Love-Based Leadership in Action Leadership in Action
Love-Based Leadership in Action

Many executives today lead through fear to protect their power and influence. Or they’re closed off and distant from their team. Others lead with love, which entails connecting, caring, recognizing, appreciating, giving, forgiving, having fun, and more. Leading with love can be powerful and even transformative for organizations and the people in them.

In recent articles, we covered “The Case for Love-Based Leadership” and “How to Bring Love-Based Leadership to Your Workplace.” Here we provide examples of love-based leadership in action, including:

  1. Our own experience with love-based leadership
  2. Practitioners on implementing love-based leadership in the workplace
  3. Experts and researchers on love-based leadership


1. Our Experience with Love-Based Leadership

As a father-and-son team, we’re leadership practitioners with over fifty years of combined experience—including successes, failures, and battle scars. We’ve led and worked in and with publicly traded companies, turnarounds, startups, nonprofits, and social ventures. We’re passionate about finding better ways to lead (including leading ourselves). We believe the world needs better leadership. Here are some of our experiences with love-based leadership.


A Fierce Commitment to Customers and Colleagues

When Gregg was fresh out of graduate school, he joined an online education startup that became a rapidly growing scale-up with all its excitement and challenges. The Chief Learning Officer, though generally quiet and friendly, would get fired up when there was any discussion about the possibility of sacrificing product quality to preserve cash. He was a fierce defender, not only of the children and their parents who were the customers, but also of the committed teachers and curriculum designers on staff who cared deeply about high-quality education. His fiery defense of quality was an act of love and a great example of leading with heart and conviction. By leading with love, he elevated the organizational culture and inspired others to fight for their convictions.


5 A.M. in the Cafeteria

It was 5 a.m. and Bob was looking forward to concluding an employee meeting in the company cafeteria for night-shift workers. It was the third such session he’d conducted since the previous afternoon. Bob had recently taken over as President of this Midwestern company of 2,000 workers. He was pumped up about the new mission statement he and the senior management team had crafted.

In the other meetings, no one had said much. The third shift was smaller and always somewhat reserved. Bob reviewed the quarterly results, promoted the company picnic, and then presented the new mission statement:

“Our mission is to maximize our shareholders’ return on their invested capital….” (It continued from there with more detail.)

Bob paused and asked for comments. Most people sat with their arms folded, looking at their shoes. After a few seconds, someone in the back of the room raised his hand tentatively and said:

I don’t really know what ‘maximize shareholders return on whatever’ is.
That’s not why I work here.

Everyone turned to see who had spoken. Bob knew he had a decision to make: either explain their fiduciary obligation to shareholders or open a dialogue.
He decided to ask the brave soul why he worked at the company.

A spirited discussion followed with many others chiming in. People talked about their pride in the products, what they were learning, and how they were helping customers and supporting their families. Most of all, they talked about their colleagues, feeling part of a team, and giving back to the community through volunteer and service projects.

Afterwards, Bob and his senior officers recruited a small group of volunteers to continue this dialogue companywide. Over several months, they synthesized the feedback and created dramatically different statements of purpose, values, and vision for the company. Making profits was still there, but only as a result of “creating value for people” (the new purpose), as well as other more aspirational aspects. The focus was now squarely on people and leading with heart. It was the beginning of a whole new—and wildly successful—chapter in the company’s history.

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2. Practitioners on Love-Based Leadership

Below are vignettes from executives practicing love-based leadership with great success and impact.


Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller

Longtime chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, Bob Chapman has been named the CEO of the Year by the Society for Human Resource Management and the #3 CEO in the world in an Inc. magazine article. Barry-Wehmiller is a global capital equipment and engineering solutions company with more than 12,000 workers. Chapman has grown the company from $20 million in sales in 1975 to $3.3 billion. He practices what they call “truly human leadership.” Chapman’s best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, was co-authored by Raj Sisodia, co-founder of the “conscious capitalism” movement. According to Chapman:

“Our approach is extraordinarily successful because we have tapped into
something far more fundamental to our true nature, which is the opposite of fear: love….
Caring for people and giving them meaning, purpose, and fulfillment
through their work is not in disharmony with creating value.”
In the end, it is about truly caring for every precious human being whose life we touch….
The 10 Commandments of Truly Human Leadership Begin every day with a focus on the lives you touch.
Know that leadership is the stewardship of the lives entrusted to you.
Embrace leadership practices that send people home each day safe, healthy, and fulfilled.
Align all actions to an inspirational vision of a better future.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships; act accordingly.
Look for the goodness in people and recognize and celebrate it daily.
Ask no more or less of anyone than you would of your own child.
Lead with a clear sense of grounded optimism.
Recognize and flex to the uniqueness of everyone.
Always measure success by the way you touch the lives of people!
-Bob Chapman, Everybody Matters


John Mackey and Whole Foods

John Mackey is co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, now a natural and organic grocer with $13 billion in sales, more than 370 stores, and 80,000 workers in three countries. Whole Foods has been named by Fortune magazine as a “Best Company to Work For” for 16 consecutive years. Mackey has been recognized as Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year Overall Winner for the U.S.,” Barron’s “World’s Best CEO,” and Fortune’s “Businessperson of the Year.” Mackey co-founded the “conscious capitalism” movement and co-authored the best-selling book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, with Raj Sisodia.

When it comes to leadership, love is the most underutilized virtue,
and it’s also potentially the most powerful.
Once we re-envision business as being fundamentally about fulfilling a higher purpose….
We will be able to liberate love in our organizations.
A conscious leader needs to be actively appreciative. We can be tough leaders at times, we can and should be strong,
but at the end of the day, human beings respond best to care and appreciation.
It’s important to remember that in business, everything we accomplish
is ultimately done with and through other people. That is what conscious leaders do—
we inspire, motivate, develop, and lead others.
– John Mackey, Steve McInstosh, and Carter Phipps in Conscious Leadership


General Jack Chain and the U.S. Strategic Air Command

We interviewed the late Four-Star Air Force General Jack Chain for our book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations. Chain served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command.

You had to take care of your people and care about them from your heart and soul.…
If I am the squadron commander, and I’ve got 100 airmen, they’re my people,
not mine to order around, but my people, who I care about.
I’ve got to care about all of them. If they are screwing up,
I have to discipline them, but I still have to love them.
I have to know about their spouse and children, how they are doing at home.
I have to worry about all who work for me and be concerned
whether they are taking care of the next level, and the next level, all the way down….
You can’t tolerate leaders who don’t care about their people….
But you can’t just stay at the hard edge. You will not earn any support.
You’ve got to recognize that if people are going to support you,
you have to support them. You have to be able to listen.”
-Four-Star Air Force General Jack Chain

(See our article, “Tribute to General Jack Chain—An Extraordinary Leader.”)


Frank DeAngelis of Columbine High School

Frank DeAngelis served as the principal of Columbine High School during the tragic 1999 school shooting and its aftermath. He now serves as a Special Advisor to Safe and Sound Schools. After the Columbine shooting, he restored a sense of community in the school by leading with love.

It’s all about making people feel like part of a family.
And it starts with love.… it’s easy to love 4.0 students whom you know are going to college.
But there are other kids out there who need someone to look them
in the eye and say, ‘I love you. You’re important.’ To give them hope.
Our students… [are] learning about life.
They’re learning about leadership. And love is at the core of leadership.
-Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School


Dennis Bakke on Joy at Work

Dennis Bakke is co-founder and former president and CEO of Imagine Schools, a nonprofit charter school network that operates schools in seven states. He previously co-founded and served as the president and CEO of AES, a Fortune 200 global power company. Bakke wrote the best-selling book, Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. He writes:

Love prompts us to visit our employees around the world.
Love makes us want to work extra time.
Love pushes us to do whatever it takes to help others succeed.
Love forgives mistakes and binds up the hurt and frustrated.…
Leaders who create dynamic, rewarding, enjoyable workplaces love people.
Love is an act of humility that says, ‘I need you.’
Love affirms that the other person is worthy and important.… love is T-I-M-E.
If I love the people who work in my organization, I will allocate time to be with them.


Karl Bauer, Fire Chief

Chief Karl Bauer served as general manager and fire chief of the Eagle River Fire Protection District in Colorado. Bauer has been a public servant for 40 years including law enforcement and firefighting.

“Loving others simply doesn’t allow for egocentrism.…
When we choose to love those we lead, we also choose to change our focus from ourselves to others,
and we soon find ourselves striving to provide those we lead with what they need to succeed.

(See also his article, “Love as a Leadership Imperative.”)

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.


3. Experts on Love-Based Leadership

Many prominent leadership experts and researchers have written about love and leadership.


Robert Greenleaf and Servant Leadership

Robert Greenleaf founded the modern “servant leadership” movement. Servant leadership is one of the best ways of showing love for your colleagues. (See our article, “How to Become a Better Servant Leader.”)

“Good leaders must first become good servants.…
The servant-leader is servant first, it begins with a natural feeling
that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to, wanting power, influence, fame, or wealth.


James Kouzes and Barry Posner on the Secret of Success

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s classic book, The Leadership Challenge, has sold more than three million copies and been translated into 20 languages. It draws on learnings from more than five million surveys of managers and leaders worldwide.

“Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting.…
The best kept secret of success is love: staying in love with leading,
with the people who do the work…. Leadership is not an affair of the head.
Leadership is an affair of the heart.”


Natasha Bonnevalle on Leading with Love

In her article, “Leading with Love,” Natasha Bonnevalle, a partner at the THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam, said:

…what does leading with love look like in the workplace?
…becoming genuinely interested in our colleagues.
Listening deeply, asking lots of questions, exploring their perspectives from all angles.…
staying open and curious…. The key for leading with love is to nurture a culture
where people feel safe enough to be vulnerable.
We need to know that we can ask our colleagues for help
when we are struggling and that we will be supported when things go wrong.
We will not be rejected for making a mistake….
When we’re leading with love, we embrace our own vulnerability,
openly acknowledge our imperfections, and share how these allow us to learn and grow.”

Other leadership experts whose work touches on love and leadership include Bill George, with his brilliant work on authentic leadership and finding our true north, and Stephen M. R. Covey, Bob Whipple, Barbara Kimmel, and Frank Sonnenberg, whose great work focuses on trust and leadership.



Love-based leadership isn’t just some abstract idea. It’s successfully employed in practice and can be transformational. Love-based leadership is the antithesis of fear-based leadership. It can raise us to peak levels of performance and bring joy to the workplace. Once people have experienced the power of love-based leadership, they’ll never want anything else.


Tools for You

Alignment Scorecard

When organizations aren’t aligned, it can reduce performance dramatically and cause frustration and dysfunction. With this Alignment Scorecard, you can assess your organization’s level of alignment and make plans for improving it.


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Quotations on Love-Based Leadership

  • “You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader. You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it.” -Eric Shinseki, retired Four-Star General who served as the Army’s Chief of Staff
  • “Love is strong. It is the most powerful force in the universe. Love is a competitive advantage. Love is abundantly available, and allows for the creation of great value.” -Fred Kofman, Conscious Business
  • “A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than fear…. The business of business is people…. Leading an organization is as much about soul as it is about systems.” -Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines
  • “I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates, but as a leader, I must love them. Love is loyalty; love is teamwork; love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.” -Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach
  • “Treating someone with love regardless of how you feel about that person is a very powerful principle…. It can make us great spouses, great parents, and great friends. Great leaders too.” -Joel Manby, Love Works
  • “Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn’t do it for individual glory. They did it because they loved one another.” -Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach

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Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors (and son and father). They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps! Leadership in Action

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