Love. Respect. Trust. Three very important elements of healthy relationships. The role of love, respect, and trust at home and with friends is pretty clear. A home life without one of these is pretty miserable. A friendship missing love, respect, or trust isn’t much of a friendship at all. What about work though? What role do love, respect, and trust have at work? Love and respect have a greater role than many leaders acknowledge. Trust is a dimension that is often misunderstood.
What is love? Love is a confusing word in English. We just finished lunch at my in-laws. My wife and mother-in-law prepared an apple crisp dessert. Apple crisp is my favorite. I’ve often said that I “love” apple crisp, but do I have affection for my apple crisp? No, of course not. I do have affection, love, for my friends at church and karate, though. These are people I spend a lot of time with each week as we go through life together. This is also different than the kind of love I feel for my kids and my siblings and my parents (and each of those are slightly different). Of course, there is yet another kind of love I feel for my wife. That love is both deeply relational and intimate (and it is frustrating that our culture has cheapened the meaning of the latter).
What kind of love should we feel for people at work? What kind of love should a leader feel for followers? This kind of love can be similar to the love we feel for friends or even for family, but it can be tricky for a leader to become too friendly or too familial with followers. So what kind of love is appropriate at work? It’s the love that flows from first loving God.
As a leader deepens his love for God, as he grows in his relationship with the Lord and develops intimacy there, he realizes that God loves other people, too. A new love for others will begin to flow. When a leader sees his followers as fellow children of his Heavenly Father, he begins to love and care for them in a deeper, more meaningful way.
God commands us to love. Sometimes we need to follow that command as an act of the will because the heart just isn’t there. But the love that sustains loving leadership flows from a heart that is being transformed by the blood of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
What about respect? If you have a strong sense of biblical love for others, as described above, respect flows easily. Respect acknowledges the inherent worth and value of each individual, regardless of their performance on the job. It cares for the perspective and experience of each individual, regardless of your agreement with that perspective. Respect supports the dignity and honor of each person, especially when they are hurting or beaten down.
Can you have respect for another without biblical love? I suppose it is possible, but I find this hard to imagine. The ability to see others’ worth, value their perspective, and support their dignity is rooted in loving who God made them to be. I don’t see how these can be separated.
I was in a spirited conversation recently about the role of trust at work. It was a very healthy dialogue and it helped me to understand trust in a very fresh manner. One of the gentlemen in the room stated that “love and respect is a given, but trust is earned.” What I heard him say is that love and respect are biblical commands; God expects us to extend these to all. Trust, on the other hand, is something that is carefully developed over time.
Our group explored the relationship of love, respect, and trust over a 20 minute period. Someone pointed out that a person can spend a lifetime building trust but lose it in a moment. Love and respect are (should be) solid foundations in our relationships. Trust is built upon these and is very fragile. It is prone to being toppled and in need of being rebuilt repeatedly over time.
One important responsibility of leaders is to extend a certain amount of trust to new followers. How much? Enough to test the person’s ability to be a good steward of the trust. As the trust is honored, more is given. It also depends on how much responsibility that person has. The stock boy has an important job, but the level of responsibility is different than the operations manager or chief operations officer. The amount of trust extended is commensurate with the responsibility.
Biblical love and respect don’t work this way. As a leader, I don’t love and respect the stock boy any more or less than the COO. Love and respect are a given. Trust is earned and the amount of trust extended depends on the level of responsibility.
Leaders who understand the relationship of love, respect, and trust at work are prepared to build strong, healthy relationships at work.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo by D Smith. Available at Flickr.com.