Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages has been a helpful resource to many couples. He challenges spouses to learn each other’s love language—how one most feels loved, pursued, and valued—whether through time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, or touch. When Kaye, my wife, jokingly insists that she has all five languages, I remind her of the portion in the book that says if your spouse cannot determine her love language, it is because her “love tank” is full. I’m all about Kaye with a full love tank. Dr. Chapman’s work provided a simple framework that helps couples think through how to pursue and express love to their spouses.
While Chapman’s work is grounded in marriage, there are some takeaways for leadership. A great leader cares for those on the team and does not view those on the team as if they exist for him/her. The opposite is true—a great leader sets himself/herself up as the servant of the team. A wise leader pursues those on the team, not just to recruit them initially but to keep them engaged. The reality is that your best people are volunteers, regardless if you pay them. So expressing love and appreciation to them is essential. To serve the team well, you must know those you are leading. You must know how members on the team feel valued and appreciated. How do those on the team feel most valued and appreciated? Is it time, words of affirmation, acts of service, or gifts?
Some on your team feel most appreciated when you give them focused time. These team members feel especially valued when you take them to lunch, stop by their office, and spend time together outside of work. Your investment of time sends a strong signal that you care about them and not just their work. These people are not being high maintenance. They value a relationship with their leader.
Words of Affirmation
Some on your team feel most valued when you affirm them with words. A kind and encouraging word makes an exponential impact to these team members. A well-written email, a personal note, or an encouraging word about their work in front of the whole team helps them know you care and notice.
Acts of Service
Some on your team are blown away when you serve them, when you do something for them that is unexpected. These people speak of the time their leader “dropped what they were doing and helped out at my event” or “volunteered to be on my team for this initiative.” When you step into their area, ready to work, they are moved.
Some on your team feel valued and appreciated with an extra gift. This does not need to be expensive but something simple that shows you care. Helping one on your team enjoy a night out with his or her spouse, tickets to a game, or a book that is personally selected helps these people feel appreciated and valued.
Nothing to see here. Yeah, this one does not translate. Please don’t try to make it translate unless your spouse is on your leadership team—but that’s another blog post.
The point is that every person on the team you lead is different, and this is the genius of Chapman’s work. Not everyone on your team views Friday night dinner together or a small gift the same way. Someone who feels appreciated with time may find encouraging words too sappy, or even forced. Someone who feels valued with affirming words won’t be nearly as encouraged with a gift.
How do you discern the leadership love language of those on your team? How do you learn of those on your team? Listen. As you listen, you will pick up on times in their lives when they felt appreciated and encouraged, and you will learn times when they sensed they were devalued. If you listen with a servant’s heart, you will learn how to better serve those you serve alongside.