June 10 2013 03:48 PM

Want to be a more effective leader? Want to help your team be even more successful? Learning how to consistently lead with love is the key you are looking for! It's one thing to want to lead with love, and another to know how to do it and then live it out. I recently read an outstanding book that can help us - let me share some of the key ideas.

"Undercover Boss" is one of my favorite shows and usually ends with me choked up with emotion. Some of the CEOs featured are already caring and inspiring leaders, others less so, but all end up learning valuable lessons when they work with front line staff and supervisors and realize that people are truly the most valuable resource of any organization.

I remember watching the episode featuring Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns or operates about 20 family themed attractions across the country such as Dolywood, Silver Dollar City, and Stone Mountain in Georgia. After seeing Joel on the show I told my wife that this guy really understands what servant leadership is all about, and knows how to add value to all of an organization's key stakeholders (employees, customers, owners, and community). Recently I heard that Joel had just written a book on leadership called Love Works, so I got my copy and read it with great interest.

Love Works - "Leading with Love"
Joel and other successful like minded leaders understand and promote the concept of servant leadership and "leading with love." Talking about "love" in business makes some people squirm. Part of the problem is that out English language has only one word for love, while our friends the ancient Greeks had four - one of which is "agape" love, which is the one that is most relevant for business settings.

Agape love is not about feelings and is not emotion-based. Agape love is unconditional and is behavior based - it's about choosing to care and following up with actions. When we look at love in action, love works - at work. And it can be a powerful tool to help us strengthen our teams and improve the value we add to our stakeholders.

Key principles that explain this kind of love come from one of the oldest and most respected authorities on human behavior: the Bible. Joel elaborates on seven key principles of practical love that the Apostle Paul outlined in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians. This is a passage that is often used at weddings, but it can also be used as a leadership philosophy.

Seven Key Principles of Leading with Love
Following are the seven key principles behind leading with love:

Be patient - demonstrate self-control in difficult situations. Key points include: don't be patient with poor performance, but be patient with how you respond to poor performance. Praise patiently in public - including being specific, exact, and legitimate. Admonish in private with specifics, then reaffirm the person's value and help them "get back on the horse" and move on. Praise more than you admonish. Some studies found the ratio should be at least 4 to 1.

Be kind - show encouragement and enthusiasm. Kindness is the root of encouragement, encouragement leads to enthusiasm, and everyone benefits from enthusiasm. Remember that kindness, encouragement and enthusiasm start with us in leadership roles. When a leader is kind, it will influence front-line employees who will in turn be more likely to treat customers well.

Every time we contact someone, we can make their day better or worse - so make it better. I like the Sam Horn quote: "Anyone who consistently makes you feel bad is not helping you be better." Finally, break through the email clutter and use hand written notes of thanks. Over the years, I have received handwritten notes of appreciation from a CEO and also a President of my company - both notes are framed and will be mementos that I enjoy well into my retirement years.

Be trusting - place confidence in those around you. Leading with love isn't possible if you don't trust people. And when you trust people, leading will be more effective than ever. Listening carefully is a sign of trust - interrupting people is a sign of distrust. Another way to show trust is to avoid micro-managing and let others make decisions they are responsible for. Then we need to avoid overriding a decision that has already been made unless it is absolutely necessary.

Be unselfish - think of yourself less. Being unselfish doesn't mean thinking less of yourself - it means thinking of yourself less. Unselfish leaders aim to make as few decisions as possible. They also deploy a Socratic rather than autocratic leading style. Socratic leading involves asking questions, facilitating rich team discussions, and then making the best possible decision based on that rich discussion. Margaret Thatcher has a great quote that supports the Socratic and participate approach: "Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to remind people that you are, you aren't."

Be truthful - define reality corporately and individually. Highly respected CEO Max DePree said, "The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality." Practical guidelines include: Don't shoot the messenger or confuse disagreement with negative conflict. Don't assume people see the truth - speak up. As a leader, it's usually best to speak last. Be open to hearing the truth - find an accountability partner or partners that will always tell you the truth about yourself. Finally remember the adage to "speak the truth in love."

Be forgiving - release the grip of the grudge. What was done to you doesn't matter in the end - all that matters is how you respond. If someone has wronged your team or organization, consider giving them another chance if it is a one-time offense, they are aware of their shortcomings, they want to improve, and if you have doubt about letting them go.

Forgive someone who has wronged you - I agree with Jeff Henderson, who says "the longer you hold a grudge, the longer the grudge has a hold on you."

Be dedicated - stick to your values in all circumstances. Choosing to lead with love may be the single most difficult decision a leader can make, but a wise leader dedicates herself to it because it is also the best way to lead an organization.

If you lead anything or anyone, you are in a position of power. As leaders we need to use the power given us to get things done such as setting stretch targets, holding others accountable, asking for resources, making tough decisions, rallying people to common goals and getting results. Great leaders do all these things and at the same time lead with love. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this well when he said, "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic." Dr. King understood that love and power must be harnessed together to get the most important things done.

My final encouragement is to follow Gandhi's charge to: "Be the change you want to see in the world." Good luck to you as follow the path of leading with love and setting a positive example for others!

Wes Friesen, MBA, CMDSM, MDC, EMCM, ICP, CCM,CMA, CM, CFM, APP, PHR is the Manager of Billing, Credit and Special Attention Operations for Portland General Electric, a utility in Portland, Oregon that serves over 829,000 customers. Wes leads his teams with the able assistance of Supervisors Allison Rowden, Jessica Eberhardt, Heidi Fouts and Matt McHill. Wes teaches university classes and is a featured speaker at national Conferences like MAILCOM, National Postal Forum, FUSION and others. Check out his personal website for free information (www.wesfriesen.com). He can be contacted at wes.friesen@pgn.com.