Love is at the Heart of Strong LeadershipLooking beyond the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, it’s a great time to nurture our inner romantic and express gratitude for our loved ones. As I write I am listening to a randomized Beatles playlist. Of the nearly 200 songs on the list, “The Word” started playing as I began this blog post. Its opening lines are “Say the word and you’ll be free; Say the word and be like me; Say the word I am thinking of; Have you heard the word is love?”

Love isn’t “the word” found in most organizations. Fear is more like it. Fear of criticism, fear of failure, fear of getting caught, or fear of speaking up. The L-word makes hard-nosed managers squirm. These are the same managers loudly pronouncing goals of higher employee engagement and increased customer loyalty. They’ll often use another L-word — leadership — in complete ignorance of how their loveless “bottom line” orientation is rooted in pessimism and fear. These managers use lots of “leader-speak” about vision, values, engagement, or caring but their rhetoric is heartless and empty.

In his book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, Kevin Roberts, CEO of the global advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, explains that fads attract but without love it’s a passing infatuation. He shows that the most successful organizations create fanatical loyalty that goes way beyond reason to highly charged emotional connections. Chapter titles include “All You Need is Love,” “Love is in the Air,” and “What the World Needs Now.” This approach won Saachti & Saachti a $US 403 million contract with JC Penney.

“We have always felt that a company is much stronger if bound by love rather than by fear,” explains Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Herb is featured, along with many frontline employees, in an inspiring 15 minute video we’ve been using for years when working with Clients on leadership and culture development. Entitled It’s So Simple, the video explains how Southwest is “the company that love built.” Southwest first started flying from Love Field in Dallas, their stock symbol is LUV, and their logo features a big red heart in the center. It’s So Simple shows how “love becomes an action verb that clears a path for what really matters.” An employee hosting much of the mini-documentary explains, “we transfer our love for what we do, and for each other, to the customer.”

When using a video like It’s So Simple  there’s always some question about its authenticity. In my last trip to Australia to deliver the pilot program of LEADERSHIFT we’d designed with the Qantas Engineering and Maintenance group, we invited a new executive who had just joined the company from Southwest to share his inside experiences. Tony knew many of the people featured in the video and was able to give us a much deeper appreciation for how a genuine love of people and customers permeated their culture. For example, love and respect is a key ingredient in the company’s early decision to invite unions in as partners from the beginning.

So what are the hard results of all this soft love stuff? In their new book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, feature Southwest in their extensive research on “10X companies.” This research started with 20,400 companies and goes through 11 stages of cutting, screening, and shifting to identify the companies that beat their industry index by at least 10 times!! Here’s what they write:

“…if you’d invested $10,000 in Southwest Airlines on December 31, 1972 (when it was just a tiny little outfit with three airplanes, barely reaching break-even and besieged by larger airlines out to kill the fledgling) your $10,000 would have grown to nearly $12 million by the end of 2002, a return 63 times better than the general stock market…according to an analysis by Money Magazine, Southwest Airlines produced the #1 return to investors of all S&P 500 companies that were publicly traded in 1972 and held for a full 30 years to 2003.

Ya gotta love it! It’s at the heart of leadership.