What’s Love Got to Do With It?
by Marie Kane

No, this is not about Ike and Tina Turner or your high school sweetheart or the latest romance movie. There I was, working at my desk, when this question pounced on me. So I looked up “love” in the dictionary. The first definition was not about romance. It said “A deep, tender, feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.” Hmmmm. What might this have to do with corporate culture and values as one of the underpinnings of successful companies? How does it relate to effective leadership? What about teamwork?

Can you relate the definition above to feelings you’ve had for teammates on a great team or for a leader by whom you’d been inspired? We talk in the world of business about strategy and common purpose and other intellectual factors that influence success and we do so willingly, and so we should. But, when we begin to deal with relationships and trust, or with any other issues that are emotional, it gets less comfortable. Indeed, at home or work, when the “sticky stuff” shows up people often take refuge in avoidance or intellectualizing.

We sure don’t think “love” is a corporate word. But ask yourself this: What is the quality I experience in a person at work that I feel most warmly towards and with whom I feel most safe? Does your answer have more to do with his or her intellectual properties or with something else? Would you say that the best boss you ever had genuinely cared about you as a person, beyond your work contribution?

Is “love” in its broadest sense about caring what happens to others, caring how we affect others, or making an effort to make a positive contribution whose impact extends beyond the bottom line. Would our companies be more successful if their cultures more clearly supported and expected more “loving”, humane and caring attitudes and behaviors?

CEOs' Perspectives on "What’s love got to do with it"?

My heartfelt thanks to these CEO’s who so kindly shared their time and thoughts.

Hala Moddelmog, Former President, Church’s Chicken

“I definitely believe life in the corporate world is about more than the numbers. I feel like you are most effective when you love your job, when you are highly engaged and passionate about what you are doing and realize that what you do has an impact way beyond money – that you are a part of something that matters. Productivity is higher when people like and respect each other which is the aspect of love that I think applies in the business world.”

Steve Black, Former President and CEO, Pathway Communities

I think businesses whose products are sold direct to the end user have an opportunity to reach this level of relationship with customers, which would result in making the company more successful. However, they must be very careful if, for example, they define loving the customer as having the customer always 100% satisfied. There can be a tendency for people to take advantage of a company’s giving nature just like there can be in personal relationships. So the question is: How do you establish parameters for your people to use as guidelines and then how do you manage this somewhat subjective process so that the company lives up to its promises, but doesn’t give away the store? In my opinion it’s better for a company not to have a corporate philosophy or mission than to have one and not embrace it every day!

Bud Mingledorff, CEO, Mingledorff’s, Atlanta, GA

My thought is that love is the highest expression of trust. So love in a business setting relates to the attainment of trust. It takes many of the same things to have trust in your business relationships as it does to have love in your personal relationships. It starts with integrity and commitment and then you add appreciation and recognition and reinforcement and being there for them.

One of the things you would see happening in a company is the gift of discretionary effort. You know, your employees really do know what is required to keep their job and everything they do above that they award solely at their discretion. You can’t beat it out of them. If they are going to withhold it, they will. So, the measure that I look for is whether or not we are receiving the grant of discretionary effort. It’s evidence that the employees “love” the company, which is a result of the company “loving” its employees.

You also see the company communicating a lot with the employees, helping them grow and learn, helping them become more employable in the marketplace which creates the ultimate definition of job security for them because I can’t guarantee them jobs for life. We want to strive for the ideal in our relationships, to do the best we can to treat each other well. That is what love has to do with it.

Peter Stranger, Former Advertising Agency President/CEO

The answer to this provocative question is, both everything, and nothing. Business, in all its manifestations is only legitimate if it makes a profit. In the most basic terms, make a product and sell it for a profit and that’s all one needs to worry about. Love has no place.

“Business is business” and “It’s just business”, are almost clichés to be used when one individual is letting another down and seeking to explain that “it’s not personal”. From Hollywood to Wall Street to Detroit, there are stories of successful business leaders who trampled on their friends, partners, colleagues, customers and suppliers on their way to success, always defined by personal or corporate profit. Business is generally regarded as an arena where love, as well as spirit, humanity and compassion are relegated to the distant background, if they are considered at all.

“Love”, it is easy to argue, would be a beneficial ingredient to include in business, just because it seems right, because it is the opposite of “hate”, because it is positive not negative. But business will never absorb love just because it has positive connotations; it will be adopted only if it is seen to be good for business, good at improving profitability.

It is my contention, and the reason that I say that love has everything to do with business, that business is enhanced, meaning that long-term profitability is enhanced, with the introduction of “love”. This clearly requires a definition of “love” in this context. By “love” I mean kindness, consideration, positive feelings, clear interest in the other’s well being, generosity of spirit, compassion and that critical ingredient, fairness. When these qualities are introduced to any business people work harder, egos are brought under control, collaboration and cooperation blossom, productivity and creativity emerge. Long-term profitability is going to improve.

To the thoughts of the CEO’s above, I would add that the most effective and desirable workplace exhibits and supports healthy behaviors that create positive relationships, a great quality of life and the energy, both individual and collective, to get the job done superbly. This also applies at home, school or anywhere else that other people are part of our lives, whether fleetingly or for a lifetime. Such environments are love at its best and most productive.

Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. When was the last time I did something unexpectedly nice for someone at work – just because?

  2. When was the last time I thanked or recognized someone for a particular special effort for the company?

  3. Whom have I not thanked who has done something really nice or been especially helpful to me recently?

  4. Who goes the extra mile routinely ( for example working late or doing things technically not part of their job) that I take for granted?

  5. What one thing, within my power to do, could I do regularly to add “love” to my workplace?

Feeling ambitious? Extend the exercise to your family and friends! Want to “go for the gold”? Think of someone, at home or work, who is often underappreciated or unrecognized or actually disliked. Find a genuine reason to recognize them positively and do it wholeheartedly.

Based on your answers, pick at least one action to take and do it within the next 3 days.

For real payoff and personal satisfaction, make this a regular part of your work habits.


Marie Kane is President of Executive Evolution. Since 1981 Marie has provided executive consulting and coaching services to help clients develop and implement the right strategy, leverage the company's human talent, and create optimal culture and communication. Her services include leadership, executive, management and team development, strategic and operational planning, employee selection, retention and development, change management, conflict resolution and a variety of profiles and assessments, including 360’s. She is the author of the TEAMS assessment and creator of “The Leaders Way - Discovering the Inner Art of Leadership” program. You can reach Marie at 770-461-3820 or Marie@ExecutiveEvolution.com. Visit http://www.executiveevolution.com/ for additional insight.

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Copyright 2006 by Marie Kane. All rights reserved.

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