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Build a Better Business with the ‘L’ Word
Alumna believes that love is a powerful asset in the business world.
by Becky Breining

“The most powerful force in business isn’t greed, fear or even the raw energy of unbridled competition. The most powerful force in business is love.”

If this statement sounds like New Age psychobabble, think again. They are the words of Tim Sanders, one of the highest-ranking Yahoo! executives. He holds the responsibility for creating millions of dollars in new revenue for the company.

Sanders’ viewpoint reflects the fact that the most innovative and progressive companies understand the central role emotions play in good management policies. They understand how people-centered policies improve the bottom line.

“Even in the digital era, when the Internet connects hundreds of millions of computers around the world, the power of love in business is rooted in the centrality of the human factor,” writes Sanders, coauthor of Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends (Crown Publishing Group, 2002). “The bottom line: If you don’t like certain people, it’s easier than ever to escape them. If you are a lousy person, it’s harder than ever to keep people around you. Hence, the power of love.”

Throughout the 1990s, business weathered total quality management, process re-engineering, and downsizing and rightsizing, just to name a few trends. With shifts and upheavals happening like the change of seasons, employees have borne the brunt of it all. No wonder so many feel bruised and “commoditized.”

Six years ago the Center for Creative Leadership, a research firm in Greensboro, N.C., found many reasons to explain why managers fail. At the top of the list of fatal flaws, however, were poor interpersonal skills and the inability to get along with both subordinates and superiors.

In a more recent survey conducted by the center, two distinguishing characteristics were found among leaders who were best at helping their organizations manage change. First, they were skilled in honest, proactive communication, and second, when they communicated, they listened well and demonstrated sensitivity.

Often I’ve been asked to help companies communicate in times of stress. I advise executives to begin by paying attention to their workers’ feelings. Initially uncomfortable, some later report that their sincere efforts to care about the emotional side of the staff equation were met with disbelief. “Listening is a conscious choice. It’s a primary skill of a good leader and a good manager,” says Michael Gault, information technology director at Raytheon Co., which teaches listening skills at its Dallas-based Raytheon Learning Institute.

We all know managers who are stuck in the past. They are the ones who lead by fear and intimidation, leveraging employees’ economic dependence to create obedience. Their overbearing management style pushes staff forward, creating a lot of drag and backwash in the process. Resentment mounts fast. “People are in a legitimate state of doubt — about galloping technology globalization, heightened competition and increased complexity,” says Warren Bennis, a business author and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the Marshall School of the University of Southern California. “They need someone to bounce ideas off of and to listen to their existential grousing.”

While the quality movement did wonders for improving products and services, it did very little to address the quality of our workplace relationships. Smart companies acknowledge emotion’s prominent place and get organized about harnessing it to create a market advantage.

Can higher consciousness be turned into a resource? You bet.

By moving our brain functions to their highest and best use, we remove the barriers to critical thinking. Problem-solving is enhanced when woven into a setting that is relaxed and amiable, where the varied perspectives of everyone are accepted, and the emotional climate is acknowledged — indeed, managed — to its highest output.

The things we learn in maturity seldom involve new information or hands-on skills. Managers who create an institutional ability to care for feelings can transform a company, most notably by creating a cadre of loyal employees.

The success or failure of a business depends on management’s ability to harness the willing participation and creativity of people. Leaders who love what they do and can share their vision and knowledge — while building positive, meaningful relationships — are the ones who create value whatever the economic climate may be.

Becky Breining (GJ89) is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. She is a Dallas-based freelance writer and employee communications consultant.


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