“When in doubt, do the loving thing.” Whenever I face a tough decision, in work or in life, I fall back on this motto, a favorite one in my family. It’s remarkably clarifying for leadership – but also, in a business context, actually shocking.
What does “doing the loving thing” mean in competitive business? It doesn’t mean playing the pushover or dodging hard decisions. It’s also not merely about being nice. I also believe there’s a big difference between being nice and being kind. Being nice can be surprisingly unkind. Too often niceness means taking the easy way out, acting more with an eye towards pleasing somebody instead of helping them move forward in a necessary way.
Why does it shock people to imagine a loving approach to business? Perhaps the better question to ask is this: what makes people doubt themselves when facing tough decisions? Often that doubt stems from a deep-seated fear of getting taking advantage of. You’ve made a mistake, and you’re worried you’ll get sued. You’re afraid to admit you were wrong and someone else was right; you might get in trouble or look bad. So many scenarios fraught with doubt actually come from fear.
Reminding yourself to “do the loving thing” taps into a deep part of yourself, unleashing powers much stronger than fear. Checking into true-north on your moral compass gives you tremendous courage. It returns you to your best, truest self – and it trumps all those lingering doubts instantly. After all, if you make a choice that’s anything less than your best self, you’ve already lost.
All of us – businesses and individuals - have obligations to multiple stakeholders, obligations that we must constantly balance. Ethics informs how you approach that balancing act, and a truly ethical choice will stand up to public scrutiny and promote integrity, whether personal or corporate. Doing the loving thing in business means carefully weighing your decisions from the perspective of each of those stakeholders the decision impacts: the entire company, its customers, individual employees, vendors and partners, investors, and the public.
A devil’s advocate might ask: how could firing someone ever qualify as “doing the loving thing”? It’s a great question that deserves an honest answer. For the employee whose job has disappeared in a layoff, a loving approach means being clear and helpful to that person at every step of their transition. Keeping a job open that the company can no longer afford might seem like a more loving option to the employee. But is it the right choice for the many other employees whose jobs depend on the company’s ongoing health?
Perhaps the toughest decision of all is releasing an employee from a job they clearly can’t do well. Everyone on that employee’s team knows he’s mismatched to his position – and usually nobody knows that better than the employee himself. A loving approach to a struggling employees calls for both patience and courage. Give the employee constructive feedback and multiple chances to improve. Elicit their concerns and listen closely to them; address them where you can. Love means initiating an uncomfortable conversation, potentially more than once, and monitoring the outcomes of those conversations closely. Sometimes these discussions spark the right kinds of change and help your employee “click” into the job. But many times they don’t – and letting the situation drag out for too long becomes painful for more people than just the employee.
When the situation demands action, a loving approach means sitting down promptly with the employee, being very honest, and helping him or her to move on. In my Let Go & Lead interview with Eric Ryan, founder of Method, he talks about how letting an employee go frees that person up to be able to find a position that they are truly good at. In some instances, letting people go can be an incredible act of kindness.
Whether in business or in life, love hews to the same principles: it’s patient and kind. It’s honest and constructive. It considers many viewpoints beyond one’s own. It’s calmly confident in the face of truth. At Gagen MacDonald we firmly believe love in business is good business. Success in business demands all of love’s classic qualities – and delivers smart long-term ROI to those who master them.