With Valentine’s Day this month, love is in the air. Everyone, to some degree or another, wants to be loved.

And that’s true in the workplace, too.

There’s tons of research that tells us that employees need to feel valued, appreciated, and cared for, not just as an employee, but as a whole person.

Bosses want to be loved, too. Sure, there are lots of leaders who brazenly proclaim, “I don’t really care if my team likes me.” (I’m sure you’ve met that person.) But my experience has been that not only is that the wrong approach to embrace, but more often than not the people making this statement crave the affection of their teams the most. They just lack the knowledge and skills to foster collaborative, caring leader-employee relationships.

Truth is, it’s really not that hard to be the kind of boss that employees like, respect, and have genuine affection for.

(Trust and respect are the magic dust of leadership, by the way, so don’t dismiss them as squishy and/or unnecessary. They are crucial.)

Take a moment to think about a boss you worked for that you loved. And no, I’m not talking about “loved” in the romantic sense. I mean a great boss with whom you truly enjoyed working. This should be someone you trusted and respected.

(There are those words again.)

Now, jot down 3 or 4 qualities or characteristics that made this person a great boss. Go ahead … I’ll wait.

Got your list?

I do this activity often in training workshops or leadership development retreats. As you can imagine, I hear all sorts of answers. Participants tell me their boss was supportive, approachable, knowledgeable, or compassionate. They tell me their favorite boss was someone who set clear expectations, held people accountable, helped them grow, and had a positive attitude. By the end of the activity, I usually end up with between 20 and 50 attributes of “great” bosses on my flip chart.

All the attributes that end up on my list can be considered key ingredients of a strong, capable, effective leader. But that master list isn’t the point of the exercise.

The true purpose can be found by re-examining the 3-4 things you wrote down on your list.

Go ahead, take a look again at what you wrote. I’ll wait.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The qualities or characteristics you listed are not just the things that made your “great” boss great. The qualities or characteristics you listed also happen to be exactly what you needed from that person at that time and in that place.

Think about it.

If you wrote “approachable,” I’d wager that the unique nature and demands of your job at that time – coupled with your distinct talents, skills, style, and strengths – meant you needed access to your boss and to feel comfortable going to him or her as much as you needed in order to be successful.

If you wrote “positive” or “supportive,” you probably were taking on challenges or duties that challenged your confidence or worked in an environment that was emotionally demanding at times.

Whatever you wrote on your list, it’s what you needed from your boss. And they were a great boss because they gave that to you when you needed it. That’s what great bosses do. They meet their people where they’re at. Individually. Person to person.

Every employee comes to us with individual interests, skills, goals, strengths, talents, personalities, and qualities. They come to us with varying levels of competence and confidence, and with widely differing experience and education levels.

Want to be a boss who is loved? Want to earn the trust and respect and affection of your direct reports? Figure out who they are and what they need from you to be successful, and give them that in spades. Commit to this, and you’ll be the kind of boss others love working for while simultaneously leveraging the full potential of each and every member of your team.

When you show up every day committed to meeting employees where they are, not only will they thrive in their roles, but they’ll love working for you every single day.

Joe Mull, M.Ed, is a leadership trainer and keynote speaker. He works with healthcare organizations that want their practice leaders to engage, inspire, and succeed. To learn more or bring Joe to your site, visit www.joemull.com.