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Guest Opinion: What’s love got to do with work?


In the early 1980s, Tina Turner recorded “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” It became her first and only Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single. It is a catchy tune, but what’s love got to do with work? 

“Love and Work: How to find what you love, love what you do, and do it for the rest of your life,” Marcus Buckingham’s latest book published by Harvard Business Review, is a hit. But he admits his book would not have been a hit in the ’80s. He is out to create a movement to connect love with work. 

But long before Buckingham wrote this book, our own sage, Jim Autry wrote “Love and Profit: The art of caring leadership” in 1992. Autry admits he was a pioneer in this space. To learn more, I interviewed Autry about what motivated him to write “Love and Profit” and what he thinks of the message now.

Autry had a tough time getting this book published, largely because of the title. He was a student of leadership – watching how others were leading and what was working or not working. At the time, he was leading creative people in the publishing industry. He realized people were more productive and satisfied if they were engaged and involved.

When I asked Autry to define caring leadership, he said: “I wanted to empower people because they knew how to do their jobs better than I did. The role of leadership is to cast a vision and turn that into reality by inspiring them to buy into the vision. Caring is about being respectful and collegial. For the leaders who used the command-and-control philosophy, we got them coaching and counseling.”

Autry continued: “Caring doesn’t mean you have to like each other, but there has to be mutual respect. … We have to care about customers, about our products/services, our company. We have to care about working together, and this means no superstars, but collaborators.”

Business schools are known for teaching how to focus on the bottom line — the hard stuff. But the soft stuff (caring, compassion, and empathy) is really the hard stuff. “Love and Profit” is all about servant leadership. Autry reminded me that the time has come to blend love and work. 

“Be patient. Ask questions, because it helps frame the situation to inform thinking. Servant leadership is about coaching, teaching and mentoring,” he said.

Sounds True is an organization leading the way with a new approach to learning how to lead. The Inner MBA program is a nine-month online immersion to train people in the inner skills (soft skills) that lead to greater performance and fulfillment at work. CEOs are the faculty members and students are all ages and stages of life, with many of them already having earned MBAs and beyond. Participants learn how to help others find love in their work.

Even though “Love and Profit” was challenging to get published, it became a bestseller at the time. And now Buckingham is taking the business world by storm with “Love and Work.” The pandemic and the “great resignation” have put employees in the driver’s seat. Leaders need to realize employees want and need autonomy, flexibility, compassion and empathy.

Recently, I interviewed Buckingham for my podcast, “Becoming a Sage.” I wanted to know more about why he thinks his book is resonating with so many at this time.

Buckingham believes the pandemic has put the spotlight on the need to attract and retain employees, especially top performers. He is known for the statement “People don’t leave bad companies — they leave bad bosses,” and the most immediate manager is the person most influential to job satisfaction. Now he claims “people leave bad teams.” Team leaders need to wake up and pay attention. He said, “Most of our workplaces are loveless.”

Buckingham believes that instead of the traditional span of control, we should be thinking about “span of attention.” Now more than ever, leaders should be paying attention to employees. The pandemic gave employees at all levels the time to reevaluate their lives. Most people don’t want to be a transactional cog in a machine. They want to feel like their lives matter. 

If companies want growth, learning, innovation, creativity, collaboration and resilience, Buckingham advocates creating workplaces where people can find and experience love and passion and express emotions.

One way to show love and pay attention is for leaders to have a weekly 15-minute “check-in” with each direct report and ask three broad questions: 

  • What did you love last week?
  • What did you loathe last week?
  • What can I do to support you?

Buckingham believes that if leaders don’t have time for this simple weekly check-in with each report, then they either have too many reports or they are perpetuating a loveless workplace. He also said the culture can be predicted by how many leaders report directly to the CEO. If the number is greater than 15, the culture doesn’t support paying attention to people. If this is the case, it will be hard to retain and attract the best talent. 

After 30 years, Autry still believes love has a lot to do with profit. And Buckingham is now carrying the torch to make it happen.

Jann E. Freed, Ph.D., is a leadership development consultant and coach. She is the author of “Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice From 100 Experts” and a TEDxDes Moines speaker. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge, 2023).

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