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Have you ever struggled with a question only to have it answered in a single word or phrase? That happened to me last week.

Back in December, I asked you in this newsletter why it was so difficult to bring love to work. I thought I had some sense of the answer, but I’ve continued to wonder about it over this time.

Love can undoubtedly be a powerful leadership tool. It is the force behind humility, listening, our commitment to developing others and many other character-based behaviors that have an impact on the health of a team or organization.

How, though, can you convince someone to have a feeling or emotion for someone else?

That question has remained unanswered until now.

I am reading The Servant: A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership by James Hunter and came upon this simple phrase that gave me amazing insight into the answer to my question: “Love is a verb, not a noun.”

This phrase blew me away with its elegant simplicity. Read it again. Think about it for a minute.

As a noun, love is a feeling. A feeling deep in your being that is palpable. It’s often hard to exactly describe it, but you know when it’s there. Love for spouse, friends, pets, children, your favorite football team. We generally associate love with positive feelings.

As a noun, the opportunity and possibility to bring love to work is very limited. How many things or people in your professional life do you have feelings of love towards? When I think of my own work, I can honestly say that I don’t feel love towards almost anyone. I care about people, but I would not define that feeling as love. The truth is that there are some people I lead who I don’t really like very much and I disapprove of their behavior. I definitely don’t feel love towards them. If I were to wait for the feeling of love to motivate my investment in them, my humility towards them or listening it would never come.

As a verb though, love is something different. In Greek, there is the verb agapao to describe a more unconditional love that is rooted in behavior towards others without regard to what they are due or deserve. You may not be able to control how you feel about other people, but you certainly control how you behave toward them. Feelings may come and go based on any number of factors, but I can still behave lovingly. I can listen, be humble and put that distasteful person’s development as a priority even though he or she chooses to behave poorly.

This “a-ha” moment has given me insight into love and leadership, but it certainly doesn’t make it easier. As Hunter says in the book, it takes a tremendous amount of will to behave lovingly. Leadership is work and this is one area where I think I’ll be working for the rest of my life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the concept of love as a verb, and how it applies to your leadership and work relationships.

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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