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.
The positive emotions included:
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
Photos by Amanda Horne