Defining Love In The Business Context
One of the most dangerous assumptions you can make is that everyone else will know what you mean when you say the word love. The reality is that we all have unique understandings of what love is, shaped by our first childhood experiences. We bring these unique views into every interaction with our families, friends and peers. So, if we are to advance the notion of building love into our organisations, we need to be on the same page with what we mean by love. Just as we include and explain terms such as governance, risk and KPI in our corporate lexicons, we also need to add and define the word love. But what does the word love mean in the context of business?
The Need To Define Love
Seth Godin wisely recognises that “any word that’s really important is also confusing.”. Love is not only important but also imperative to every aspect of our lives. We use it in numerous contexts, and, as such, it can have dozens of different meanings. However, if we tell people we seek to build love into our business, we better be clear about what we mean. Lack of clarity around what love means won’t help anyone and will lead to more cynicism and derision. The ultimate outcome would be to build a shared understanding of what love looks like across the organisation. However, at the very least, it would be beneficial to discuss, acknowledge and appreciate our different views of what love is.
Take, for example, a recent discussion with a friend. She had just split with her husband and was devastated. She described her love for him in terms of the endless self-sacrifice she endured for him and the chameleon she became to meet his changing needs. She proclaimed that all of this showed clearly that she loved him deeply. From my perspective, though, this behaviour looked more like martyrdom than love! When I mentioned this to her, she was honestly taken aback. She learnt from her mother that surrendering the self was a sign of true love, and anything less was selfish.
This is why such critical concepts do need to be defined. While we would like to leave them to some ethereal realm and hope everyone gets it by divine transference, we need to make them real, tangible, understood, shared, and lived.
Some Ancient Wisdom
Let me describe what I mean when referring to love in business. Unfortunately, the dictionary is not very helpful, suggesting that love is deep affection toward something or someone. So to help me out here, I must turn to more ancient sources. Our ancestors have been dwelling upon the nature of love for thousands of years, so they are a good source of wisdom. From my reading of Buddhism, it appears that love is multifaceted, being a combination of:
1. Kindness — wishing for and working towards the attainment of happiness; and
2. Compassion — wishing for and working towards the removal of suffering.
I see the state where happiness exists and suffering does not exist as our full and true potential. Therefore, in the business context, love is the action taken to achieve the full potential of the individual and the organisation. Love is the lifting up of people to be their best selves and the removal of obstacles preventing them from flourishing.
The Bible goes further to describe love in terms of what it is not:
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” — 1 Corinthians 13
This description clarifies that love is not about putting yourself in the centre of attention. In contrast, it advocates the removal of ego, self-importance and individual agendas from the picture so that you can focus on respect and reality. It is about making the right decisions, even if these are against your self-interests and result in your personal redundancy. It is about taking pleasure in the health, wellbeing, and happiness of others, even if you are not the one who has bestowed it or the one who can take credit for it.
Love Is Multidirectional and Multilayered
Love is also multidirectional. It can be given and received, to and from ourselves, and to and from others. Self-love is an important concept, especially in working life, where staff can feel compelled to hide themselves away and live dual lives. This compartmentalisation of life can erode happiness and create suffering to the detriment of all. The notion of self-compassion in the workplace will be discussed in later articles and proposed as a core skill for all employees.
In business, the others to which we can give and receive love are multilayered, ranging from our direct co-workers out to the vast range of communities that we serve. The ripple begins with an individual and spreads out to those near and far. Indeed, the introduction of ESG reporting brings greater awareness and attention to the broader audiences for our organisational love (or lack thereof). It is institutionalising the notion of interdependence which is at the heart of compassion.
“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” ~ Thomas Merton
Love Is The Absence Of Fear
While love in business is all of these things, it is also an absence. Love is an absence of fear. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a revolutionary in caring for the dying and how we deal with death. Here’s what Elisabeth said:
What Working In Love Looks Like
The research of Kubler-Ross shows that when people feel that people around them have their best interests at heart, they can feel safe and free to be themselves. They will feel confident to bring their complete selves to work and engage fully. They will give trust and feel trusted. In this way, every single wellness initiative at work (including psychological safety) is grounded in the fundamental notion and actions of love.
When people are working from a place of love, there will see a flow of positive emotions. Happiness, contentment, peace and joy will be felt and shared. John Lennon also believed that acting from a place of love was the vital ingredient to authentic creativity. He saw that when you are working from love, you are open to life’s reality but have the passion and excitement to contribute and bring positive change.
So when people turn up to work with love (not fear), they participate with a positive spirit, which contributes to high levels of engagement and performance. Love, it seems, is pivotal to achieving the best for the individual and the best for the organisation. Love, it seems then, is not just important; it is the key to business..
The Consequences of Working In Fear
The reality of our modern organisations, though, is very different. For many people, days are spent in fear of the power wielded by leaders, and the leaders spend their days in fear of losing their power.
The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace. — Mahatma Gandhi.
The outcome of fear is a flow of negative emotions, including pride, anger, desire, apathy, guilt and shame. Spending our days in fear is nothing short of destructive — for the person living in fear and the world around them. Because as Lennon so wisely perceived:
“When we are afraid, we pull back from life.”
Fear closes us down to others and our potential. We mistrust ourselves and sacrifice our ability to contribute to this world in positive ways. When we are scared about how others may react, we hold back; we do not give all of ourselves. We live in a state of conflict — there is a war between whom we know we truly are and what we display to others. Care, creativity and contribution are stifled. Despair, disengagement, and decimated performance are the result. Gandhi recognised this when he said:
“Fear kills the soul.”
Love Takes Courage
It is clear from all of the descriptions of love that the one thing it is, is courageous. Self-love requires deep self-knowledge, acceptance, respect and care. It means inevitably making yourself vulnerable to the judgement of others and failure as you seek to live up to your full potential.
Love for others is also brave, as it puts you in a position of vulnerability. The love you show others may not be returned, or even worse, abused and used for your detriment. It may make you the target of ridicule and scorn for being “soft”. However, as Brene Brown says:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” ― Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning.
Defining Love In The Business Context
From all of the above discussion, here is a summary of what I believe love is in the workplace.
It is also:
- Multidirectional — to and from self and others.
- Multilayered — expanding outwards through the organisation and beyond its boundaries.
And love is:
- Absent of ego
- Absent of fear
- The key to superior performance
Looking closely at this definition, it appears just as relevant to our personal lives as to our professional lives, which is heartening, given that the ultimate aim is to bring our full selves into every moment and every place.
Simplistic But Useful
I do recognise, though, that this definition is simplistic. To be a useful definition, though, it has to be! As long as we recognise that this is a mere overview of the fullness of love, then it may serve a very useful purpose.
One of the greatest purposes I see for this definition is for leaders to bring it into their own organisations and to use it to start the conversations about what love looks like in their workplace. It would be truly groundbreaking to bring into our professional lives the same language and hopes we have for our personal ones. So often, we rely on synonyms for love because they may sound less soft and more managerial. For example, we may use words such as passion, care, humanity and wellness when what we are working towards is love — achieving our full potential through kindness and compassion. So let’s call it what it is, and build love into our corporate lexicons and workplace language.
As recognised by Peter, acting with love does not make the world suddenly become filled with rainbows, unicorns, and calorie-free chocolate ice cream (I wish!). Our human lives are full of uncertainty, complexity, challenges, choices, mistakes and misgivings. The only way to make it through them all and reach our ultimate potential is with love.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” ~ 151 Peter 4:8
I would appreciate hearing what you think love in business looks like and if you have some examples of where you have seen love in action in the corporate world.
Let’s Build Love In!
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.