Loving Like a Boss

January 25, 2022

by Jon Price

“That guy drives me crazy!”

–Quote by Every Boss, Ever

When I was a young Army Platoon Leader in charge of 55 soldiers, a wise friend and mentor nearly twenty years my senior asked me, “Do you love your troops?”

Like most leaders, I honestly never thought about it.

I showed up to work, finished my daily responsibilities, focused on learning from my Platoon Sergeant, and tried to survive in a constantly changing environment. Admittedly, my leadership was about me.

My mentor also asked his father, a successful businessman who started two generations before me, the same question. His dad said he considered the employer-employee relationship as a transaction. His employees worked for him, and there certainly wasn’t any love in the office.

I wondered if I was of the same mind. As a young leader, and along with most of my soldiers, I showed up and went to work without any true consideration of others. During the mentorship session, I thought, “How I could change that?”

My mentor knew how. He explained to me that leaders must demonstrate a genuine love for the people who work for them. This one idea affected me and my leadership forever.

Many young leaders find it easy to love the hard workers, the approachable, and, to an extent, the goofy ones. The hard part is loving all your people equally, particularly the poor performers.

It’s easy to write off the ones who are at best apathetic, sluggish, complainers, or not fully competent. At best, they’re actively disrupting your team. However, it takes a humble leader who cares enough to bring those “less desirables” under their wing and train them to be the best version of themselves.

This means loving everyone no matter how they act.

The concept of love is founded in trust, and as leaders we must earn this from all our employees by showing unconditional love. This is an interesting concept when you compare the workplace to home.

Families love each other with no strings attached, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get upset, nor receive a free pass to do whatever they want. There remains accountability, two-way respect and communication, and mutual trust that they truly have each other’s best interests at heart.

For me, a fatherly, brotherly, and compassionate love means the leader will always act in the best interests of their subordinates. Sometimes what’s in their best interest doesn’t feel like love, but more like accountability and discipline. Love doesn’t have to be an emotion. It can also be an act.

When I was the second in command of an Army Company, the executive officer, I had a few problem performers and recommended they receive legal punishment. I was disappointed and frustrated with them.

It was hard to directly address their misgivings and force challenging conversations, especially when they didn’t show remorse. But I did. This love was less an emotional feeling and more of acting with fatherly love through caring discipline.

At that point, it would be easy to write one off as a terrible soldier. I’ve seen many leaders do this, and some consider it the norm. But as my mentor taught me, I loved them.

So, after the official punishment, I showed brotherly love through friendly banter, life conversations, and helping them turn wrenches in the motor pool. This wasn’t because it “was my duty” as a young leader, but because I genuinely enjoyed being around them. I wanted them to know that one act did not define them, and I wanted to help them have good experiences that outweighed their bad.

Some of them improved. Some didn’t. But either way, I tried to show compassionate love and provide opportunities to always return as a functioning member of the team.

Many of those soldiers remained in the Army. My mentor would say that treating them with a leadership love kept several one-time indiscretions from ruining great military careers. As for the ones that decided to get out, I can only hope that I somehow our experiences together encouraged them to show the same love and compassion wherever they go.

It’s easy to love the top performers in your organization. One of the great joys of leadership is working with a high-performing team and accomplishing much.

But loving all your employees requires a lot of forgiving, forgetting, and tough love. Leaders need to show a willingness to care for others, earn their trust, and love them unconditionally where they are in life. We’re all on a journey, and our job is to continuously improve our people and teams.

Jon Price is a five-year, active duty Army officer serving in the 1st Infantry Division. He received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Campbell University and is looking to continue his professional education with a Masters in History.

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The views of the author are his personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Army

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