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Loving the Love

written by Amanda Horne 1 September 2011

Amanda Horne is an executive coach and facilitator whose business theme is "Thriving People and Workplaces." She is an Authentic Happiness Coaching graduate and a founding member of Positive Workplace International. Full bio.

Amanda's articles are here.

Not long after Kathryn Britton’s article here on PPND (What is Love, Anyway?) about Barbara Fredrickson’s IPPA session on love, I attended a leadership conference hosted by Australia’s leading national financial newspaper. One of the presenters provided some insights into new research on high performance workplaces in Australia. There were 18 measures in 6 categories.

One of categories, ‘Employee Experience’, included the measure ‘Emotions’. This comprised a short list of five positive emotions and five negative emotions.

The positive emotions included:

  • optimistic
  • proud
  • valued
  • cheerful
  • loved

Compared with the low performance organizations, the high performance organizations had significantly higher levels of these three: optimistic, proud, and valued. Feeling valued was the highest, and it was also rated very low in the low performance organizations. Feeling cheerful rated highly, but was not as significant as the other three.

However feeling loved rated as low, at almost equivalent levels in the high and low performance organizations.

What does this mean? I wonder what people would say when asked about their experience of feeling valued. How close would their explanations be to definitions of love? Interestingly, neither the presenter nor anyone that day (audience or presenters and panels) mentioned the word love. A whole day on leadership, and not a bit of love. A no-go area?

Leadership and Love
On my way home from the conference I read “Leadership Beyond Good Intentions” by Geoff Aigner, who happened to also be a guest speaker at the conference (his talk was not about love). In his chapter, Leadership and Love, he starts by making the case that leadership and leading is about growth, “…and things grow with love.” Aigner’s thoughts go beyond the value of love as a positive emotion to its essential ingredient in finding meaning and purpose in our work: “Love helps us remember our purpose and who we are really serving.”

Aigner acknowledges that we have a problem with talking about love at work and love in leadership, suggesting that perhaps it’s in how people define love. Just as Kathryn, in her PPND article, wrote that Barbara Fredrickson asked the IPPA audience to set aside their ideas of love and to think of love as being “an interpersonally situated and socially shared experience of one or more positive emotions,” Aigner’s definitions challenge us to think of love differently.

Aigner draws on Ancient Greek definitions to describe our popular views of love:

  • eros (‘passionate, sexual love’)
  • philia (‘friendship and bonding’)
  • storge (‘the affection most often felt by parent for their children’)

He then introduces these two ‘less often talked about’ types of love:

  • agape (‘selfless, divine, non-romantic love’)
  • pragma (‘a more practical, realistic, and mutually beneficial love’)

How leadership and love are linked is explained in very practical terms. Leading requires that we work with others. We need to give, and we need to go beyond concern for ourselves to have concern and care for others. We need love to support us when we take risks, to grow, to protect us from becoming cynical, anxious, and scared, to keep us steady.

“In addition to thinking ‘What leadership is required here?’ what would happen if we thought ‘What love is required here?’ …. It will certainly give us a more mature idea of leadership – beyond romance and kindness – to ensure that people can grow (even when that means we need to be tough).”

High-Quality Connections at Work

Returning to the work of Barbara Fredrickson and her research on love, Fredrickson was interviewed by a Toronto radio station over two years ago. On the question of love in the workplace, she referred to Jane Dutton’s work on high-quality connections:

“There is a trick, Jane Dutton has stumbled on…high quality connections. Any connection, any interaction can be low or high quality. High quality is mutual respect, regard, vitality, and connection. Another way to say this is love. Socially we don’t use this word with workplace relationships. Leaders can model it, can allow space for high-quality connections to happen, more sense of playfulness and rituals which support connectedness.”

She continued to explain the importance of appreciation, engaging more with people in a positive way, making choices about making positive relationships, and considering consider whether we are energizing or de-energizing others.

And the highest of these is….

In response to which of the positive emotions has ‘the biggest hit,’ we heard from her what we’re hearing from her now, that love is strong.

“Among the positive emotions we weight them equally because there is not empirical evidence yet to do otherwise. But science is never complete. There is some emerging evidence that love may carry the biggest effects. Love as moments of love. When you have the opportunity to share positive emotions with another person it can really magnify the effect for you and the other and the relationship.”

Let’s close with more words from Geoff Aigner:

“Out of love we…make our community, organisation or country better”


Aigner, G. (2011), Leadership Beyond Good Intentions: What it takes to really make a difference. Sydney: Allen and Unwin

The Australian Financial Review Leadership Conference, 16th August 2011: http://www.afr.com/r/AFR/Web/Library/PDF/Leadership+Final+DM2.pdf

Interview with Barbara Fredrickson about her book “Positivity”, 5th June, 2009, Toronto Radio, CIUT 89.5 FM

Interview with World Leading Happiness Psychologist Professor Barbara Fredrickson by Alice Boyes


Photos by Amanda Horne

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Maria Fernanda Gonzalez 1 September 2011 - 11:48 am

I love your article and give us a total diferent vision of what leadership is all about: I kindly ask you if you have the total information of the research about high performance in the workplaces in Australia that you posted in your article.

I appreciate your information

Peter O'Donnell 1 September 2011 - 12:14 pm

A very good exploration of love, surpisingly for some, might be DEUS CARITAS EST done by Pope Benedict. It predates PP discussion, but has a lot of the issues you bring up.

Sean 1 September 2011 - 1:43 pm

Thank you Amanda. Great topic and great article. When I work with organizations around the via strengths, people are always scratching their heads about what to do with love (without getting in trouble with HR). This gives me some more sources and ideas to work with.

wayne 2 September 2011 - 4:52 am

Amanda – give me a break. If I spoke about love in the workplace in oz I wouldn’t be running workshops.

The variousn interpretations of love in your article just reinforces the PP problem – lack of definitional clarity.

But I would love to see the research – can you reference it

Mike Martin 2 September 2011 - 9:00 am

Hi there. Great topic. And great comments too. Glad I found this blog. I am a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. I blog at http://www.mike54.martin.com and http://www.changethethingsyoucan.wordpress.com

Mike Martin, author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People)

Jeremy McCarthy 2 September 2011 - 9:02 am

Nice article Amanda. Love and leadership are linked whether we talk about it or not. Thanks, J

Arnold Cochran 2 September 2011 - 6:13 pm

The best article I ever read in Linkedin. Love this article, congratulation!


Dr.UN Nandakumar 2 September 2011 - 6:28 pm

very useful. love and affection play an important role in building and managing successful organization and individuals.

Amanda Horne 4 September 2011 - 6:19 am

Everyone, thank you, for your comments and suggestions.

Maria and Maria – the research results are not officially released, they were previewed at the conference. I will see if I can find out more about this for you. I believe they are due for release in Sept/October.

Sean – when clients find they have ‘love and to be loved’ in their top VIA and ask “what’s the point of this at work?” I ask them to (a) read the definition and to go beyond the word ‘love’ and (b) see if they can do their work for the next month without using their strength at work. This helped an IT Manager come to terms with their job, realising it was a vital strength in working with his team

Wayne – yes, exactly. People are saying just that (‘give me a break’), and I think this shows in the research results when they rated ‘feeling valued’ highly but not so for ‘feeling loved’. I’m curious to see where this discussion is in 10-20 years. Decades ago when I started work, we were measured on our ability to get our technical work done. Then soon crept in our teamwork skills, and now organisations are asking people to consider such things as caring, compassion, empathy. Without good definitions of love, I suspect that people will prefer to use other words.

oz 4 September 2011 - 5:16 pm

Amanda – the point I’m making relates to “High quality is mutual respect, regard, vitality, and connection. Another way to say this is love.” What possible benefit can there be in collpasing these terms into love – it just loses mean and adds to the confusion.

Out of interest where does love rate for you on the VIA?

Amanda Horne 6 September 2011 - 6:19 am

Wayne, yes this is the dilemma. That quote from Fredrickson was two years ago, and the other attempts noted in my article show that there is a great deal of grappling with this term. What we do see in corporate staff satisfaction questionnaires are words such as ‘feeling valued’ ‘someone at work cares for me’. These terms won’t be to everyone’s taste, however I do meet people who walk out of jobs because they received none of this from their bosses.

wayne 6 September 2011 - 3:47 pm

Amanda – why grapple with it – it loses meaning when you collaps into a single term. I have several work colleagues who I value, empasise with, respect etc – but doesn’t go anywhere near the feeling of love I have for my partner. To use love in this other context undervalues true love

Todd Kashdan 7 September 2011 - 9:35 am

I gotta agree with Wayne. I’ll continue returning to one of my conversations with the late Rick Snyder when I was just about to teach my second class on PP in 2000. He told me, don’t forget, if you want to teach people the principles of a new way of thinking, the first thing you need to do is give them the language. He meant be precise, forget jargon, and avoid globular wastebasket terms. This has been my problem with eudaimonia. Its a wastebasket term. And in this case, its unclear to me how the mixture being suggested gets to love. This does not minimize the fantastic leap Barb is taking in moving from the person to relationships.

But for those who entered PP without a psychology background, please don’t think Barb started the challenge of studying love. It would be a disservice to Elaine Hatfield who took major career risks in the 70s and then all of the scientists who stood on her shoulders to get a broader angle of what matters (see Sternberg, the Hendricks, the Arons, etc.). The most creative applied positive psychology might just come from looking backwards to what people were doing on their own outside of this current climate….the progenitors.


Jeremy McCarthy 7 September 2011 - 10:38 am

I disagree with you guys on this one (probably because I’m not a scientist.) Much in the same way I’ve defended the word “happiness” on my blog, I would defend the word love as being greater than the sum of its parts. I believe in the balance between mythos and logos and since (to quote Todd back to himself) “context matters” I can tell you that the word love brings an entirely different context to a subject than to talk about “high quality connections” or “unconditional positive regard.”

I agree language is important but it depends what you are trying to do. In order to have a scientific discussion about love, Fredrickson literally has to redefine it into something more limited, more clear and more manageable in a scientific context. But how that scientific data gets assimilated into our real life is very different if we are thinking about “love” versus “shared positive experiences.”

The same is true in a business setting. Granted most businesses will feel more comfortable talking about research done on HQC’s. But some leaders will be equally or more successful by getting gut emotional reactions from love.

Southwest Airlines (“LUV” on the NYSE) is a great example.

Todd Kashdan 7 September 2011 - 2:04 pm

Jer, we agree vastly more than you think. Love is more than the sum of its parts. absolutely. Love provides a different context than the other terms being batted around. absolutely.

whether love is going to be where the action lies in business settings. eh, consider me agnostic. Stretch love to far and you have a term that simply doesn’t mean anything. The woman on Jerry Springer who claims she loves her partner but she’s sleeping with his brother. The boss who says she loves her employees but creates very clear boundaries between spending time with her friends outside of work and the people she works with. You get the gist.

Please note that my perspective is often informed by my life outside conducting science. Daddy. Husband. Friend. And someone treating life as an adventure. I think Wayne was doing the same thing when he was talking about his life partner. Some of the easiest ways to find new territory is to go back to the real world and notice what science being pumped out has any relevance….


Amanda Horne 8 September 2011 - 3:53 am

Todd, you wrote “The most creative applied positive psychology might just come from looking backwards to what people were doing on their own outside of this current climate….the progenitors” …. looking backwards could include hundreds of years (thousands?). As you say, it hasn’t all just started with Fredrickson.

Maria, and Wayne: I have since made initial contact with one of the researchers and the results will be officially released in the next month or so. I’m waiting to hear from another researcher about the specific timing.


wayne 8 September 2011 - 5:48 am

Jeremy – have no idea what you mean by south east airline and luv but if its about an airline leveraging the word love for commercial gain then this seems rather crass. No wonder people get confused about love.

Jeremy McCarthy 8 September 2011 - 9:43 am

Hi Wayne – Sorry for the America-centric reference, I realize Southwest is probably not well known outside of the US. Their stock market ticker symbol is LUV but I don’t see this as a crass “leveraging the word love for commercial gain.” Southwest airlines is famous for the way they treat their employees and their customers. They were the only U.S. airline after 9/11 that decided their relationship with their employees was too important and so they opted not to lay anyone off (subsequently they were also the first airline to recover to pre-9/11 business levels.)

What is nice about Southwest is they are not a luxury company i.e. they don’t say, we are going to charge you a lot of money in order to take very good care of you. They bill themselves as the “no frills” airline and are one of the cheapest players out there. But their business message essentially says, “ we know you want low prices so we are going to give you that by cutting out all the frills or luxuries. We also know this makes the flying experience less than desirable, but we are going to do the best we can to make it enjoyable and we’ll all get through it together.”

I don’t think people are confused by love because it is used in a business setting. People are confused by love because it is mysterious, all-powerful, incredibly pervasive, and broad in meaning. People use love in the most common ways “I love peanut butter” to the most profound “I love God/my partner/my children.” Love is a massive driver of much of human behavior (people kill and die for love.) Limiting our investigation of love to domains of family and close personal relationships underestimates its power and complexity.

The cynical view of business is that all that matters is the bottom line. I prefer to think of businesses as collective networks of human beings, each of which are striving for meaning, happiness and perhaps love. I think we move the conversation forward when we don’t presuppose that these lofty ideals that we all strive for can only be found when we get home from work.

Mark Runnalls 10 November 2011 - 6:23 am

For those of you interested in the research that Amanda referred to, the full report can be viewed here:


Please be warned in advance, the emotions part of the paper is small but important. We tried to measure a range of practices in organisations and unlike most business oriented researchers we wanted to open our minds to the emotional state of high (and low) performing workplaces. I hope you find the research interesting.


Mark Runnalls
Projects Director, SKE


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