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January, 2017

This month’s ROLE MODELS© is a special piece from Graham Williams.  This piece plus 13 more will be combined into a digital pdf and released in early 2017 all for no cost.  It is a gift for you.

Table of Contents

An Elephant In The Office: The Business Case For Communities Of Love In Our Workplaces

Graham Williams

“Love, that thing we have great difficulty even describing, is the only truly real and lasting experience of life. It is the opposite of fear, the essence of relationships, the core of creativity, the grace of power, an intricate part of who we are”. Elisabeth Kϋbler-Ross, & David Kessler1

“We must study love. We must be able to teach it, to understand it, to predict it, or else the world is lost to hostility and suspicion”.  Abraham Maslow


200 years ago a fable by Russian author Ivan Krylov introduced a wonderful metaphor – an elephant in the room.2   It is something big.  So big that it fills the room.  It simply cannot be ignored.  It has great importance and potential value.  But incredibly, we fail to see it!   And if we do see it we refrain from talking about it. The metaphor accurately describes the possibility of workplace communities of love.


The Ancient Greeks distinguished between love of self, sexual passion, playful love, deep friendship, longstanding love and sacrificial, unconditional love for everyone. We can think of love as an isolated act, a feeling or emotion, a virtue (the highest), a state of being, or a power still directing the evolution of the universe


We have experienced a long era of business being single-mindedly focused on profit maximisation. Only recently have we begun acting in the area of sustainability/ regeneration in response to threats to the economy, environment and society. Even more recently we are realising that the human side of the business deserves urgent attention if these endeavours are to succeed.  A shift to: ‘use things, love people’.

June Singer, a giant in the world of analytical psychology, “In our concerns with counting and weighing and measuring, with precise descriptions and careful evaluation, we sometimes fail to recognise or give credit to values that do not fit these criteria. Or, when we do recognise that such values exist, we split them off from the consciousness of the marketplace and relegate them to the categories of religion or the arts”.3

The human side of business, including love – the highest virtue – the most positive human quality – deserves a lot more attention in our workplaces because:

  • The ‘whole person’ is physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual. Neuroscientist Rick Hanson points out that “being cared about was crucial to survival … and (mammals, primates, hominids, and humans) that did not care about being cared about did not pass on their genes”.4    So, “Love is a natural upwelling current inside us all. It doesn’t need to be pushed or pumped, it needs to be released”.5   The concept of loving others and giving unconditionally can be found in nearly every ethical and religious tradition down the ages.  Delio writes “We are born social and relational. We yearn to belong, to be part of a larger whole that includes not only friends and family, but neighbors, community, trees, flowers, sun, earth, stars. We are born of nature and are part of nature; that is, we are born into a web of life and are part of a web of life”.6       
  • The sick and parlous state of our habitats, resources, communities and livelihoods; the shocking numbers of people who are homeless, hungry, thirsty, displaced, abused and trafficked; the unethical and self-interested behaviour of many governments and corporations – all combine to make a compelling case for an infusion of love on an unprecedented scale.
  • Research is beginning to show that a culture of love enhances team dynamics, customer service, innovation, and performance on a triple-bottom-line basis. In a 16-month study of a large long-term-care facility on the East Coast, we found that workers in units with strong cultures of companionate love had lower absenteeism, less burnout, and greater teamwork and job satisfaction than their colleagues in other units. Employees also performed their work better, as demonstrated by more-satisfied patients, better patient moods, and fewer unnecessary trips to the emergency room. (Employees whose dispositions were positive to begin with received an extra performance boost from the culture). The families of patients in units with stronger cultures of companionate love reported higher satisfaction with the facility. These results show a powerful connection between emotional culture and business performance”.7   I believe that this finding applies outside of the health care sector as well.


In August BBC World News TV broadcast images of a man in Delhi who was knocked over by a vehicle. The driver stopped to have a quick look, and then travelled on. Witnesses and passers – by paid no heed to the man’s plight. After an hour, someone walked to where he lay and stole his cell phone. The man died, unattended. 

(There is a “Good Samaritan law” in India that sends the message that it’s OK to get involved, there is no reason to fear being intimidated by authorities, nor of getting caught up in red-tape. Clearly this was not enough to change the ‘bystander effect’ that was observed).8

Fear in many guises is also what drives dysfunctional, toxic, workplaces. It is perhaps the major barrier to love.   Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”. – 13th century Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. (I’ve heard Mother, now Saint Teresa talk to a packed audience in Cape Town and, eight centuries after Rumi, her message was the same).

Conversely, unconditional love invites the release of anxieties and worries and feeds our self-confidence, assurance, self-worth and significance. How we speak, listen, appreciate, support, uplift each other, tend to each other’s needs are important, loving behaviours and practices. When they become part of the workplace community culture, they drive out the fear that feeds dysfunction and toxicity.  Such behaviour soothes hearts, lifts spirits, builds resilience, and boosts performance.

50 years ago a professor at the University of Southern California, Leo Buscaglio, who became known as Dr Love, was bravely talking about just that – about our connectedness, our purpose, and that we can all learn to love. Love is a learned response, a learned emotion, a state we can attain, a force we can become. He talked about the power of love in action, of stripping away of all conditions, and of reaching our potential to share.9   

Organisations can tap into this wisdom. In The Virtuosa Organisation a number of chapters are devoted to workplace fears, and to infusing loving practices into workplaces.10


“PepsiCo, Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods Market, The Container Store, and Zappos all list love or caring among their corporate values”.7

Aptly, Southwest Airlines started operating out of Love Field Airport, Dallas, Texas and the no-hassles, fun, employees-are-family airline (affiliation valued over authority) – who exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives – practice what they preach: “America’s largest low-fare carrier, serving more Customers domestically than any other airline with a unique combination of low fares with no annoying fees, friendly Customer Service delivered by outstanding People (internal then external), safe and reliable operations, and an extraordinary corporate Culture that extends into the communities we serve”. They hire for character rather than skill and have long used the word love internally and in advertisements, they refer to themselves as the love airline, spread the love through their LUV initiative for over 40 years, posting a profit every year in a cut-throat, crisis-ridden industry using clever low-cost strategies, use only one type of aircraft, customer service paramount, but most of all focus on their internal culture which then spills over to all those they deal with.11

Southwest Airlines show care for their customers and employees (being committed to looking after their livelihood and well – being). They’ve been doing this for many years, so they’ve stood out as ‘the benchmark’. They support disaster response work, and recently launched LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose, a global sustainability initiative to upcycle 43 acres of used leather seat coverings into new products that will benefit communities by providing employment, skills training, and donated products.12  This project (used as an example) was developed following the Company’s Evolve program, a large-scale redesign of all 737-700 aircraft interiors, a portion of its now out of service 737-300 fleet, and is now standard on all new planes. The Evolve program replaced the leather seat covers and other interior elements with environmentally friendly materials.  (Through this redesign, Southwest reduced the weight of each aircraft by more than 600 pounds. What’s good for the environment can also be good for profit!) 13

Other organisations leading the way are:

Haiti Partners’ is a Christian NGO/ social entrepreneurial organisation doing in Haiti work similar to what Thich Nhat Hanh did in Vietnam many years ago.  Haiti is a few miles and a world away from Florida. The Haiti Partner’s “mission is to help Haitians change Haiti through education. We believe that the key to providing an education that inspires is love: love for people and love for life. We believe education rooted in love is transformative and that to do education rooted in love, we have to have an organization rooted in love” – John Engle, Co-director, Haiti Partners, Haiti 14

A creative, print and IT agency, they leverage people, products and profit as a force for good, and “believe that the expression of our ‘emotional culture’ (i.e. the compassion, care and love we show for one another) is even more important than our “cognitive culture” (i.e. living our purpose and values)” – Jay Wilkinson, Founder & CEO. Firespring, Lincoln, Nebraska.   One of their unique and appealing values is ‘We have each other’s back” which means helping a team member out of a pickle or going the extra mile for a client.15

A highlight of a visit I made to Boulder, Colorado a few years ago was to experience Vail Resorts. I can attest to their role model status of love from the inside out, “Love at Vail Resorts means creating incredible experiences for guests and our employees. Vail Resorts recognizes that cultivating the passion, connection and joy of employees has a direct effect on customer joy and happiness” – Jeff Klem, VP, Talent Management. Vail Resorts, Boulder, Colorado.16

Samantha Thomas, Executive Director, Dream Change, Inc. and organiser of the Love Summit business conference believes that the secret to introducing a culture of lovingkindness in workplaces is “… by beginning with the individual. Science shows us that we are in a happy state of mind, we are more likely to be compassionate, inclusive and embrace diversity. Therefore, any problems we face as an organization are rooted in each of its member’s wellbeing. If we want to create compassionate workplaces and businesses that do good in the world, we must first begin with the individual”.17

The second Love Summit takes place on October 12th, 2017 at LPK Brand Innovation Centre in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It is a a  TED-style event with interactive breakout sessions, where conference delegates share and learn about creating heart-centred business models that improve employee well-being, positively impacting customer and stakeholder relationships, and the planet. I asked Samantha for her most meaningful quote about showing love at work. She offered:

  • The secret is, if you can in life, work at what you love with people you love. It comes back at you. Love is something you can’t get rid of. If you give it to other people, you get it back. If you try to hold onto it, it disappears” – Warren Buffett
  • Business is about relationships. Money is simply a tool. Business is about relationships with everybody that we buy from, and sell to, and work with…and about our relationship with earth itself, and all the other species who live here with us. My business was really the way that I expressed my love of life, and that’s what made it a thing of beauty” – Judy Wicks, entrepreneur, author, speaker and mentor working to build a more compassionate, environmentally sustainable and locally based economy.18

Menlo Innovations LLC, an IT services company, has focused on joy as a value, a purpose, a description of their culture. They have become the pre-eminent role model for being both high-tech and high-touch.  CEO and Chief Storyteller Richard Sheridan believes that employees “want to have a lasting and valued effect on the world. They want to make their mark, not for the glory, but for the purpose of bringing delight or ending suffering”.  When I spoke to Richard he underlined Menlo’s emphasis on being other-oriented, an externally focused resolve to bring delight to clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.

During their journey Menlo Innovations have addressed the whole person:

  • Physical space – people friendly, comfortable, inviting, homey
  • Emotional, recognising that in many ways joy is the opposite of fear
  • Social, including unique ways of communicating, relating (pairs working together, sharing and focused on delighting the other. One computer: two people),
  • Intellectual concepts, design, development and implementations are cutting edge and flexible, and supported by physical, emotional and social initiatives, to delight clients
  • Spiritual, represented by deep joy (which of course connects causally to compassion, peace, love)

I asked Richard about how he measured joy. His response was that he could produce statistics, metrics and improvement-outcomes for the cynical and disbelieving, but essentially successes travel as anecdotes by word of mouth. We considered a burning candle. One might measure how long the candle lasts, its brightness, how often it flickers, the length of the shadows it casts on a wall, now hot it gets …… but ultimately what counts is recognising its beauty. In the same way, joy (and love) is felt.    

Even resumés are not used by Menlo for hiring interviews because they are essentially measuring and judging instruments. Instead potential new staff are assessed for their practical ability to promote the well -being and success of a working partner.

Bookshelves groan under the weight of so many “how I did it” books, and Richard Sheridan’s approach is refreshing and attractive: “I don’t assume what worked for me will work for you”. 19

The practice of love brings about inner peace and joy, a causal connection and because of their intrinsic relationship.

My hope is that in time to come every organization will appreciate that work is “for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying”.20   That their employees will experience being alive, intrinsically motivated, in the flow zone, be purposeful, and fully engaged.

The work of love is highly individual. As Leo Buscaglia points out: ”We seem to have few models to look toward. But the behaviors which seem to enhance love are consistent, observable and available for study. Fully functioning persons know that it must be mainly self-taught, and it is best learned through simply being vulnerable to love and by living in it as dedicated human beings eacg day of our lives”.21


There is no need to shout about initiatives from the rooftops.  Anthony de Mello used to tell this story:

A little girl spent all of the pocket money she had saved on a surprise gift for her mother. Mother was delighted. The daughter explained, “I bought it because you always work so hard and no one appreciates all that you do”.

“Why thank you” said the mother, “but you father works very hard too”.

Replied the little girl, “I know, but he never makes a fuss about it”.22

When organizations allow and encourage communities of love to emerge, word spreads powerfully and quickly.

During the second World War Ernest Gordon was an officer with the Scottish Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, captured and imprisoned, and forced by the Japanese to work on building the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai.  The story is told of a Japanese officer becoming so furious when a shovel was found to be missing that he threatened to kill the entire squadron if the shovel was not found. One man stepped forward to take responsibility for the lost shovel, and was beaten to death. At the next tool count there was no missing shovel. The previous count had been wrong.

The soldier had died in vain. But the deliberate sacrifice of an innocent soldier, an act of love to protect others, had a huge, positive impact on how the prisoners now related to each other. 23

Gordon, an agnostic, found himself in serious ill health and in the ‘Death Ward’, expected to die. Two other soldiers boiled rags and cleaned and massaged his frail and diseased body every day, and against all odds he survived. This too impacted positively on the spread of love within the camp.  In the process Gordon found his spirituality and calling, later becoming Dean of the Princeton University chapel. His two friends both died, one crucified by a Japanese guard two weeks before the war ended, and the other on a prisoner transfer ship that was sunk.

Infusing love into a workplace community makes that community a catalyst for changing its own culture and impacting on others. It fuels positive momentum. 

One translation of the Zulu word Ukhamba is a gourd or earthenware pot, a container from which we all drink and nourish ourselves, a symbol of unity and friendship.  In the office an Ukhamba culture is a container filled with hope, joy and love.   A container that never empties.  That implies feeding the whole person: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual.

Love is not something that we measure and manage. It happens. It results from what Leonard Cohen called “a revelation in the heart”.

(Readers who wish to explore this topic in more detail may obtain the full version of this article from the author –

1. Kϋbler-Ross, Elisabeth & Kessler, David Life Lessons: how our morality can teach us about life and living Simon & Schuster UK 2000

2. Ralston , W.R.S, M.A. (of the British Museum)  Krilof and His Fables. A transcription of the complete fourth edition translated by W.R.S Ralston   Cassell & Company Ltd (4th Edition) 1883 Kindle Edition

3. Singer, June The Power of Love to transform our lives and our world Nicolas-Hays, Inc. Maine 2000

4. Hansen, Rick Feel Cared About Just One Thing Newsletter, September 2016

5.Hansen, Rick  How do you love?  Just One Thing Newsletter, October, 2015

6. Delio, Ilia  The Unbearable Wholness of Being: God, evolution and the power of love  Orbis Books, NY  2013

7. Barsade, Sigal and O’Neill, Olivia A Manage Your Emotional Culture  HBR January/February 2016

8. BBC World News   Delhi Hit-And-Run Victim Robbed As He Lays Dying   1th August, 2016

9. Buscaglia, Leo F, Ph. D. Love:what life is all about  A Fawcett Columbine Book, Published by Ballantine Books  1972

10. Williams, Graham; Fox, Peter & Haarhoff, Dorian The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business   Knowledge Resources  2015

11.  Southwest Airlines : History

12. Southwest Airlines Project LoveSeat : repurpose with purpose 2014

13. Southwest Airlines Launches LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose  2014

14. Haiti Partners

15: FireSpring: a force for good

16. Vail Resorts

17. Dream Change, Inc. The Love Summit

18. Wicks, Judy

19.Sheridan, Richard Joy, Inc.: how we built a workplace people love  Portfolio/ Penguin  2013

20. Terkel, Studs Working: people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do The New Press  NY   1997

21. Buscaglia, Leo F. Ph.D. Personhood: the art of being fully human Fawcett Columbine  NY  1982

22. de Mello, Anthony The Prayer of the Frog Gujarat sahitya Prakash ANANd, India  1989

23. Gordon, Ernest Miracle on the River Kwai  Fontana Books/Harper Collins   1973 (Initially published as Through the Valley of the Kwai)

Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams

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