Guest Post by John Gronski, Major General, US Army (Retired), Greencastle Alumni
I like to mail handwritten note cards to colleagues and associates for a variety of reasons including congratulations for promotions, new job assignments, and achievements of almost any kind. Many of the people I send notecards to are people who used to work for me. I like to stay in touch and keep track of their careers.
About a year ago, I received an email from a colleague I had mailed a notecard. In his email to me, this man thanked me for the kind words and then he made a comment about something I wrote that I never considered. He said that for as long as he has known me and in particular for the time I served as one of his military leaders, he knew me as a leader who was not hesitant to use what he called “love language”. He said I used this type of language in the card I had written to him, by telling him how proud I was of what he accomplished, and he really appreciated it.
The love language of leadership includes phrases such as, “I am proud of you”, “I admire you”, “It is an honor to have you on the team”, “we could not have accomplished what we have without you”, and other such phrases or words that express deep feelings about a follower or peer. The love language of leadership is more than expressing thanks for a good job, but it is about sincerely sharing how you feel about someone you lead or work with.
Some leaders shy away from love language. This is especially true for men and women who are in the construction, law enforcement, military, firefighting or sports professions or other industries that are known as “tough guy” trades. This is unfortunate because telling your followers that you are proud of them, admire them, and are honored to know them, is important. When a leader is authentic and uses those words when warranted, it can have a powerful impact. Incidentally, this message is not only for leaders, but also goes for parents, especially for fathers communicating with their sons. The bottom line is leaders should not be hesitant to use the love language of leadership.
Leaders must be firm, enforce standards, and hold followers accountable. It is difficult to respect a leader that does not do these things. But leaders must also be authentic, display humility, demonstrate integrity, be compassionate, and show they care about their followers. Those attributes also garner respect. Just as leaders must be forthright when explaining to a follower how they could improve, a leader must also be willing to provide candid praise when it is earned. Leaders need not only use “tough language”, but they should be confident and self-assured enough to use “love language”. Granted, not every follower deserves praise, but for those followers who do, they deserve a leader who is willing to offer it.
Ray Stannard Baker was an American journalist and author who lived between 1870 and 1946. He is quoted as saying:
“Looking back, I have this to regret; that too often when I loved I did not say so.”
Leaders should not make this mistake. Let those you lead know how you feel about them. Love language is powerful and can turn a person’s life around. Socrates is credited with saying, “Those who are the hardest to love, need it the most.” This bit of Greek philosophy has lasted over 2,000 years, so there must be something to it.
Joe Ehrmann is a former National Football League defensive lineman. During his career, he was known as a real macho, tough guy. Some may have called him downright mean. Certain life challenges and adversity initiated a transformation in Ehrmann\’s life, causing him to question the mask of masculinity he grew up with. Now as an ordained minister, he has dedicated his life to helping boys and men address societal challenges that many males must face regarding violence, masculinity, and gender issues. After his career in the NFL Ehrmann became a volunteer coach at the Gilman School. It was there that he began to use the love language of leadership to let the boys he coached know he valued them as people. I read his book, “InSideOut Coaching”, and found the book to be insightful and inspirational. Ehrmann encourages leaders and coaches to be courageous enough to use love language when engaging followers.
Followers deserve the best when it comes to leadership. It takes courage to be a leader and leading comes with risks. I encourage leaders to be courageous, accept risk, and continue to learn and grow in order to be the best leader they can be. Leadership has many languages. Let the language of love be one of them.
John L. Gronski, Major General, US Army (Retired) is a transformational leader. The founder and CEO of Leader Grove Consulting, LLC, he has strategic and operational experience at senior levels in both the military and civilian sectors and has led small teams and large complex organizations. John’s personal leadership philosophy is built upon character, competence and resilience. He believes that everyone could develop as a stronger leader. John is a much sought after speaker and leadership seminar facilitator. His presentations feature inspirational stories and wisdom gained from his leadership experience and the experience of others. John’s life purpose is to positively influence others to become virtuous leaders through his mentoring and by his example. Learn more at www.LeaderGrove.com