Can you get what you want and be nice while doing it?
When I was little, Dad used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Today, I call this leading with love.
My leadership style has always been more big-sister than tyrant, which has helped me build powerful, long-standing relationships with both direct reports and clients. It’s also enabled me to build multiple high-performance millennial teams optimized for revenue, long-term efficiency, and agility.
If yelling and micromanaging isn’t helping you get the results you need from your teams, consider the following strategies to lead with love.
1. Create psychological safety.
For teams to gel, each individual must feel safe to strive. Specifically, you must create an environment in which no team member is afraid of voicing a dumb idea, making a mistake, or even failing on a project, especially in front of their peers.
Remember, some high performers prefer to talk out their ideas (if you speak Kolbe, this includes your long Quick Starts), which means they may need to test a few ideas out with the group before committing to one.
Mitigating the emotions of failure is also key. In building teams with young women, consider that they may have been brought up to believe that failure isn’t an option. Help them separate their self-worth from work results by constantly asking, “What did you learn? How will this experience help you produce a better result next time?
2. Use supportive language.
How you say things is even more important than the words themselves, as high IQ team members will typically auto-summarize and encode the implicit and explicit messages.
Consider the implicit messages of a simple phrase like, “What do you need from me to be successful on this project?”
In a striving environment, your competitive high performers might reply, “I don’t need anything.” You get no valuable intelligence.
Imagine saying this instead: “How can I best support you?”
The words “best” and “support” together make it clear: you’re listening for the most optimal ways you can help them do their best.
Another reframe to consider: every time you want to say, “Whatever you want,” ask instead, “What would support you?”
3. Enable leadership everywhere you can.
So often, managers treat direct reports like underlings. They talk at them, bark orders, or do what one of my mentors, HeroX CEO Christian Cotichini, calls “seagulling” — fly onto the scene, shit everywhere, and fly away.
Instead, look to foster leadership everywhere you look. Encourage personal responsibility when delegating or assigning work — and teach them to see things through “your” lens.
One way to encourage personal responsibility is teaching them how to declare when something’s complete. Instead of saying, “Send this to me when you’re done,” what if you said something like, “Send this to me when you’ve declared it done and ready to roll out.”
In all my teams, I still use a phrase that I first learned from one of my early restaurant managers: "done done." I might be done writing a blog post, but it isn’t done done until it’s edited with fresh eyes and another editorial team member has read it.
So much of my mentorship involves helping employees learn to see the details their bosses find most important.
Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach often says that your eyes only see, and your eyes only hear, what your brain is looking for. Some leaders jump straight to the formatting, while others nitpick on the copy.
Helping your team understand what you believe is most important is critical to helping them determine whether a deliverable is really ready for you to see. And if you can train them so well on this that they can help each other review work to see if it’s done done, you’ve enabled the kind of leadership that really saves you time.
When all your team members can equally uphold a high standard, you don’t need to micromanage or get in the weeds of checking others’ work — instead, you free yourself up to continually calibrate your team’s standard and vision.
Would you like to hear more ways I lead with love in the future? Let us know in the comments below!