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The 5 Love Languages of Leadership

Mark Runyon // August 10, 2022

Community & Culture

In 1992, Gary Chapman wrote a fantastic book called The 5 Love Languages. This New York Times Best Seller has made a significant impact on marriages worldwide by helping partners understand one another. At its heart, The 5 Love Languages admits we all need love. We just need love expressed in ways unique to our needs. 

This is challenging since each of us walks around with a different set of needs. Compound this with the fact that we tend to express love in our own language, this leaves us feeling empty when we aren’t getting the love we desperately need. We also become puzzled when we realize others are not receiving the love we give.

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Chapman lists the five love languages as words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Everyone has a primary and secondary love language. Once you and your partner discover your love language, you can work on channeling behavior to meet each other’s needs. 

The book’s phenomenal success has spawned follow-up books aimed at strengthening relationships with children, singles, and even appreciation in the workplace. Essentially, love languages apply to all relationships.  So, let’s follow this vein to imagine what The 5 Love Languages of Leadership might look like.

Recognition

Similar to words of affirmation, we need to show genuine appreciation for our people by recognizing their impact and valuing the things they do. A Great Places to Work survey found that recognition was the most important driver of great work. We should recognize our people every chance we get. 

Appreciation could be for big things (“Thank you for putting in the extra hours to help us make the release date.”) or little ones (“I appreciate you covering today’s meeting for me.”). Make a habit of recognizing people for their efforts. If people feel appreciated, they’ll be more likely to repeat those positive actions in the future. Showing recognition will also help us create stronger connections with our people. 

It does need to be said that recognition is a tricky thing. Not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way. One employee may value that one-on-one word of praise from you. Others may wish to have their accomplishments broadcast during the company meeting. Find out how your people want to be recognized so you can show appreciation in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Professional Growth

LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report found that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if the organization invested in their growth. Most of us want a career that challenges us, builds our skills, and occasionally nudges us outside our comfort zone. If we let our people get bored, they will naturally disengage and likely start looking around for intriguing opportunities elsewhere. 

We need to help our people grow professionally in the areas they want to grow. Everyone is unique, so offered growth opportunities can’t be cookie cutter in nature. We must construct a customized career development plan that is right for the individual. 

This is a massive benefit for the organization as well. We reap the benefits of those new skills, increased confidence, and a workforce that is re-energized.

Autonomy

Autonomy is freedom. Freedom to decide when to come into the office and when to work from home. Freedom to modify the traditional 9 to 5 workday to accommodate family and personal obligations. It boils down to having control over one’s own self. Autonomy empowers employees to take ownership over their work lives and make choices that best fit their situation. It's trusting your employees to make important decisions with minimal oversight.

When we afford our people autonomy, they are happier, more engaged, and feel satisfied in their roles. They feel accountable for their actions and strive to meet expectations. They feel valued and have an easier time finding that elusive work-life balance. Of course, the degree of autonomy will vary by the worker and task based on skill and experience.

Financial

We can create the most fantastic culture and stack the deck with professional growth opportunities. Ultimately, it’s all for naught if we fail to pay our people what they are worth. Getting appropriately compensated helps us feel valued.

I’ll admit that salary and benefits are an imperfect yardstick for our professional worth, but it’s an important yardstick, nonetheless. It’s hard to feel valued if you know your co-worker is making $10,000 more than you while doing the same job. We should strive for pay equity across similar work roles as well as weeding out pay discrimination due to race and gender. We ask our people to show up with their best selves every day. Shouldn’t we strive to have their pay reflect that effort?

Feedback

This one borders heavily on recognition but deserves a spot for itself. Feedback is a critical piece to the health of our employees. It helps them find confidence in their approach, learn from missteps, and helps clarify our expectations. In PwC’s recent survey, 60 percent of employees said they like to receive feedback on a weekly or even daily basis. For those leaders who pride themselves on delivering feedback in yearly reviews, this isn’t enough. 

We need to get in the habit of providing feedback in the moment. We need to set up frequent 1-on-1s with our team members. Also, don’t view feedback as a one-way street. We should ask our people to evaluate us as leaders to find out where we are falling short of their needs. It’s important that we are open to feedback and don’t take on a defensive posture. When we fail to listen, we shut down an open conversation. 

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Photo by Small Group Network on Unsplash

Just like Chapman’s original love languages, each of us speaks our own love language in the workplace. As leaders, we need to be aware of these differences and explore what motivates our people and brings them fulfillment. If we don’t come armed with curiosity, we are doomed to get stuck in a spiral of miscommunication. Also, don’t read this as asking our people to pick two and you can cast aside the rest. These are all ideal leadership maxims to strive for. Some people will value some over others.

How do we find our people’s love language? Sometimes it can be as easy as asking them. Other times, their actions will reveal their needs. Honest and open communication is the key to discovery.

To learn more about leadership and communication within the workplace, reach out.

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