The ‘L’ word and why it’s central to your leadership success

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I use the word ‘love’ a lot. It peppers my conversation like chili in a Mexican fajita. Some people even say I mention ‘love’ way too much – certainly in a professional setting.

Sorry, not sorry.

Love has a monumental role to play in leadership.

HBR’s Duncan Coombe  and I agree on this. He backs up the notion of love being an essential ingredient for successful leadership. As he says,

“If you consider love to be a worthwhile pursuit in any aspect of your life, then you have the opportunity to express love throughout your life, including at work. As a leader, as a colleague, as a provider of goods and services, commit to expressing love at work. In so doing, you will be aligning yourself to a philosophy that lies at the heart of all the teachings of a well-lived life.”

Let’s not get caught up in semantics. If the words ‘love’ and ‘business’ in the same sentence make you feel as uncomfortable as an Act supporter at a Greens convention, simply replace love with care, kindness, compassion or leading with heart.

As an executive coach, I’ve had a front row seat to leadership both at its best and at its worst. I’m coming to realise that if you’re to truly unleash the potential in those you lead, diligently help your organisation to achieve its vision, and care for your customers (or even yourself), then love ­– in some shape or form – must be at the centre of your leadership daisy.

When care, compassion and kindness is absent in the working relationship between you and your team, something phenomenally powerful is lost.  Opportunities are missed. Effort towards the collective cause is at best, limited. And at worst, it’s marginal or missing altogether.

Leadership without love is a rote, soulless, mechanical affair. The work of teams stuck in a vacuum of ‘leadership love’ lack something significant. And conversely? Well, wow. When you demonstrate love, embody care, and lead with heart as well as your head – whether it be through intentionally expressing compassion for those you lead, listening deeply to colleagues,  or showing genuine interest in the people you lead – it’s like a hero’s superpower in a Marvel movie.

Love lifts engagement. Love connects people. Love ignites performance like nothing else I’ve seen.

Love should not be relegated to ‘soft’. You can demonstrate love in tough times. When managing someone who’s not cutting the mustard. When making people redundant. When making the tough calls.

Love, accountability and drive for results are not mutually exclusive.

So, if you think the concept of love has no place in organisations or conversations about leadership, read this article. And this week, ponder ways you can demonstrate love and care in your leadership practice. You won’t regret it.


  1. Lynette Evans on October 13, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    So so true and music to my ears.
    In education leadership many have become precious about showing love/care/concern for staff and in classrooms for learners.
    It is an innate human trait and is so empowering when we feel ‘loved.’
    I feel ‘loved by being a part of your special network Suzie – thank you!!
    Lyn Evans Nelson Bays

  2. Rachel Coleman on October 6, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Suzi, I really look forward to your emails and this one is no exception. 🙂
    What you say is so true, workplaces without compassion, kindness and concern for others well-being are very unpleasant places to be. Not good for mental health, but this is slowly being recognised. Thanks for the article. 🙂

  3. Chris Gladstone on September 30, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Right on Suzi. Love that you love. People feel that. Lots of love. Chris

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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