Can you show love at work? The answer may surprise you.

Summary: The concept of love at work often makes leaders uncomfortable. Yetunde Hofmann makes a compelling case that bringing love into the office is not just possible but necessary to reach peak organizational performance in this episode of Human: unlocking workforce potential.

The Beatles once told us that “all you need is love,” but it seems that many workplace leaders do not agree. The notion of bringing platonic love into the office today feels subversive—radical, even.

But my guest on the latest episode of Human: Unlocking Workforce Potential thinks leaders make a big mistake if they choose to ignore compassion as a core competency.

Yetunde Hofmann is an internationally certified Integral Development Coach and the Managing Director of Synchrony, a consulting firm specializing in change management and culture. She’s also a visiting fellow at the University of Reading’s Henley Business school, an international speaker, and the author of the recently published book Beyond Engagement: the Value of Love-Based Leadership in Organisations.

Yetunde joined me from Surrey, England. She made a compelling case for the business value of leading with love.

What do we mean by “love?”

It’s important to be clear what we mean by “love” in this context since the word is so widely used.

“The whole discussion around love can be misunderstood,” says Yetunde. “It’s used in poetry, in pop songs, in religion. In the workplace, it might seem connected to sexual harassment. We don’t want to bring that to work.

“In the workplace, love means the ability and willingness to see the individual for who they are. That person is more than a means to an end. It means to value all of that person—that’s what love is.

“If you don’t have a place where someone can be all of who they are, how can you expect them to perform their very best?” Yetunde asks.

“Love is fundamental to performance and to potential.”

When we think of love in these terms, it’s easier to see its importance for achieving peak performance in an organization.

The business case for love

“One of the problems we have in the world of work is a tendency to lead with labels: my status, my title, the image of me I want you to have,” says Yetunde. “But we relate as humans.

“Love lets you relate as humans first and labels second.”

This is the business case Yetunde makes for bringing love to work:

  • People are more productive, effective, and engaged when they feel valued and accepted in the workplace.
  • Making people feel valued and accepted in the workplace without love is impossible.
  • Love gives us a feeling of purpose and increases our connected to the organizations we work for and the people in them.
  • Working with compassion helps organizations foster their talent. Ultimately, love contributes to a truly human culture, which can be a key source of competitive advantage.

“Love makes us less selfish in business,” says Yetunde. “When people know you want the best out of them, it becomes easier to bring align them to your organizational purpose. They know it’s about more than money—it’s about helping people be great and unleashing their potential.

“You have greater trust as a result, which leads to a much lower fear of change.”

This contradicts the orthodoxy that talking about emotion in the workplace is inappropriate—especially for leaders. This falsely held belief is best summed up with the expression “the higher you go up the ladder, the tighter your tie must be.”

This tie-tightening way of thinking is common in many industries and organizations. It can hold leaders back from helping their organizations achieve peak performance.

“Leadership is relational,” says Yetunde. “Leaders in organizations have a fundamental obligation to demonstrate love. In fact, I believe it is the most critical leadership capability.

“When you feel loved, you find yourself walking tall.”

“When you feel loved, you find yourself walking tall. When this happens to your employees, they will go above and beyond.”

Expressing love as a leader

As part of her work for her recent book, Beyond Engagement, Yetunde interviewed 40 senior business leaders from around the world about workplace culture and the idea of bringing love into work.

“They often say it’s uncomfortable,” she says. “One said to me: ‘If I allow myself to bring the notion of love into my organization, I have nowhere to go. I become naked. I can’t allow that. It makes me vulnerable and I have to be seen to lead.’”

Yetunde makes clear that to leading with love requires vulnerability.

Still, if you are part of an organization that currently sees expression of emotion (particularly love) as inappropriate, it can be hard to know where to start with this.

Yetunde advises that a simple first step is talking about the idea of love in the workplace.

“You start with the discussion,” she says. “The more you talk about something, the less difficult it becomes. Even raising the question starts to normalize it a bit. Ask, ‘what would we advise other organizations to do?’”

These first steps, though small, can have a surprising impact on an organization’s culture. Leading by example is powerful.

Leading with love when times are tough

This raises an important question: is it possible to lead with love and still make tough decisions? There are few moments in modern history where this has been more important as it is today.

“I’ve driven change and been on the receiving end of change all my life,” Yetunde says. “To date, no one has said ‘wow, thank you so much to my leaders who left it to this time to give me the bad news.’ They always say ‘I wish I’d known, I wish I’d been involved.’

“And yet leaders always hold back.”

In our conversation, Yetunde gave a relevant example from an organization she knows well.

“One of the key persons involved in a major project was goofing up, and they were trying to find a way to let them go,” she says.

But this person’s leaders didn’t want to tell them about the change while they were still working on the project because they worried it would destabilize them. They planned to tell them they were losing their job once the project ended.

“The selfishness in this view!” Yetunde says. “My challenge: if you know this is going to happen, involve him and help him understand. They’ll get it. Even if they take it badly for a few days, they will come around.

“They’re not going to thank you for leaving it late. They’re going to thank you for telling them early.”

Listen to the episode

Yetunde shared many more powerful insights over the course of our conversation, which I found truly fascinating.

To hear them all, tune in to both episodes of Human, featuring Yetunde, here:

As always, I’d be delighted to hear your feedback on this episode and suggestions for future topics.

In fact, you could say I’d love it.

I can be reached here—or you can leave your feedback on the podcasting platform.

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