Another Valentine’s Day is here and with it comes an opportunity to spend money on cards, flowers, and dinner out. Don’t worry; this is not another post about the holiday’s commercial roots. It is, however, about love and business and why these two hallmarks of the human experience should be more inextricably linked.
In the run up to our wedding last September, I sent around a Google doc asking guests to share their addresses. Half jokingly, my wife and I included a space for people to answer the question: What’s the meaning of life? About 50% of all answers had a specific theme: love. Our friends and family are not alone in citing love as central to our search for meaning. Religious scholars, philosophers, and social scientists have long upheld love’s place in defining our life journeys. Yet, most people spend little time considering what love means and how it impacts them. The ancient Greek’s were on to something — they have seven words to describe different states of love.
However, none of them seem to describe the kind of love that 'conscious businesses' like REI, THINX, and Warby Parker share with their stakeholders (e.g., team members, customers, suppliers, community members, the environment, etc.). This sort of love is based on virtues like compassion, honesty, and respect. It demands that organizations relinquish the notion that business is a zero sum game, and instead seek to create win-win scenarios that benefit the many.
For too long, we’ve denied the potential for love and work not just to co-exist, but also to nourish one another. Instead of embracing a philosophy of abundance, in which we labor together to unlock hidden economic and spiritual potential, we engage in perpetual gamesmanship to secure a bigger slice of a limited pie. Our failure to make love a guiding principal of how companies operate has led to pervasive corruption, environmental destruction, and social discord – not to mention a massive employee engagement problem. The opportunity cost we’ve forfeited in our failure to embrace such qualities as empathy, inclusion, and cooperation leaves enormous markets untapped and global challenges unmet.
If making love your company’s core operating principle feels like a tough task to tackle, that’s because it is. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some concrete steps you can take to bridge the love/work divide, improve your professional experience, and help your company to thrive. Here are a few:
Conduct a quick relationship assessment
Make a list of the most important people, teams, functions etc. that comprise your work world. You can choose to start with internal stakeholders only or expand your thinking to include external partners. Then, give each relationship a score of 1-5 based on the strength of the bond you share. A 'one' would reflect a dynamic of conflict and competition. A 'five' means you’re operating from a position of caring and cooperation.
Reflect on how you relate to the people you work with
Do some high-level analysis about what your assessment reveals. What’s your average score? Are there highs and lows? Are you somewhere in the middle across all categories? How do you explain the presence of love in your higher scoring relationships? What about in your lower scoring ones? How have you contributed to the states of your relationships?
Commit to acts of trust, transparency, and caring
Choose one or two actions that you can take to strengthen loving relationships, or shift the dynamic in those that are lacking. Most of the work here will begin with dialogue. You might thank people for constructive partnerships and ask for feedback on how to better serve their needs. For more challenging relationships, share your observations and ask permission to explore ways of supporting one another better.
There is a famous Lao Tzu quote that reads, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.' We have the power to make the companies we work for far more purpose-driven, joyful, and prosperous. On this Valentine’s Day, what action – however small – will you take to be a source of love at work?