You might be wondering if love really adds value to a business.” Warren Buffett sure thinks it does. You’ve probably heard of him. He’s done pretty well financially by making a few wise investments in companies. Indeed, he’s generally regarded the best ever at making savvy investments.
One day I came across a video interview with him on The Motley Fool website.
They asked him a question I’m sure he’s heard a million times about how he determines whether a company is worth buying. And he gave the answer you’d expect. He talked about analyzing the numbers (for which he has a legendary, uncanny ability) and
reviewing the competitive landscape and doing his due diligence on the management team. But if all of that comes up good, he still has one more step. He sits down with the CEO and looks for the love.
“I look into their eyes, and I try to figure out whether they love the money or they love the business,” Buffett said. “Everybody likes money. If they don’t love the business, I can’t put that into them.” If they do love it, he said, then he buys the company and it becomes his job “to make sure that I don’t do anything that in effect kills that love of the business.”
It’s not hard science, I know, but if you analyze Buffett’s 15-second answer, he uses the word love four times. Buffett knows love matters, because we, as human beings, do all we can to nurture and grow the things we love. If he sees dollar signs in the CEO’s eyes instead of love, then Buffett knows that the only thing this person is interested in is his exit strategy. They’re likely thinking, How quickly can I stuff this money into my pockets and get the hell out of here? But Buffett is looking to invest in an asset that’s going to grow over time, and there’s no way that’s going to happen unless the love is there.
That, by the way, includes leaning into the side of love many of us don’t like to discuss: tough love. If you have children or were a child at one time—So you know, all of us—then you’ve experienced tough love. Or maybe you’ve experienced it from a friend. Or a coworker. Or a boss. Tough love is that component of love that compels us to do the hard, right thing. It can create tension, maybe even some conflict. But the love part allows you to work through it effectively because the goal isn’t to satisfy your pride or feed your need for control or placate any other selfish motive. It’s to do what’s in the best interest of the other person and the team as a whole.
Real love doesn’t produce organizations where everyone is happy all the time, where people walk around with big, goofy grins on their faces, where no one ever argues, where everybody does whatever they want whenever they please, where every so often you stop all the action and have a group hug in the breakroom or gather around a campfire to roast marshmallows and sing kumbaya. Not that I’m against any of those things, especially if the marshmallows come with graham crackers and chocolate. But real love includes accountability and sets an expectation of excellence.
Here is a simple formula: kindness + high standards = love at work.
Company cultures rooted in love demonstrate mutual care and concern for one another’s needs, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They treat each other with the dignity and respect that is called for on virtually every values statement in every company on every part of the globe. When people treat each other with kindness, they are more helpful and thus more productive. And kindness generates these same feelings for customers and clients; it cultivates an organization that cares for the people it serves.
Kindness, however, is just one part of the equation. Sometimes love for the health of the company and love for the individual employees smack right up against each other. Sometimes love is tough. That’s because real love is driven by a commitment to excellence. High standards create a vision people can believe in and support, one they can love. That love generates a commitment to excellence in the products and services they create, in the ways they create them, and in the manner in which they treat each other.
And they set standards for accountability driven by love and executed with kindness. Think about it: When you love someone, you want what’s best for them. You don’t settle for mediocre. You strive for excellence. That means there are times when you will have to make tough decisions and have some difficult conversations.
Chris Myers, CEO and co-founder of BodeTree, came face-to-face with this while managing a workforce that, like him, was largely made up of Millennials. Organizational kindness that allowed for flexible work hours led to a pattern of short workdays—people who arrived late but, as he put it, “looked like Fred Flintstone sliding down the back of the dinosaur” when 5 p.m. rolled around. So he gathered everyone for a conversation about their shared commitment to high standards.
“When we do the right thing on our own, the freedoms we enjoy as a team expands,” he said. “When we abuse what freedoms we have, they get reduced.”12 The conversation wasn’t fun, but it worked because it was delivered with kindness. With love.
Excerpt from Love is Just Damn Good Business: Do What You Love in the Service of People Who Love What You Do (McGraw-Hill, September 6, 2019) by Steve Farber