Great Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Love Their Teams

Donald Miller

As football season comes to a close, we see the same interviews with coaches who seem to say the same thing over and over. If they lose, they thank and compliment their team, and if they win, they celebrate their team’s work ethic, brotherhood and character. It’s like they’re all reading from the same script.

What could easily get lost in all that is a leadership principle I’ve come to believe is true: Great leaders actually love their teams more than they love themselves.

You don’t hear the word “love” often when you talk about coaches, but the truth is men who play football have hearts and if you can capture their hearts, they’ll fight for you and for each other.

*Photo Credit: MattUrsua, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: MattUrsua, Creative Commons

How do we capture the hearts of our team members? Well, we can’t fake it. We actually have to love them. I say have to like it’s a tough thing. The truth is we get to love them. A team is nothing more than a community.

Other than getting married last year, the greatest thing that has happened to me is the growth of the Storyline team.

We are five employees strong now and the word love is used consistently. We’re just not afraid to say it. In fact, one of the core values of our company is that it exists to make the employees’ dreams come true, and we do that by serving our clients faithfully.

Did you catch the twist in the core value? Many companies would start out by saying they exist to serve the customer. And of course we do, but our first priority is to build a company that helps our own team members operate within their skill set, establish themselves as a critical part of a team, affirm our team members as God’s children, give them ownership of our shared efforts and celebrate the lives we get to change together. In other words, the company exists to create a healthy, growing, healing and restorative community of professionals operating in excellence.

What happened when we operated out of those values surprised me.

I started to love my guys. I mean I started to daydream about their success, not just my own. And they do the same for me.

Storyline tripled in size in the last 18 months and we are forecasting tripling again in 2014. Those are amazing numbers, if you think about it. I can’t help but wonder if the secret ingredient isn’t, well, love.

Love is quite scary, though. Love doesn’t give you complete control over people. Love means you can’t disrespect them when you’re frustrated. Love means you really understand that people aren’t just a cog in a wheel. Love means you have to allow people to hurt you and let you down, and they will, just as you will them. But love also means you forgive, you don’t keep score, you show grace and you protect each other at all costs.

Sadly, protecting each other at all costs means sometimes you have to let people go.

It means not allowing the team to be disrespected or taken advantage of. But I see that more as an employee who doesn’t want to be with us more than us not wanting them around. If they’re taking advantage of us, they’re opting out of our system. We can throw a couple ropes, but at some point we have to move on because they’re deciding to swim it alone.

Since I started this company, I’ve kept two rules, and I think they’ve made all the difference and even created an atmosphere where love could grow. They’ll seem trivial and slight, but they’ve worked for me.

Here they are:

1 Hire people who are better, smarter and faster than you.
1 Never mess with their hearts. (The actual rule is slightly more colorful but my guys didn’t want me to say it in a blog!)

Those two rules have served me well. I think they will serve you, too.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.