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Ahh, February, the month most often attributed to winter blahs. But February is also known for something else – Valentine’s Day.

Even if you dismiss this as a silly holiday for romantic relationships, it is a good time to think about how we can show love and care in the context of work relationships.

I’m not referring to office romance kind of love. Rather, I’m thinking about the connections people have with those they work with. More saliently, I’m thinking about how to strengthen the connections between leaders and their team members.

A little self-test: are you a leader who people will say “I really like my manager” (or boss or whatever title fits). Long after the time you’ve worked together, will you still stand out as the ‘one’ they will never forget? Did you make a significant positive difference in their career? Their daily experience at work? Help them grow, stretch and feel safe taking courageous, appropriate risks?

Or will you fall into the “uggh – I can’t stand my boss,” category? Or worse, even be the reason they left the company. It is often said that people tend not to leave because of the actual job, but rather, they leave because of bad bosses.

I can already hear objections brewing like “it’s not a popularity contest,” or “leaders don’t have to be liked to be effective.”

True, but not completely. I’m talking about something much bigger than a popularity contest or just being liked to feel good.

The right kind of leaderly ‘love’ can have a positive influence. For everyone. Bottom lines included.

As a coach, I talk to a lot of people about their careers. Over the years, I’ve heard an equal share of folks who tell me about their favourite leaders as well as those they couldn’t stand. A senior manager who I coach shared with me that a leader he had more than a decade ago is still the one who had the most positive influence on him in his career. And when he became a leader, he emulated some of the good leadership traits he experienced from his leader. The word ‘care’ kept coming up in his story. He said the leader cared about him and his career and it showed up in many ways.

Care is one facet of leaderly love. What else?

Barbara L. Fredrickson, a psychology professor, author of Love 2.0 and a leading expert on the science of positive emotion, says it’s time to upgrade our view of love beyond the limited lenses of romantic or familial relationships. She says love can also be about seeing, appreciating and creating micro-moments of any shared positive emotion with another. That ‘other’ can be anyone – a colleague, direct report and even a stranger. The menu of positive emotions are joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.

A groundswell of evidence points to the merits of experiencing (and better yet, sharing) positive emotions in our daily work and lives. Positive emotions boost thinking capacity, health, abilities to listen, to reach for higher goals, to be generous and to be happy.

So what does this look like at work? First, here’s what it does not look like:

Being stingy and holding back on positive feedback because the good work they did is expected and part of their job. Or saving up feedback for only official performance reviews. Not encouraging or supporting someone to grow because you fear they will leave your team. Never laughing, smiling or having a good time – because that’s for after hours. Hiding behind your title and not revealing anything personal because work is work, personal is personal.

Here’s what it can look like instead:

Take a moment to acknowledge effort and good work in timely ways. Share the pride and feeling of accomplishment with the team. Share hopeful messages when the going gets tough. Even a hello in passing and a smile can go a long way.

Help your people learn, grow and stretch toward bigger aspirational career goals even if it means they may eventually leave your team. Celebrate individual and team wins – even tiny wins can fuel the tank for forward momentum.

Give ‘tough love’ feedback with grace and sensitivity – but do have those conversations. Holding back won’t do anyone any good. Encourage laughter, fun and team connection. There is no better medicine than a heartfelt belly laugh.

There are many more ways to do this. There’s no limit and no excuse about being busy. Because remember, the recipe for this is one micro-moment at a time.

Pay attention to what might occur when you model this kind of leaderly love. People might do better, feel better and perform better.

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, is an ICF credentialed, two-time ICF (International Coaching Federation) Prism award winner, who works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.

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