The business world is often cast in a bad light because of the shockingly unethical practices of companies out there that are destroying the world. But if businesses begin operating with love as a principle that drives operations, it’s highly likely that they will be the ones helping the world thrive in the increasingly divisive world we live in. Steve Farber gets into the importance of operating businesses from a place of love. There’s so much that can be done when love is poured into the actions and measures that businesses take. With love on your side, you can create a space that’s optimal for doing business well on top of creating a change in the world.
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Business: A Unifying Force In A Divisive World
I would like to pose a question to you. Can love make a business a unifying force in this divisive world that we live in? It should be obvious that given the name of this show, that it is a leading question. I believe the answer to that question is yes. Love can make a business a place where we can go to bring people together in a world where we are increasingly divided from each other, in a world that is increasingly contentious and increasingly polarized. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The political world is polarized. The religious world is polarized. We hold each other to task for not believing what we believe in because if you don’t believe what I believe, if you don’t see the truth the way I see the truth, you are quite simply a moron.
That’s what we’re doing to each other. At the same time as human beings, we always have this wonderful desire, generally speaking, to change the world. We want to do great things. We want to leave the world better than we found it. Where we have gone traditionally in order to take action that we think can change the world for the better is to three primary places or groups. We’ve gone to religion. We’ve gone to politics. We’ve gone to service organizations.
What happens in each of those arenas is we’re joining like-minded people. We’re like-minded around those religious ideas. We’re like-minded around the political point of view. We’re like-minded around a service mission. By virtue of that like-mindedness, we can create movement and momentum that can drive meaningful change because we’re all rowing in the same direction more or less. I want to suggest that there is a fourth option, religion, politics, service organizations and business. That is an option that is typically overlooked and undervalued when it comes to this idea of changing things for the better.
Therefore, the potential largely goes untapped. As a matter of fact, in some circles, business is considered a conflicting force to the people that are trying to do good. There are businesses that earn that reputation. They’re in it for themselves. They’re entirely profit-oriented. They don’t give a damn about the impact of their decisions. They don’t give a damn about the impact on the environment. They don’t care about what your experience is in working there because they’re paying you to get the job done and they’re there to make a buck.
I’m not saying those businesses don’t exist. They do. The problem is that those kinds of businesses that operate that way have painted the entire business world or encouraged us to paint the entire business world with one broad brush stroke that says business equals bad. Business destroys the world. That is way too broad a generalization and it is not true. It’s not true for you. It’s not true for me when we go to work. Let’s look at what we can do to leverage the positive experience of going to work and what business can potentially be in order to turn it into a place that unifies people in order to create great things, in order to leave the world a better place.
An Unstoppable Agency For Doing Good
All we have to do in order to make that happen is to add one powerful ingredient to the capitalistic mix. That one ingredient not only would create an unstoppable agency for doing good in the world, it would also make businesses more profitable. I bet you can guess what that surprising added ingredient is. It’s love. I’m not saying that we should elevate business above politics, religion and service groups. I’m not saying that we should do away with those. I hope I’m stating the obvious here. In fact, the underlying beliefs that move people toward those arenas are as essential as the institutions themselves.
What I am proposing is that we recognize their shortcomings and that we also recognize the potential strengths of the business. We can take full advantage of business as a force for positive change by operationalizing love as a business principle. Every institution has upsides and downsides. Some of the downsides of traditional are upsides when it comes to business. For example, we gravitate toward religion and politics, a particular political bent in part and I would say even in large part to connect with other people who are like-minded with us.
We might open our doors to everyone with an inclusive attitude and we might acknowledge or respect others who think differently. There was an unavoidable separation among ideological and/or theological lines when we gathered together in churches, temples, mosques or even political meetings. We’re there at the exclusion of people. This is increasingly the case in some philanthropic service groups, many of which are grounded in religious or political beliefs. Their cause and purpose are closely connected to a set of ideologies.By virtue of like-mindedness, people create movement and momentum that drive meaningful change. Click To Tweet
While large groups like that form to do good in support of a religion, a political party or a service organization, others who are not part of those groups are disconnected from those groups simply because they are of different ideologies or belief systems. Here’s the thing. The business has the potential to unite for positive change in the world by bringing together those people from those disparate worlds. This is already happening naturally. For starters, every living adult is part of the economy. We’re feeding it. We’re benefiting from it and in most cases, both.
We developed this survival instinct that compels us to work. We all have that in common. It doesn’t matter what our age or politics or faith or gender or nationality or cultural background, we are all in the business of doing business. Even if it’s the business of politics, religion or service work. We are compelled as human beings to go to work, to at the very least survive and ideally to thrive. It’s that doing business part that brings us together. This is especially true in the broader business world of commerce. We live in a global economy with an increasingly interconnected workforce.
Every aspect of the workforce, employee groups, customer bases and outside partners, all of them are more diverse than ever. Business requires that those people of different cultures, different nationalities and different beliefs work together inside their organizations and across various other organizations. Whereas in political, religious and some service groups, members tend to segregate into holy huddles where everyone thinks alike and that’s fine. That’s what those arenas are for.
More often than not, social media only adds to that siloed group think cultural element. Business often allows us to spend time together and get to know people as individuals. Here’s the thing, we come together in the office, whether it’s a real office or a virtual office and each of us continues to hold our different beliefs. You have one religion. I have another religion. You’re a Democrat. I’m a Republican. You’re Independent, I’m Libertarian or whatever it is. We continue to hold those different beliefs, but we go to work and we develop mutual respect by doing something simple, working side-by-side for a common business mission.
It is much harder to hate or disrespect someone when you’ve gotten to know them. When you’ve learned about their families, when you’ve heard about their struggles, when you’ve celebrated their successes, human being to human being and that relationship part. That’s what provides a bridge that allows us of disparate ideas to find common ground and then we take that empathy that we experience at work. We take it with us when we go back to our siloed groups, when we go to church, when we go to our political meetings and when we discuss our beliefs with others who may disagree.
In other words, we’re practicing at work to find common cause, common ground with people of differing ideas and we could take that out into the world at large because we’ve gotten better at discussing our beliefs with other people who may believe differently. At the very least, we can end up disagreeing respectfully. Wouldn’t that be a step forward nowadays? When people who look different, think differently and hold different beliefs find a common bond and pulled together in the same direction, the movement and the momentum is unstoppable. That’s how businesses can change the world.
I’ve seen this play out all over the world. For example, Rotary International is a service organization. It’s been around for a long time. Their reputation is a bunch of old white guys sitting around eating steak at their weekly meetings. It is far from the reality of what Rotary is. Rotary does amazing work all around the world. It focuses on bringing business leaders together. It unifies those business leaders in a common service cause like bringing water to people who need it, helping with earthquake recovery. There are many things they’ve done for many generations now.
I had the opportunity to speak at the Rotary International Convention in Germany. I got this hit. I got this take of all these people. There were 10,000 people in the room where I was speaking probably from 185 different countries or something along those lines. Every one of them represented this common desire and this common practice of serving their fellow human being. What you may not know about Rotary, unless you’re a Rotarian, is that they pride themselves on their diversity. They are not a religious organization. In fact, they draw people from all religions. This is what they’re proud of.Businesses need a higher purpose. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t matter what your religion is. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, gay, straight, conservative, liberal, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, it doesn’t matter. In fact, the more diverse, the better. It’s part of their value system. You bring those diverse people together and say, “Let’s fix something together.” Miraculous things happen and that’s why I love Rotary. Let’s go over to the world of business. I called Rotary a business. That’s wrong. They bring business people together. Let’s go into the world of business because that is what we’re focusing on here.
Let’s talk for a moment about American Greetings. It’s a 100-plus-year-old iconic company. They’re based in Ohio. They make greeting cards, wonderful art and ways for people to connect with each other. In fact, their mission statement is, “We create happiness, laughter and love,” which is a great mission statement and one that’s entirely appropriate for a greeting card company. That’s not a marketing phrase for them. That is what they strive to do internally as well.
After creating that particular credo, they got focused in on a complimentary purpose statement that went along with it, which is their purpose is to make the world a more thoughtful and caring place. We create happiness, laughter and love. We make the world a more thoughtful and caring place. Notice that neither of those statements talks about things like market share, profit or revenue. Although believe me, American Greetings also clearly strives to excel in those areas. When they’re not, that’s a problem because that’s what businesses focused on, but that is not their primary reason for existing.
If you take the sayings, the mission statements and the purpose statements and put them aside for a moment, what matters is how the company lives out those statements that it says are important. This is a company with more than 25,000 employees. It’s not perfect and people have different experiences working there. I will tell you, I have walked the halls of American Greetings headquarters, which they call their creative studios in the Cleveland area. I’ve studied their culture. I can tell you that AG employees strive to operationalize love and the way that they treat each other, in the cards that they produce and their marketing campaigns and in the way they give back to their community and to each other.
It is clear as a bell when you walk through the halls of their creative studios in Cleveland, a place that was built based on significant employee input. Employees gave input to everything from how much natural light there should be in the place and you see the words: happiness, laughter and love, painted beautifully on the hallway in the lobby area. When you walk into this place, that’s your first impression of this company. Everywhere you go and everything you experience in the physical environment reflects happiness, laughter and love. That creates a palpable vibe of togetherness.
How simple is that? How beautiful is that? I’m stating the obvious. It’s got nothing to do with the political persuasions or religious beliefs or the gender or ethnicity of anybody that works there. I’ve seen that unifying power of love in every kind of business. I’ve seen it in shipping companies. I’ve seen it in healthcare companies, engineering companies, collections agencies, manufacturing companies, retail companies and in about any industry that you can imagine. It doesn’t matter what kind of business we do.
We don’t have to be greeting card people to greet people and to make them feel welcome. That’s good news. In some ways, unfortunately, some businesses are also migrating toward that more divisive mentality. It’s like that divisiveness that we live in is working its way inside the halls of companies. For example, for some companies, I won’t name names, but they have a well-meaning push for social justice. Some businesses in pursuit of that social justice, sometimes they can blur the line between capitalism and activism. While the results of this can sometimes be positive and other times, they’re not right. I’m coming to work to earn a paycheck.
I’m not necessarily coming to work to subscribe to a particular form of activism. Yet in some businesses, the unspoken rule, it’s not going to say it in their employee manuals, is that you have to think and believe like us if you want to work with us or do business with us. Businesses need a higher purpose. Every business culture has to be joined by common values. There are always moral and ethical lines that should never be crossed. There also has to be room for diverse opinions and beliefs within those guidelines without any undue shaming of those who are different from the norm of that business population.
That’s what happens when you bring human beings together. It’s a messy process. There’s always going to be contention. There’s always going to be an argument. There’s always going to be a debate. Oftentimes, that’s a great thing to have, which brings me back to love as a business principle. In my a few decades of leadership coaching and consulting leaders around the world, I have found that in order to operationalize love in business, we need to pursue a simple mantra and a simple at the same time framework.
This is both a mantra and a framework in a way of acting. Here it is, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. Three are parts to that. In the first part, do what you love is the personal part. It’s about discovering what you’re meant to do and doing it. Finding that connection of your own heart to your work. The third part who love what you do is the reciprocity. It’s about reaping the business rewards that come from those who benefit from what you do. The middle part of the service of people is the moral context. That’s the ethical context and that’s the business context.
It calls for us to love others with our work, by serving others with our work. I’m doing what I love. I’m using that to serve you. If I do that well, we find that common ground that allows us to put political, religious and ideological differences aside. Here’s the punchline, our business benefits, we each personally benefit and the world benefits. We might not eradicate hate and division. Who knows we might? Let’s assume even for a moment that we might not eradicate hate and division, but operationalizing love in business can only make the world a better place. No matter the outcome, we’d certainly all be better off for trying.