Exploring Love as a Need in the Context of Leadership & Workplace Wellbeing

Written by Guy Reichard

December 19, 2022

Love Matters. Even if you don’t call it Love.

Love is the term I give to the force and impulse to appreciate and nurture life, within ourselves and beyond as if there is no distinction or separation between oneself and literally everything else in the universe.

Love, this force and what it sponsors within us, is accompanied by sensations and emotions. Ones that feel good. Ones that sponsor joy, appreciation, connection, compassion, and urges to want to benefit others, to be open and to be nurturing and kind.

To me, this force itself seems to be in inverse relationship with what we call, Fear, capital F intended. It is often suggested that Fear is the absence or opposite of Love.

Fear is also a force. In our human/animal bodies, Fear is accompanied by sensations and emotions that seem to do the exact opposite of love. Rage, anxiety, guilt and shame are with us frequently. They don’t feel good and they are accompanied with urges to protect ourselves and what we need and what we love.

“Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects it.” ~ Valerie Kaur

Fear and Trauma seem to be the biggest blocks to Love. Feeling safe in our bodies is a prerequisite for being in a loving state, and having full access to our whole selves (Safe = Self = Love). Thus, we can also say that Fear and Trauma block us from being our whole, loving, authentic selves.

Fortunately, we’ve been gifted the capacities to be aware of ourselves, and to choose and enact our will. We can change our state of being at any time, but it takes work. Sometimes a lot of work, and many have said that Love is Work.

Unfortunately, most of us get by in life without much awareness and Self Leadership to choose and shape our states of being and how we are responding to Fear.

We humans are social animals and being living things, this comes with certain needs built-in. Needs are non-negotiable. We must get them met in some bare minimum way or else we don’t survive – otherwise they wouldn’t be called needs, they’d be nice-to-haves.

How we get our needs met, as humans, in the 21st century is a far cry from how we got them met as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, as well as most primate and mammals that are still with us today who can show us a thing or two about love.

Watch this for about 40-50 seconds and notice what happens inside you:
Mahale & Her Baby

Love is a Need

Love is a human need, like the needs for safety & security, belonging & mattering, esteem & self worth. For a time in our lives, it is almost as crucial as our physiological needs for air, water, food and warmth. Without love, attunement, care, and physical touch in our earliest years, the brain won’t develop properly leading to severe problems throughout life.

We are incredible creatures – we can exist with poor levels of our fundamental needs. We can breathe toxic air (think cigarettes or pollution), drink all sorts of unhealthy liquids instead of water, eat unhealthy processed foods, get by on little sleep, and subsist in unhealthy relationships and work environments. We get by – we survive but we don’t flourish and thrive.

When any of our basic needs is threatened – in short supply or blocked – our bodies respond with internal pressure called stress and a response geared to help us survive. Some manner of Fight, Flight, Freeze, Faint or Fawn.

Now think about the relief we experience when a need once threatened gets met. The happiness, the exhilaration, the quieting of all the tension inside, for a little while.

Love is the same. Not only to be loved but to give love – to be in a loving state of being. We seem to get by and survive in our adult years without all that much of it but do not think that we aren’t in a chronic stress response as a result. It is a drain on our wellbeing. As such, we aren’t at peak performance, we’re impaired, our full potential diminished and out of reach.

Think about our performance at work. How can we perform at our best individually, and within teams and with clients, if we’re in a chronic stress response? We don’t but we try to do the best we can for as long as we can.

David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute coined the acronym and model SCARF within the field of Change Management, which brings attention to some of our needs. I’m bringing this in, not because Rock discusses Love but to offer some legitimacy to what I’ve shared above and will share below with respect to our Social Needs.

SCARF involves five domains of human social experience – how we relate to ourselves and each other. “Much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward, and Social needs are treated in the brain in much of the same way as our need for food and water.

SCARF stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. Here is a link to an original paper: LINK. If such social needs are threatened, we’ll have a stress response and we are wired to do much more to avoid threats than we will do to achieve reward.

And what happens within us when we aren’t feeling safe, when we experience a threat to our social needs? Here’s a snippet from the article:

Firstly, when a human being senses a threat, resources available for overall executive functions in the prefrontal cortex decrease. There is a strong negative correlation between the amount of threat activation, and the resources available for the prefrontal cortex (Arnsten, 1998). The result is literally less oxygen and glucose available for the brain functions involved in working memory, which impacts linear, conscious processing. When feeling threatened by one’s boss, it is harder to find smart answers because of diminished cognitive resources.

 

Secondly, when threatened, the increased overall activation in the brain inhibits people from perceiving the more subtle signals required for solving non-linear problems, involved in the insight or ‘aha!” experience (Subramaniam et al, 2007).

 

Thirdly, with the amygdala activated, the tendency is to generalize more, which increases the likelihood of accidental connections. There is a tendency to err on the safe side, shrinking from opportunities, as they are perceived to be more dangerous. People become more likely to react defensively to stimuli. Small stressors become more likely to be perceived as large stressors (Phelps, 2006). When the boss appears threatening, perhaps they just do not smile that day, suddenly a whole meeting can appear threatening and the tendency can be to avoid taking risks.

“Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork… People who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another­ were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.” ~ HBR – Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill

Why am I writing this article now – and where am I going with this?

I attended a webinar about Leadership and Love with organizational consultant and coach Helena Clayton. She’s done research about our current and future workplaces, seeking answers to questions like, “what part does love play in leadership? And If love was at the heart of leadership, what might be possible?” And many more interesting questions.

I was fascinated by the work she presented and read her research paper – which you can find here, and I do highly recommend reading it and following her work.

Some of the questions she asked in interviews with senior leaders:

  • How important is love in the workplace?
    “94.4% of respondents felt that love at work was either very important (47.2%) or important (47.2%)”
  • What would it be like if love were present?
    Responses ranged from “I’d be the best version of myself” to “more trust, more sharing, more giving” to “the challenges we face as a human race require a connection to something deeper and real and in our hearts for new responses to emerge”
  • How comfortable are you talking about love at work?
    “30.2% said they felt either very uncomfortable (5.5%) or uncomfortable (24.7%) talking about love at work.” 23.3% were in the middle, 34.2% were comfortable and only 12.3% were very comfortable.
  • In response to what blocks you from leading from love, some responses included: “judging that others will be dismissive” and “afraid to reveal my true self” and “my fear of what love demands of me”.

Most of us believe love is important and a high percentage of us are uncomfortable talking about it in professional circles. Love is a need but also a threat?

All this got me thinking, a lot.

Choosing Love

It brought me back to my humble beginnings in the world of personal development, when after a few major AHAs and shifts in consciousness, I took on the mantra and motto to choose love. To choose Love over Fear in as many situations and moments as I could. This was not an easy commitment to honor, having lived in anxiety and fear for much of my life, and shrinking back from authentically showing up. Love was obscured and hard to reach. But I tried, and it made all the difference.

The growth work I got into is what most stiff, businessy people would call new-age, warm and fuzzy fluff! (I say this in jest because I’ve been a stiff, businessy person.)

It’s the stuff that saved my life so I don’t ever call it fluff, and now I chuckle inside when others do, because I learn in that moment that they aren’t as smart as they think they are, and they’re most likely scared shitless to open their hearts and let themselves be vulnerable for a minute. And, I don’t blame them either.

Interestingly enough, all that personal development work led me back to my roots in psychology and the desire to become a coach. When I got into coaching, and working with professionals, I noticed the prevalence of this attitude towards love, and towards vulnerability. People are afraid of it. They shy away from it like one shrinks to avoid the predatory gaze of the bullies in the yard.

At one point, several years into coaching, I came up with the idea for this platform called HeartRich. I wanted to help people leverage the powers of our loving hearts:

  • to help us regulate ourselves and foster heart rich states of being within and between people,
  • to cultivate a deep empathic & compassionate presence,
  • to build psychophysiological resilience,
  • to kindle courage and reclaim the natural confidence that comes when we feel safe,
  • to carefully choose and prioritize one’s values from the heart, and to honor them in our daily lives, and;
  • to help people be who they really are moment to moment, living and leading with greater presence, wisdom, purpose and of course, love.

Even in this safe space, it takes time for many of my clients to open up and get in touch with their Authentic Self, and what life can feel like underneath what may be decades of hardening.

When we live in fear, under chronic (often lifelong) stress, and get used to it, it seems like our hearts close and harden. The full extent of love can’t get in or out.

The same methods or strategies we learned to use to protect ourselves from harm and threat, if used too long, become maladaptive. They ultimately block what might be the most enriching and beneficial elements and experiences we need.

Eventually, sadly, I fell out of love with love for a while. It seems it needs to be fed regularly 😊

It’s not so much that I stopped Choosing Love but I grew tired of the fear-based resistance to it, especially in the business circles.

“Where love is, what can be wanting?
Where it is not, what can possibly be profitable?”
~ St. Augustine

But a series of events over the past while have brought me back. And, sparked an idea – to check out what’s true now, and to try again.

So, I started with a simple poll… I asked my network on LinkedIn:

“Do you believe there is a need for love in leadership/business?”

Only 19 people answered. 15 said YES, 4 said NO.

I offered no definitions to the words Need, Love, or Leadership.

Everyone was surely coming from their own histories and relationships with those terms. Different definitions and different sets of experiences in their lives with regard to love, leadership and business in general.

Not for a minute (but maybe for a few seconds) did I truly believe those who said NO didn’t care about love in their lives, though that is possible. They simply answered that they didn’t believe it was a Need in leadership or in business.

What a loss though, I thought. Forfeiting greater wellbeing, connection, clarity, creativity, and the expression of our potential.

“Humans have an innate need to love. That need is present to some degree in all kinds of human endeavor, although it can be obscured or repressed by fear to the point where it is difficult to discern the loving impulse behind a particular activity.” ~ Roger Harrison – Accessing the Power of Love in the Workplace

“Love” is a not word you often hear uttered in office hallways or conference rooms. And yet, it has a strong influence on workplace outcomes. The more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are. (Note: Here we’re talking about “companionate love” which is far less intense than romantic love. Companionate love is based on warmth, affection, and connection rather than passion). It may not be surprising that those who perceive greater affection and caring from their colleagues perform better, but few managers focus on building an emotional culture. That’s a mistake.” ~ HBR – Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill

“When love is part of an organization’s framework, employees and customers feel genuinely valued. Employees are more loyal, innovative, creative, and inspired. They are then more likely, in a meaningful and sustainable way over time, to produce products, services, and experiences that their customers will love. As a result, customers reciprocate with their loyalty, referrals, and, of course, money. Healthy employee relationships and customer retention, combined with growth and abundance associated with love-based decisions, make for an overall healthy and successful business.” ~ Steve Farber, Love is Just Damn Good Business

See, when we are in the Social Engagement System, the nervous system state when we are feeling Safe & Social, as opposed to the stress response which catalyzes some degree of Fight, Flight, Freeze, Faint or Fawn, we are the embodiment of Love and our have unfettered access to our fullest potential, moment to moment. (For more information on the Social Engagement System from Polyvagal Theory, see The Heart of Resilience)

We are naturally social and caring beings when we’re feeling safe. We are also naturally aggressive and protective beings when we’re not feeling safe.

When we’re scared and stressed, even if we don’t realize it, because we’ve gotten so used to it, we are living from our protective selves – geared to survive – but losing out on the many benefits of being in a state of safety and connection, which include:

  • Connectedness
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Care
  • Curiosity
  • Clarity
  • Creativity
  • Confidence

 

  • Presence
  • Playfulness
  • Persistence
  • Perspective
  • Purpose
  • Productive

 

 

  • Greater Immunity
  • Longer Life Expectancy
  • Greater Heart Health
  • Lower Rates of Depression & Anxiety
  • Reduces Blood Pressure
  • Reduces Stress Levels
  • Eases Pain
  • Improves Sleep
Back to the Poll

Some responses came in rather quickly, and I felt some joy when the YESes started coming in. The opposite when the first NO came.

I was surprised when one of my colleagues remarked that I had posed a Provocative Question. Love is provocative? The very thing that can create a state of safety within us, and between us, has turned into something that gets our defenses up.

Another colleague said YES to compassion but maybe Love was too strong a word. Maybe it is, and it doesn’t actually matter if we call it Love.

Even though people are uncomfortable talking about Love, and many might believe it has no place in the world of work, I think most of these people are bringing some aspects of Love to work every day. I believe their understanding of Love may need some upgrading, and we could all use some reskilling. In my books, if you are saying YES to compassion and kindness, you are saying YES to Love.

Some may intentionally or protectively choose to leave their hearts at home, feeling that work does not deserve to have all of them. This is made clear in the work cited above by Helena Clayton.

Some may find their workplaces so toxic, that they cannot fathom anyone getting by wearing their heart on their sleeve, which is not what I’m suggesting. Nor am I suggesting company-wide hug-fests or any overt displays of affection. But things like Respect, Fairness, Inclusion, Equality are indeed required.

I’m glad that we are hearing a lot about Psychological and Emotional Safety, as well as honoring Diversity and being Inclusive. What else but Love can foster solutions to those challenges.

If not Love, then what? Artificial Intelligence? Don’t think so.

Love, at a minimum, can be seen as respecting and appreciating the human needs of everyone involved in the business – leaders, employees, customers, the world at large. See the US Surgeon General’s Workplace Wellbeing Framework as an example. The framework aims to meet many needs, including connecting, belonging, community, mattering and dignity.

I’ve been exploring a slew of resources, and have seen that many esteemed professionals have been caring about Love in the context of Work and Leadership for some time. This brings a smile to my heart and I can say, helps me feel a bit more courageous now to talk about this.

It doesn’t take a lot to make us shrink in fear, to worry what others will think, to fear being vulnerable. As said above, Fear is the biggest block to Love. If our environment, including the people in it don’t help us feel safe, we’ll protect ourselves because that’s unfortunately what many of us have learned to do instead of seeking safety and connection in others. But once someone is courageous enough to come from Love – it has the incredible power of opening others’ hearts and minds. Why? Because people feel safe with loving people. When that happens, we can naturally connect with each other and reinforce the benefits of Love – which undoubtedly are going to help us express our fullest potential in the world and in the context of work.

I’m committing to learning more about Love and Leadership and bringing more Love into the world through my work. I will be sharing more about Love, Leadership and Wellbeing in the year ahead.

Who’s with me?

Crickets…

Let me leave you with a few quotes & links to resources that I hope inspire you and challenge you to bring more Love into your world and your workplace. It all starts within you by transforming the blocks to Love and Wellbeing.

“Love is bold and risky and revolutionary – which is exactly what’s needed for the human future of our work. Tough times call for radical approaches.” ~ Helena Clayton

“When leaders inspire their employees through love, they help to build more productive and effective organizations.” ~ Rodney Ferris

“Ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question — Does this path have a heart? . . .  If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use.” ~ Carlos Castaneda

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” ~ William Shakespeare

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

“When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on. When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” ~ Dalai Lama

Resources: Books, Articles, Videos

 

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