Can “Compassionate Love” Become an Organization’s Operating System?
Business organizations have been dominated by men for at least the last two centuries. Correspondingly, male oriented values and behavioral characteristics — competitive aggressiveness, unemotional problem solving, rationality and logic–have been the organizational drivers. In contrast, so called “soft skills,”–collaboration and cooperation, and compassionate love– have been generally perceived to be female traits and behaviors, and, viewed as “weaknesses.”
We’ve experienced revolutionary changes in organizational behavior literature in the past three decades, which focus on the importance of emotions for employee attitudes, interpersonal relations and emotional intelligence. However, much of this research has neglected the basic emotions of compassionate love (feelings of affection, compassion, empathy, caring and kindness for others).
P.J. Frost, in his article published in the Journal of Management Inquiry, argues “As organizational researchers, we tend to see organizations and their members with little other than a dispassionate eye and training that inclines us toward abstractions that don’t include consideration of the dignity and humanity of those in our lens. Our hearts, our compassion, are not engaged and we end up being outside of and missing the humanity, the ‘aliveness’ of organizational life.”
Jacoba M. Lilius and her colleagues in their chapter of The Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, conclude “organizational models that assume human nature consists only of individual self-interests have been extremely limiting and new research points to the fundamental role of empathetic concern and compassion not only in social life but in the workplace.”
Predominant dispassionate, logical behavior in organizations inevitably develops systems, HR practices and training and development methods that either isolate from or devalue compassionate love. You rarely encounter leadership training programs or employee manuals that focus on principles of tolerance, selflessness, kindness and compassionate love. Moreover, when the leader models purely transactional and dispassionate behavior, this can pervade the entire organization. Subsequently when it’s replicated across many organizations, it sets a norm for business. Yes, dispassionate, logical ways of running organizations have met with financial success, but what has been the cost in terms of relationships, employee morale and happiness?
In an article for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, Emma Seppälä, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and Co-Director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and the author of The Happiness Track , cites the growing incidence of workplace stress among employees. She argues that a new field of research suggests when organizations promote an “ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace, but also an upward bottom line.”
Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blogs, argues that organizations must develop a “culture of compassionate coaching This means not merely focusing coaching employees on their weaknesses, “and that creating a ‘culture of unconditional love’ binds the team together.
Tim Sanders, author of the book, Love Is A Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends, argues “those of us who use love as a point of differentiation in business will separate ourselves from our competitors just as world-class distance runners separate themselves.”
Sigel G. Barsade at the Wharton School of Business and Olivia A. O’Neill at the University of Pennsylvania published an article in Administration Quarterly in which they describe their longitudinal study of the culture of compassionate love in organizations. They found compassionate love positively relates to employee satisfaction and teamwork to employee absenteeism and emotional exhaustion. Barsade and O’Neill speculate that in Western culture, there is an assumption that love “stops at the office door, and that work relationships are not deep enough to be called love.” The authors contend most leadership and organizational culture literature has largely neglected emotions. They also argue “there is no organizational theory that incorporates behavioral norms, values and deep underlying assumptions about the content of emotions themselves and their impact on employees.”
Duncan Coombe, in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Can You Really Power an Organization with Love?” argues: “If just about every person on the planet has at some point spoken about the centrality of love to wellbeing, why do we hear so little about it in the context of work? It seems we have collectively agreed that this universal ‘good’ is somehow not appropriate in the place where we spend the bulk of our waking hours.” Coombe suggests several strategies for leaders to incorporate love into their organizations:
- Don’t use the word love. Rather than talking about it , take action in the form of policies and services.
- Think about love as an “operating system.” Coombe says we should conceptualize love in business as a philosophy, a mindset or set of intentions that govern behavior.
- Love is not all about rainbows and butterflies. Implanting behaviors that demonstrate and value love can be difficult, but it also means being comfortable with conflict and difficult conversations .
- Love gets expressed from colleagues to suppliers to the planet. We need to see the expression of love as a continuous thread throughout business and life, and involving employees, customers, suppliers and the community and world in general.
The work world is changing, particularly for young people. People are now seeking out more meaning in their work and in their lives. Thanks to social media platforms, people have both a voice and a stage to promote that voice. Business is changing from the mere producers of products and services to servants of their customers. People are getting sick and tired of the greed, selfishness and lack of integrity of organizations and their leaders. People are expecting a change. A focus on compassionate love in the workplace could be a catalyst for that change.
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