How to be a Leader People Love

In one of the most widely referenced books for successful romantic relationships, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman discusses five methods of communicating love or appreciation to a partner. While these “love languages” are proven to enhance romantic relationships, they also can improve professional relationships. Doubtful? Read on.

Words of Affirmation

23% of individuals recognize words of affirmation as the way they most readily receive validation. In a romantic relationship, words of affirmation are demonstrated by saying “I love you” or “I appreciate you for____.”

In a professional relationship, words of affirmation are more likely a conversation, email or handwritten note recognizing an employee for their work. If they are comfortable with public recognition, complimenting their work at a meeting in the presence of their peers would also cultivate a sense of recognition and appreciation. Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majore explains “As human beings, we aspire to feel competent, valued, and appreciated. Positive words have this type of power, creating the solid foundations needed to build strong, productive relationships that resonate clear lines of communication.”

Acts of Service

Popularized by Robert Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader, Servant Leadership has gained significant momentum with successful companies like Southwest Airlines championing it. This concept focuses on the leader of a team as a supporter of their direct reports rather than an overseer. In romantic relationships, acts of service could be doing household chores or preparing dinner for your partner.

As a leader, acts of service are helping your staff, working alongside them or sometimes doing something for them. There should be no task that you ask of someone else that you would not be willing to do yourself. Jumping into projects alongside staff to help them out will set you apart as a servant leader. If one of your salespeople is having a hard time getting in front of an important prospect, making a call on their behalf can help them get a foot in the door. If someone is on a tight deadline creating marketing materials, you could jump in alongside them to help edit their content.


Giving gifts is one of the most frequently adapted methods of communicating appreciation to employees due to the success of incentive programs across many industries. Incentives can increase employee performance an average of 22%, or as much as 44% for team incentives. In romantic relationships, it is often not the monetary value of the gift that makes it appreciated, but the intention behind it.

In the workplace, gifts can be a thoughtful memento celebrating a professional success or personalized care package for a major life event. Gifts in the workplace can also come in the form of information, like sending an employee a relevant article or book relating to a topic you know they are interested in. No matter the object, a gift demonstrates you are thinking of the person.

Quality Time

One of the most demanding, but appreciated ‘love language’ is spending quality time with your employees. In today’s fast paced work environment, taking a moment out of a busy schedule to spend intentional one-on-one time with another is something that does not occur as frequently as many employees hope. In a relationship, quality time does not mean the number of minutes spent with each other, but the quality of the interaction, noting even five minutes of distraction free conversation as more meaningful than an hour in which there are interruptions and multiple focuses.

Similarly, employees feel valued when their leader sets aside time for intentional conversation on a regular basis. This should include personal conversation as well as professional. Conversations can happen on your schedule—if before work breakfast or coffee suit your schedule best, ask employees to join you. If your day is packed with meetings, ask them to walk with you to your next appointment. Quality time could be even so far as inviting an employee and their family to join you and your family out at a non-work-related event, if you feel comfortable doing so. During this quality time, make the conversation about them, but don’t be afraid to share. Offering your own vulnerability to talk about personal issues or interests can humanize you and create deeper connection.


While in romantic relationships, physical touch may look like a hug to symbolize affection, in professional relationships physical touch is much different. Professional touch such as a high five or fist bump resonates as a meaningful form of recognition with some employees. Touch is the first communication style we use as infants and it plays a critical role in social and behavioral development even as adults. It is important to understand which of your employee’s do and do not value touch as form of recognition by following their lead. By observing an employee’s interactions with their peers, you can see which individuals are more comfortable with touch as a part of their regular communication.

Speaking in a love language that resonates with each of your employees demonstrates your dedication to their personal and professional development and enhances employee embeddedness. Allowing yourself as a leader to vulnerably connect with your employees is an infallible way to raise employee approval and satisfaction, and in turn, benefit the company’s goals overall.

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