‘Work is love made visible.’ Kahlil Gibran

Love? In business?

Let’s just get a few things out of the way. I know that the words ‘love’ and ‘business’ aren’t usually uttered in the same breath. And you may be thinking that it’s all a bit hippy, huggy and touchy-feely. If so, I’d like to challenge you to think again.

What do YOU think truly drives a successful, sustainable business more effectively?

Love or Fear?

I‘d like to prove that the answer is, of course, love.  And in these times of global change and crisis, it is needed now more than ever. Would you be willing to set aside any prejudices you might have about the word ‘love’ and travel hopefully on this journey of the heart with me?

In his book The Four Loves, CS Lewis suggests four categories based on four Greek translations of the word ‘love’: Affection, Friendship, Charity and Eros (romantic love). While strong marriages can and often do begin at work, let’s be clear that, romance, at least in the traditional sense, is off the table.

That said, there’s no doubt that love is soft. Love is compassionate, charitable, patient, generous, affectionate, forgiving, accepting, nurturing, gracious, empathic and kind.

Love is also hard. It takes a stand, never gives up, is loyal, steadfast and honourable. It has integrity, tells the sometimes-tough truth. It’s grounded and practical, takes responsibility and has courage. It’s hard-working, and it brings, and has, good old-fashioned common sense.

Most of all, love facilitates greatness in human beings. The people who work in a business.  Love brings out the best in all of us, both when we give it and when we receive it. It gives us access to a greater wisdom and insight; it moves mountains and survives catastrophe. It helps us to be hopeful, positive and fulfilled. In fact, feeling connected is the single-most important thing for a human being to experience.

When we feel connected to ourselves and to others, we feel happy. Think about it: when are you at your happiest? I bet it’s either when you feel a real connection with other people or in a moment of peace and flow, that is, in connection with yourself. The evidence is overwhelming - Happy people are more creative, effective, open and productive. And I imagine most business leaders would agree that:

Happy People = Happy Customers = Happy Results = Happy People.

New types of business are appearing that measure happiness as a key indicator because it makes sound business sense. As The Happy Startup points out: ‘happy teams are key to delivering on vision and purpose’.[1]

And this isn’t news. According to the Grant Study by Harvard Medical School[2] (which surveyed the same sample of men over the course of 75 years), financial success in life depends on the warmth of relationships more than on any other factor. Furthermore, the warmth of relationships is the key to health and happiness. To quote the Grant Study report:

‘The warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on life satisfaction. Happiness is love. Full stop.’

How do I know that love belongs in business? I’ve been working with people in business for 30 years, starting as an employee facilitating change within IBM, then under the wing of some of the pioneers in the world of coaching (before coaching was a thing). Over 20 years ago I started out on my own and founded a culture change consulting practice which has now evolved to synchronise with this core purpose: Love belongs in Business.

I’ve been involved with pretty much every business sector, at every level in organisations. I’ve travelled the world working with over 10,000 people from every continent. I was born in Australia of European parents, have a Dutch husband and two kids who were born in the UK, and we all now live in Southern Spain. And I can tell you something universal about people. People are amazing. They can amaze you with their courage, wisdom, humour, talents, strength, dedication, creativity and depth. Every one of us is amazing in our own unique way. AND we're all exactly the same underneath: we all get scared sometimes and we all long for love.

For some years I’ve been operating undercover working with executive teams in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ business environment. Until recently, I’d been in the closet about something. I was pretty happy being undercover until Rosie (more on her later) said, ‘I think you should come out: I think the world is ready’. So here’s my (not so guilty) secret. I know the thing that makes the single-biggest difference to people in business delivering great results, achieving anything together and being all they can be, and that’s….Love.

I started loving people soon after I attended some transformational personal development training in the late 90s. I began to realise that people are innately amazing and I found that when I looked for it, I could see the greatness in them. And when I did, an extraordinary thing happened: they started to be amazing.

I’ve supported people and teams to have things they want to have and that they didn’t think they could: to take the top job, start out on their own, achieve the highest awards, nail the target, get out of the rat race, enable great relationships, or just stop and smell the roses and be happy.

During my 30 years in business, I haven’t yet met a single person (at any level) who didn’t benefit from deep listening, empathy and some unconditional understanding; from being seen and heard; from being believed in; from being loved. In fact, every time I saw love on offer, I saw people shine and show up in business. Every man; every woman; every time.

That’s why I’m on a mission to bring love into business. And I believe the time to do it is now. Here is a heads-up. It’s not a luxury, or a bonus, or a frill, it is fast becoming a business imperative.

Business is changing. The old world of command and control ‘old power’ is speedily being replaced by a new power: ‘millennials’ (people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) also known as Generation Y. Millennials now make up roughly 50% of the global workforce. They want work that connects them to a larger purpose, and they do not conform to the old-school model of doing business. They do things differently, collaboratively, and equally. For them, it’s not enough to be about profit in business, you need to be about people and the planet too. For millennials to give acceptance, approval and buy-in to you as a business, you have to have a heart, and you have to care. They are the future, and the future is already here.

B-Corp[3], a rapidly growing global movement to redefine success in business. B-Corp’s mission is Business for Good. They want to replace the outdated focus on companies delivering value solely to maximise shareholder value and embed a new paradigm for business worldwide. B-Corp companies believe that the role of business is to deliver value to all stakeholders: their people, suppliers, shareholders, communities and the environment. As a result of this new focus, individuals and communities will enjoy greater economic opportunity, society will address its most challenging environmental problems, and more people will find fulfilment by bringing their whole selves to work. Shareholder value is about making money for ‘the man’ you work for. Stakeholder value is about us all winning and succeeding. I am proud to say I having been inspired by working with CookFood the UK’s first major Bcorp, I have just become one myself.

This isn’t just about altruism. Evidence is growing that proves that the B-Corp approach is a key differentiator for successful companies in crowded markets. According to a study by Hewitt Associates[4] companies with higher levels of employee engagement outperformed the stock market by nearly 20%. According to Harvard Business Review[5], Corporate Social Responsibility reporting is now becoming mainstream for corporations. The world has started to realise that ‘Business for Good’ is important.

The Heart of the City is a group of UK business leaders from over 700 City of London businesses led by the Lord Mayor of London and the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. Their purpose is to make it easier for companies to demonstrate responsibility and positive contributions to society in order to measurably improve our society.

They say: “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a process through which companies choose to take responsibility for their actions and encourage positive impacts through their activities on the environment, consumers, employees, shareholders, communities and all other members of the public who may also be considered as stakeholders. CSR can also be called ‘corporate conscience’, ‘corporate citizenship’, ‘social performance’, ‘sustainable business’, ‘responsible business’. Whatever you call it, we encourage every company to do it because it has an endless list of benefits both for business and society and because it makes sense.”

I call that love in business.

And finally…

Love in business is not news. It’s as old as the hills. It is, fundamentally, common sense and it’s what works in practice when it comes to people. Perhaps in the world of business, with our passionate desire for growth, progress and tangible results, we’ve lost sight of it a little. Perhaps somehow we’ve gotten a little confused into believing that the intellect and process (the form) matter more than the heart and soul (the formless). In fact, they are all important, and necessary, and needed in balance. But maybe it’s more like this:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Albert Einstein

In March 2014, over a glass of red wine, I was chatting to Rosie Brown, the People Director from Cook (a successful UK food retail business and the first large B-Corp in the UK) the night before I was due to give a talk on Big Relationships to their 30 top leaders, and she asked me: ‘What is your dream?’. She asked me this because Cook has a programme called Dream Academy through which anyone who works at Cook who has a personal dream gets a life coach to help them fulfil it. Anyone. People have learnt to drive, written film scripts and walked to the top of Ben Nevis. (How they do things at Cook is a whole other awesome story which I will write more about another day). Before I’d even had a chance to think, the words popped out of my mouth: ‘My dream is to do a TED Talk’. ‘Oh yes’, she said. ‘What would it be about?’ ‘Well’, I said, ‘I’m not sure; I really don’t think I have something to say’. At which point she seemed to choke on her wine with amusement. (To be fair, I am a bit of an opinionated talker.) So she asked me: ‘Well, if you did know, what would it be?’ And I said: ‘love belongs in business’.

So here we are: with me out of the closet. For business, for love.

See Part 2 for some Facts to support the claim that love belongs in business

See Part 3 for What exactly is 'love' in business and how you make it happen.

Elizabeth Lovius is a Leadership Coach with over 20 years experience. Elizabeth helps leaders access creative flow, have big relationships and lead change.  Because when people think and feel better, they do better. And leaders lead organisations. And Organisations for good can change the world.

Elizabeth’s clients include: Hewlett Packard, IBM, itsu, ITV, Kahoot!, Charlie Bighams, CookFood, Pret a Manger, the English RFU and WPP group.

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[1] The Happy Start-up School

[2] Harvard Grant Study article in Huffington Post

[3] BCorporations

[4] 2014 trends in global employee engagement

[5] HBR - The truth about CSR