Dear CEO,

Love isn’t a word used much in business.  Yet, when you have the opportunity to walk into work and feel positive energy, see the smiling faces of people who you respect and enjoy working with, look forward to the day because of the excitement you feel for the work that makes a difference, and feel happy when your boss calls you into her office because there is a relationship where she wants to help take you to the next level rather than fill you full of fear….then you feel love.

It’s love when you are on a team of people all focused on achieving a common goal and you know they have your back.  It’s love when you know you can make mistakes and learn from them and not feel like you’re going to get beat up.  It’s love when you are trusted and can make decisions while in the heat-of-battle with your client and don’t have to ask permission.

It’s love when the lack of hierarchy creates a level playing field and everyone feels respected for the role they play in the company.  It’s love when your mother is dying, and your company says it’s OK to take time off, so you can be there by her side as she passes.  It’s love when you, and everyone around you, believe in the company’s core values and all walk the talk.

We’re taught from business school through corporate training programs to manage with fear.  Fear isn’t the word written into the policy manuals, yet it is the impact of individual performance plans, compensation programs, commissions and other policies and processes that rely on individual performance, metrics that can be contrary to what’s needed for the  greater good of the company.   We’re taught that the corner office is the goal and that if we perform as an individual better than whomever is in the office next door, we can have that revered location.

Fear-based cultures are led by leaders who aren’t comfortable in their own skin.  They hide in their corner office protected by spreadsheets and a desire to create “accountability”.  They are not authentic.   If they can hold people accountable to their numbers, and most people deliver, they hit the bigger number goal, their spreadsheet adds up and investors are happy.  It works, short term.  It doesn’t work when the company falls on hard times and needs people to go the extra mile.  It doesn’t work when the competition heats up and their best people get recruited into cultures where they feel more comfortable.  It doesn’t work when they get fired and all you can hear is the quiet applause from employees who have no respect for the executive team.

As business leaders we have fallen victim to patterns of behavior that promote fear.   It’s not intentional.  Who would purposely manage a company knowing the primary driver is fear.  Yet, when cultures are formed where the individual’s success supersedes their contribution to the overall value of the company, fear will prevail and that employee’s VALUE to the overall success of the company is marginalized.

Value can’t be measured with precision.  As a CEO, I found value in people who took team interviews seriously and protected the company from applicants who didn’t fit the culture.  I found value in subject-matter experts who sat in the back of the room during major sales presentations, and when they talked, the customer listened intently to examples of experiences they had that would help reduce the risk of failure.  I found value in people who would pitch in on troubled projects even though it took them away from activities where they had direct responsibility.  These behaviors can’t be measured, yet the predominance of these activities are what separates the great companies from the pack.

When you shift your metrics to value, it becomes a subjective measure.  An opinion.  And to have a company where value is rewarded, rather than individual performance metrics, trust is required.  Teamwork is required.  And an understanding that for trust and teamwork to prevail you must have a love-based culture, not a culture based on fear.  The lens each one of your employees needs to guide their actions is to do what is RIGHT, what is in the best interest of the greater good, regardless of the impact that has on the perception of their individual contribution.

A love-based culture inspires your employees to a higher calling.  They will go the extra mile to do what is right for their company because they believe, they trust, and they respect.  A love-based culture takes teamwork to the next level. It encourages each person not to look at their job as being pigeon-holed in the tight boundaries of a job description, but rather them understanding their role in accomplishing the company’s goals and feeling empowered to do what it takes to create value by helping to make the company successful.  And more importantly, to do all this while living the core values that they helped forge as a guiding light for their company.

If you want to build a love-based culture, you’ll need to unlearn much of what you’ve been taught in the past about the role of HR processes, compensation programs, performance metrics, org charts, leadership, office layouts, and many of the other policies, core processes, and leadership tenets from the past.  Re-think EVERYTHING.  Re-invent who you are, the role you play in your organization, and be the example.

If you walk into the office with an air of superiority because you are the CEO, then you’re missing a very key point.  You are the CEO hopefully because that’s the role you are uniquely qualified and good at doing.  You may not be good at CFO, attorney, help desk support, AP clerk or sales director.  You are in the role of CEO because it fits you like a glove and it’s the job you were born to have.  You are not better, or higher or superior in any way to anybody else in the company.  You are equal.  You have simply been blessed with skills that allow you to serve and lead others.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who went to work felt love.  This may sound like a bunch of mushy, hippie, flowery talk, but I’ve been there and seen what happens when a culture is formed that’s stronger than you are as the leader of your company.   I’ve experienced what it feels like when a love-based culture challenges me to make decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the company, rather than decisions that reduce short-term pain.  The power of brotherly and sisterly love in the workplace fuels growth beyond compare by people who truly care.

And CEO, think about what it would feel like to lay your head on your pillow at night knowing you were building your company the “right-way”.  It’s hard to define the right-way, but we all know what that means.  You not only built value for investors, but you made a difference in people’s lives.  You loved and let others love you.

Sleep well my friend.

-Ivo Nelson

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