior listeners and communicators, one employee survey found. However, nine out of 10 highly engaged employees feel heard, versus only a third of those with low engagement levels.

It doesn’t matter who that person is or what they do. I travel a lot for work, so I often chat with the Uber drivers who pick me up at the airport. That isn’t polite small talk—I’m truly interested in hearing about their lives and what makes them tick.

The same goes for the leaders of a company we’re merging with. Having led 20 successful acquisitions, I can’t think of a better integration strategy than to bond with the folks who are joining us.

For me, showing love also means challenging team members because I care about their growth. This may seem counterintuitive, but in my mind, truly loving someone means that you’re there to both push them to new heights and catch them when they fall. Often, people don’t believe they can accomplish something. But if you encourage them to dream bigger and support them along the way, they find new courage, competence and confidence.

Harnessing the power of love at scale

For business leaders, the real test is projecting that love to hundreds or thousands of employees.

I wish I had some tricks to share or advice on the power of mass communication. Listen, I didn’t even have a social media account until earlier this year. And in many cases, I don’t even speak the same language as the people I lead.

Both of those things have made it tough for me to communicate, for instance, with our employees who work in China, where everyone uses WeChat.

But if you love your people, there’s no substitute for meeting them where they are. That’s why I’ve made more than 150 trips to China. To reassure the team there during Covid, I visited our offices all over the country, giving a similar speech everywhere I went. Showing up in person — and delivering a consistent message — helped build a foundation of trust.

I do the same for our other employees scattered across the globe. Over the years, I’ve stopped by many of our locations. After every visit, I hate to leave because it feels like I’m parting with family.

Having a clear value system is another way to convey love at scale. Some people dismiss company values as bland buzzwords, but I disagree. In fact, I supported the development of our “I CARE” values: integrity, collaboration, accountability, respect and enthusiasm. There’s no doubt what we stand for — and as far as I can tell, few people in the company have trouble remembering that acronym.

Leading with love also means embracing the idea that you’re a servant to your people. To show my team that I’m here to serve, I get out and interact with them rather than hiding behind a desk in a corner office.

For any business, taking that approach has its rewards. Servant leadership boosts employee engagement by building trust, research shows. In turn, the most engaged employees perform 20% better and are almost 90% less likely to quit.

Related: Recruitment and Retention Strategies Vary By Generation — But They Have This One Thing in Common

How love puts people at the center of the business

When you lead with the kind of love I’ve been talking about, something beautiful happens.

To explain, I’ll invoke one of the two major forces in the universe. (I am a scientist, after all.) Centripetal force keeps an object moving in a circle by seeking the center. Think of the earth’s gravitational pull, which holds the moon in orbit. Love acts as that centripetal force in any organization. It enables everyone to feel centered — drawn together and protected by the team around them.

That’s a great source of courage. As people juggle their work and family lives, they find it easier to handle day-to-day challenges. A workplace infused with love is also a safe environment for experimentation and risk-taking. Knowing that within reason, they don’t have to worry about making mistakes, people can fail fast and share the lessons learned.

Ultimately, for companies, the bond I call love is a trade secret no competitor can copy. It creates a culture that draws people in, making the business a magnet for talent.

In today’s job market, that’s a big plus. Almost nine of out 10 industry execs say that recruiting and retaining talent are major obstacles.

For leaders, demonstrating love is the most powerful way I know to build a strong, caring business. By going where their people are, mentally as well as physically, they can make real connections. Which reminds me — I have a flight to catch.

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