Spirit At Work -- The 'L' Word

Dec. 21, 2004
Love: Sought by all but said by few.

Take a deep breath. Now say the word love out loud. Now imagine you are talking to one of your closest and most admired colleagues. Can you utter the word love with the same ease, without embarrassment or self-consciousness? Why are we so awkward about speaking and feeling this, the single most important word in any language? Recently I was running a leadership retreat for a giant multinational organization in which I discussed the concept of love in the workplace. In these situations I nearly always encounter a very small group of people who think I am from another planet, but the majority know in their hearts that the proposition "we need less fear and more love in the workplace" is just too obvious to debate. After all, this is neither rocket science nor a new idea -- Aristotle said, "Wicked men obey from fear; good men, from love." Yet this particular group of global executives felt so intimidated and cornered by the concept of love in the workplace that they resorted to anger, insults, sarcasm, and cutting humor to defend their position that "love" had no place at work. They even intimidated the rest of their team members into silence. To make sure they didn't come across as complete Philistines, though, they reluctantly allowed that "respect," "caring," and "friendship" were O.K., but not "love." I've noticed over many years of working with corporate teams that the more dysfunctional the team, the more resistant they are to the concept of love in the workplace. What baggage is it that we drag around behind us, like Linus and his blanket, which causes us to be so wounded and pathological? Why are we blind to the observable truth that those we lead are yearning for us to open our hearts? Why are we in denial about the truth that people -- all people, at work and at home -- are searching for signs of our approval and love? Why do we have this love/hate relationship with the very idea of love, let alone its use in a business setting? Why do we divide our lives into two compartments -- work and personal life -- where we may freely express our love for friends and family but not our colleagues at work? Are these two different classes of human beings? Is this some form of apartheid? Why do we turn from Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll when we leave our homes and go to work? The word love is the sweetest sound in any language. I don't mean romantic love, but the kind of love the ancient Greeks referred to as agape. Agape means love for humankind, caring and seeking for the highest good of another person without motive for personal gain. Or the kind of love described by the ancient Sanskrit word metta, which means loving kindness. This is the kind of love that makes our hearts beat, inspires people, and illuminates our lives. Love is the force that creates everything that is good on this planet. Love isn't something to be embarrassed by or joked about. Yet it is the single word more likely than any other to guarantee perplexity and cause corporate executives to vamoose from a discussion designed to honor people and build relationships, two of the core ingredients of inspirational leadership. It is a word that many associate with the hippie culture of the 1960s, granola bars, and Birkenstock sandals. Yet deep in all of our hearts, we all want more love. During the leadership retreat with the giant multinational, one female executive began to cry. Through her sadness and tears she explained that when she first joined the firm 15 years ago, she had worked with a leader who loved her and whom she loved -- a mentor. She was crying, she said, because she had not worked with another leader like him since. She yearned for a gentle leader with a heart, who was kind and loving, yet visionary and effective. This is the degree of pain we are suffering in the workplace. Profits may be up, but people are down, and we all are yearning for leaders who are brave enough to bring their hearts to work. Lance Secretan is an advisor to leaders, a public speaker, and a recipient of the 1999 International Caring Award, presented by the Caring Institute, Washington. Author of nine books, including Inspirational Leadership, Destiny, Calling and Cause (1999, CDG Books), Secretan can be reached at [email protected]

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