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Using the “L” Word in Business

written by Margaret Greenberg 14 February 2008

Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, is co-author of Profit from the Positive. After a 15-year career in corporate HR, she founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio.

Margaret's solo articles are here and her articles with Senia Maymin are here.

02-14-07_margaret1.bmpToday is Valentine’s Day so to me there is but one topic to write about…





Capacity to Love and Be Loved is one of the twenty-four character strengths measured by the Values in Action (VIA) Signature Strengths questionnaire (available at the Penn Authentic Happiness site at no cost).

The Capacity to Love and Be Loved strength is defined by Peterson and Seligman (2004, p. 29) as “valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.” The Capacity to Love and Be Loved strength joins the Kindness and Social Intelligence strengths to form what Peterson and Seligman call the humanity virtue – “interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others” (p. 29).

We know from Positive Psychology research that using your Signature Strengths every day in all domains of your life, including work, correlates with greater happiness and satisfaction (Seligman, 2002, p. 161).
That’s why I ask executives to complete the VIA when they first enter into a coaching engagement – to create greater awareness of their strengths, which are often overlooked and taken for granted.

Within the last month two executives at two different companies had Capacity to Love and Be Loved among their top five strengths. Both men were not surprised by the identification of this strength in their top five and found the questionnaire and subsequent dialog validating. They both shared stories of how Capacity to Love and Be Loved shows up in their lives – with their spouse, children, family and friends. However, only one of the executives could readily see how he applies this strength in his work environment. “It’s in the deep connections I make with employees,” he explained.

For the other executive, Capacity to Love and Be Loved was the only strength he had difficulty comprehending how it could possibly be applied to the workplace. His assignment was to ponder this inquiry before we meet again: How might you use the strength of Capacity to Love and Be Loved not only at home, but at work, too?

From my experience the “L” word is rarely used in the workplace. Some may say they love their work; some may say they love their customers; but rarely do I hear “I love my employees, co-workers, colleagues or boss”.

Imagine what the world of work might be like if more people demonstrated the Capacity to Love and Be Loved strength?…

  • Rather than feeling taken for granted, employees might feel truly appreciated.
  • Rather than feeling isolated, employees might feel more connected to each other.
  • Rather than focusing on one’s functional silo, employees might be more collaborative.
  • Rather than viewing co-workers as enemies or competitors, employees might view each other as friends.

Considering that Americans spend more time with their colleagues at work than they do with their families, imagine the impact a work environment like this would have on an individual’s well-being. Also imagine the impact a work environment like this would have on employee engagement and ultimately productivity. One thing we know from Gallup research (Rath, 2004, p. 95) is “people with best friends at work have better safety records, receive higher customer satisfaction scores, and increase workplace productivity.” One way to build these friendships is to bring more of the Capacity to Love and Be Loved strength to the workplace.

Positive Psychology research has also found that Love is one of five character strengths (the others are: Gratitude, Hope, Zest and Curiosity) that “are robustly associated with life satisfaction as well as work satisfaction across a range of occupation types, from unskilled laborer to CEO” (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). Even more recent research into the study of character strengths of a unique population – cadets at the US Military Academy – has found that “love predicts accomplishments as a leader” (Peterson & Park, p. 1151).

So, if Capacity to Love and Be Loved is one of your strengths, go ahead, be bold – give yourself permission to really live your strength not just at home, but at work too, and notice what happens when you do. Need some help? Try this simple exercise:

Step 1 Identification: People with this strength are likely to agree with the statement “There is someone whose happiness matters as much to me as my own” (Peterson & Seligman, 2006, p. 305). Identify at least one person you work with that fits this description.
Step 2 Reflect: Ask yourself “What’s one thing I could do or say that would demonstrate how I genuinely feel about him or her?”
Step 3 Act: Act on the above intention. Notice how expressing your Capacity to Love and Be Loved strength makes you feel and the impact it has on the other person.

If Capacity to Love and Be Loved is not one of your strengths, consider cultivating it by trying the same exercise described above. Too much of a stretch for you? Try this instead: Simply ask yourself before your next one-on-one meeting with a coworker or employee: If I really loved this person, how would I be with them? Again, notice what happens when you do.

Capacity to Love and Be Loved is my number one Signature Strength. I must admit, not only do I love my work, but I can honestly say I love most of my clients and colleagues. I love using the “L” word in business.
Happy Valentine's Day



Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. (2004). Strengths of character and well being. Journal of Science and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.

Peterson, C. & Park, N. (2006). Character strengths in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 1149-1154.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rath, T. (2004). How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life New York: Gallup Press.

Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

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David Zinger 14 February 2008 - 8:34 pm


I appreciated you focus on the strength of to loved and be loved. That is my oldest sons #1 signature strength and I coach him to let it be expressed in who he is and what he does.

What the “L”? Keep loving what you do and that makes such a big difference in engagement and work, for you and those around you.

My number 1 strength is humor and playfulness yet I now that often the humor I voice and share with others is just a playful way of expressing love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Charlene Glidden 15 February 2008 - 7:15 am

I too have this strength as one of my signature strengths and find the impact it can have for an employee to truly feel – I care about their well being and their lives. They sense this and it drives loyalty to our company. As Gallup’s poll shows – employees leave managers, not companies. We all have a chance to make a meaningful impact on our employees lives and in turn our own. Thanks Margaret – I’ve personally experienced the L word working with you and I can honestly say it’s changed my life!

Margaret Greenberg 15 February 2008 - 10:02 am

David/Charlene – thank you both for sharing your support of using the “L” word – in work, in relationships, in life. Ben Franklin said “The noblest question in the world is: What good may I do in it?” You both are having a positive impact – on your children, employees, and clients.

Kathryn Britton 15 February 2008 - 11:44 am

Ah Margaret,

Now I know why you selected the 14th of the month for your day to contribute to PPND.

It’s so that you can write about love on Valentine’s Day every year!

Here’s an interesting contrast that you allude to in your article.

Martin Seligman told us in a MAPP class that the Navy rank-ordered character strengths – officers & seamen – in terms of importance to the Navy. Capacity to Love and be Loved was 21 in their ranking. (I only have class notes about this, so I don’t know how it was done.)

Capacity to love and be loved has been found to be the strongest predictor of leadership at West Point.

Seligman also told us the Navy selected the top 16 out of the 24 character strengths to use with character education. So Capacity to Love and Be Love wasn’t included in the net.

That was an informal class communication, so it may or may not still be true. But I found it a very interesting contrast.

And, like you, Capacity to Love and be Loved comes out on top of my character strength list.


Jeff Dustin 15 February 2008 - 11:48 am

I finished 5 long years in the Navy and I don’t recall the Love flowing down the chain of command. Maybe I was on the wrong boat?

Kathryn Britton 15 February 2008 - 12:03 pm


Here’s the exact paragraph from the Peterson and Park paper:

“* We also have some hints that strengths of humanity contribute in particular to satisfaction with work that explicitly involves other people, like teaching or sales. Along these lines, in our study of cadets, we are learning that the strength of love predicts accomplishments as a leader. And in a study of teachers, we found that their social and emotional intelligence was associated with performance gains over the academic year on the part of their students.” p. 1151.

So maybe you weren’t privileged to have leaders with the kind of accomplishments they were studying …


Jeff Dustin 15 February 2008 - 3:30 pm


Yes, I have no doubt that love is a key to leading well. I just wish that practice would catch up with theory…isn’t that true everywhere?

Sheila Feeman 15 February 2008 - 5:56 pm

Identify, reflect, act…how simple and how impactful! Those three powerful words can be used in most any situation. It reminds me of a quote I heard recently, “every spectacular achievement is preceeded by unspectacular preparation.” This exercise is simple AND spectacular. Interesting observations; as you’ve so beautifully articulated, there are so many ways to utilize and experience the “L” word…nice job!

Love You,

Timothy So 18 February 2008 - 2:18 pm

Thank you for your incredible article Margaret! I enjoyed reading it so much.

I must say if everyone in workplace is like you and ‘love most of the clients and colleagues’, a magnificent working environment would be created effortlessly!

Best, T


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