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Making Love a Priority: Interview with Leadership Speaker Matt Tenney

By Leah Doyle | Jan. 6, 2020

Here’s a great new TEDx talk that we think you’ll love. It’s from one of our top inspirational speakers, Matt Tenney.

In this talk, called Why the Best Leaders Make Love the Top Priority, Matt makes the case for why love is the surprising secret of the most successful leaders.

Since his talk is only 9 minutes long, we spoke with Matt to help you go deeper with this important, nuanced topic.

After you watch the TEDx talk, we think you'll enjoy our interview with Matt.

Why the Best Leaders Make Love the Top Priority - TEDx WestChester

An interview with author and social entrepreneur, Matt Tenney:

SpeakInc: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and why you do what you do.

Matt Tenney: I run a marketing company called The Generous Group, which has the audacious goal of creating the conditions for a permanent end to poverty, violence, and other unnecessary suffering in our world.

We work to accomplish that goal in two ways:

  1. We make love our top priority and maintain a workplace culture that is designed to help employees be happier, kinder human beings who effectively serve others.
  2. Through my books, media appearances, and keynote speaking, we work to inspire other leaders to make love their top priority and give them tools for more effectively loving, serving, and inspiring greatness in the people around them.

SI: In your TED talk, you make a pretty compelling case for why leaders should make loving employees their top priority. Would you elaborate on what you mean by “love”?

MT: Sure. When I use the word love, I’m not referring to a feeling.

Many people get hung up on the idea that we have to feel a certain way about a person to love them.

However, we don’t even have to like a person to love her or him.

When we love someone, we act in ways that contribute to her or his long-term well-being. We extend ourselves to help that person thrive.

That’s why I think the first and most important step for loving employees well is to use long-term well-being as a filter for every decision we make.  If a course of action would negatively impact the long-term well-being of employees, it should be eliminated as on option whenever possible.

Applying this filter can go a long way to helping employees feel as though leaders truly care about them.

SI: You stated in the talk that most leaders you are aware of do not make loving employees their top priority. Why do you think that is?

MT: In some cases, it’s simply a matter of lack of awareness that this is even an option. This idea is very counter to mainstream thought about leadership, especially in business.

Most people haven’t seen good examples of other leaders in their lives who lead with love as the top priority.

In most cases, I think people truly want to lead in this way. It’s just not easy to do, especially in environments in which no other leaders are leading this way.

There are many forces that compel us to prioritize results over the well-being of the people around us.

SI: Could you give some examples of these forces?

MT: In the case of most publicly traded companies, leaders face tremendous pressure from the board of directors to maximize stock performance.

Sadly, most shareholders have no connection to a company other than the stock certificates they own. They’ve never met a single employee in the company. The company is essentially just a bunch of numbers on an exchange listing to them.

As a result, they only care about whether those numbers are going up or down. And, they want them to be going up every quarter.

Thus, most boards hire and incentivize senior leaders based on their abilities to make the numbers go up every quarter.  It only takes a couple of bad quarters and leaders start losing their jobs.

That type of pressure to hit the numbers in the short term makes it very hard to do things necessary to create a people-first culture that drives long-term success.

But all leaders face pressure to hit the numbers to some degree.

And the bulk of conditioning all leaders have received their entire lives has likely been to prioritize winning, or hitting goals, over loving well. This just seems to be what our modern culture values most, especially in the business world.

This conditioning to focus on goals and winning is not easy to overcome, and it limits our ability to love well.

SI: So, how can leaders overcome this conditioning?

MT: Here are 3 simple ways to start re-wiring the brain to make love the top priority:

  • Re-write your job description and recite it at least once a day. I suggest starting your job description with some variation of “My job is to help the people that work with me to thrive both personally and professionally.” Everything else in your current job description would then be listed as “additional responsibilities.”
  • Schedule at least 10 minutes every day to think about ways you could help team members to grow and be happier. As we all know, if we don’t block off time for things like this, weeks could go by before we get out of the weeds enough to think about higher-level leadership roles like culture development.
  • Have monthly “How Can I Serve You?” meetings with team members. During these meetings, nothing is discussed other than how the leader can help the team member to grow, achieve her or his goals, be happier at work and/or home, etc.

SI: How can a leader tell if they’re on the right track and actually loving employees well?

MT: At the highest level, we should be able to look back over a period of time when people worked for us and answer “Yes,” to these two questions:

  • Did we help the person continually grow during the time she or he worked with us?
  • Was the person happy at work during the time she or he worked with us?

I think this is the best way to measure success as a leader.

In order to be sure we can answer those questions in the affirmative in the future, I suggest getting anonymous feedback from team members along the way regarding how we’re doing and how could improve.

Sometimes the feedback may be hard to take, but it is priceless. This is one of the keys to being truly successful over the long term.


More information about Matt, his mission, and his keynotes at speakinc.com/speaker/matt-tenney


Written by Leah Doyle
Leah originally joined SpeakInc in 2006 and currently serves as their Marketing Coordinator. Originally from Southern California, Leah is a graduate of San Diego State University. She currently lives in Jacksonville, FL with her husband, John, and their two children. If she's not taxiing her kids to the ball field or dance studio, you can find her at the beach or a local coffee shop!

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