How to be Good at Work
I have had the privilege of knowing Professor Roger Steare for a number of years; he describes himself as The Corporate Philosopher. His professorship is at CASS Business School. I admire his work about corporate ethics and values. It is more important today than when it was started.
He is producing a “live-book” called “How to be Good at Work”. Roger wrote the original set of chapters. Subsequently, through a “commons approach”, other people have contributed additional articles and commentary. As a result of some general remarks I shared with Roger, he asked me to produce a more specific article , which I did. While he liked the content, my style was too different to his and other contributors for him to accept it. I didn’t have the time or, admittedly, the inclination to change it. However, in view of Roger’s positive feedback about the content of my commentary, I thought I would use this Blog to push it out into the public domain. The topic of love seems fitting for the week before Christmas.
Hopefully, having read my piece, it will prompt you to look at “How to be Good at Work”, contact Roger and expand the conversation he has started.
How to be Good at Work: Love
Recently, I re-read Roger’s excellent live-book, “How to be Good at Work”. Chapter 2 is entitled, “Love”. While doing so, the song “People in Love” by 10cc (for younger readers, a highly regarded 1970s’ “rock ballad” band) was played on the radio. The song includes these two lines:
People in love play silly games
Running in circles and everywhere
This caused me to think more deeply about what was said in Chapter 2.
Does “love” belong in the workplace?
Does it make a positive contribution?
There are videos on YouTube of Steve Ballmer during his tenure as CEO of Microsoft racing across a conference stage bellowing, “I lurve this company!”. Yet, he left his “love”. According to an interview with Wall Street Journal , he felt he couldn’t move the company at the pace his co-Directors wanted. John Thompson, Chair, said, “… the board didn’t push Steve to step down, but we were pushing him damn hard to go faster.” (See footnote 1.)
What happened? Did Ballmer feel unloved so he “broke off” the relationship?
What do we mean by love? Stephen Fry has just published a book called “Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece”. This got me thinking about how those Greeks considered love. I discovered they describe seven kinds of love (see footnote 2) .
1. Eros: Love of the body
2. Philia: Love of the mind
3. Ludus: Playful love
4. Pragma: Longstanding love
5. Agape: Love of the soul
6. Philautia: Love of the self
7. Storge: Love of the child
In the twilight weeks of 2017, 24/7 media coverage continues concerning sexual harassment and abuse in entertainment, politics and business. Therefore, I suggest Eros has little, perhaps no place in the work-place as it concerns lust. Roger’s Chapter 4 concerns the law. Google “Dress code and sexual harassment”; countless results are generated. Why does lust continue to be portrayed so explicitly in advertising; sex still seems to sell an awful lot of staid artefacts, products and services?
“Passion” is a word that is used too easily and inappropriately. In my last article Indispensability passion and goodness on Trevor’s Blog site, particularly the embedded diagram), I mentioned Nitesh Gor’s splendid book, “The Dharma of Capitalism” (see footnote 3), and do so again here.
I am reluctant to use the word passion because, like the Greek god Janus, it has two faces. We disregard its dark side too readily. I now much prefer to talk about “goodness” rather than passion.
The second form of love, Philia, is a sincere and platonic display of love; two to three millennia ago, it was characterised as “brotherly love”. In contemporary times this phrase should, perhaps, be gender neutral as “sibling love”. Philia exists when people share the same values and dispositions with someone and those feelings are reciprocated. I recognise the merit of complementary values provided they concern “goodness”. However, I’d argue homogeneous natures do not contribute to group diversity. Heterogeneous natures are healthier.
Through one definitional lens, Ludus takes us into the shallow waters of the sexual harassment maelstrom because it concerns flirtation. Fundamentally, it concerns child-like fun and enjoyment. Does this have its role in the work-place?
Consider one of Tom Hanks’s earlier films, “Big”. The child in the adult body retains the childish mind whose creativity, inventiveness and free-spirited imagination is portrayed to be commercially advantageous to the business he worked for. Make believe? Yes, but also maybe not.
An article in the Economist (see footnote 4) reports research in the venture capitalist market, “A firm where a partner has an extra daughter rather than an extra son had a 2.9% higher chance that its deals would be a success. So, children, and females particularly, have a positive impact.”
This love is longstanding and enduring. It embodies the true commitment that comes from understanding, compromise and tolerance. But what is tolerated? Can this “love be blind” (see footnote 5) allowing very serious wrongdoings to be overlooked and countenanced?
How much Pragma love flowed around Enron, RBS and VW?
This is love for and of humanity; you give unconditionally. This form of love is evident in the mythology and laws of native tribes of North America, e.g. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” or, even more prophetically, the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy, “In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Our love should extend across the generations, both backwards to the older ones (we need to be more caring) and forwards to those yet to arrive on our fragile planet.
This love has two distinct styles. One concerns being selfish and hedonistic, seeking fame and wealth, narcissism. It is the heartbeat of contemporary celebrity culture, the bastard child of Harry Enfield’s 1980s comic creation, “Loadsamoney”. It is emphatic in the egotism of Trump.
Loving money is condemned in the Bible, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (see footnote 6).
From God to mammon; consider this remark by Bernie Ecclestone, the ex-Formula 1 supremo, “Business people really are not there to make money for themselves, it is just a means of keeping score. A sprinter tries to run the 100m quicker than the other fellow. It is the same for a businessman. At the end of the year, you can say: ‘I did well.’ Very rich people can’t spend their wealth. It is just a game.” (see footnote 7). In other words, I’ve got to out-earn you! Or, as the seagulls in Finding Nemo squawk, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Is there a toxic blend of love afflicting too many leaders of our firms and organisations, i.e. Ludus and this form of Philutia?
However, the other face of Philautia is much more positive and healthy. It concerns the love we give ourselves, the self-respect and self-esteem we possess. It isn’t arrogance or conceit, but it is the flame that ignites our ability to love others and to care for others. In late 2012, Jenni Russell wrote a column in The Times concerning the recruitment of nurses; she was a nurse before she became a journalist (see footnote 8). The acid test in her being selected to become a nurse concerned her caring nature rather than having a degree.
Lastly is Storge; the love parents naturally feel for their children. It’s based on natural feelings and effortless love. Storge is the love that knows forgiveness, acceptance and sacrifice. It is the one that makes you feel secure, comfortable and safe.
While work should not rely on parent / child relationships, surely there is some benefit from employees feeling secure, comfortable and safe? Is Storge assessed across a protracted procurement chain; for instance, are those garments sewn together with the thread of Storge?
Perhaps, one of best explanations of what constitutes love was made by Robin Williams’s character in the exceptional movie, Good Will Hunting . (The full narrative of his soliloquy about love can be found through the link provided at footnote 9.)
His character experienced love that was strong, sweet and intense. It probably isn’t going to help at work; it may slow you down like Ballmer. Roger quotes Steve Jobs in his chapter about love which, given all that has been said and written about Jobs’ domineering manner may implicitly endorse the wrong “brew” of love from the Greek’s seven ingredients.
What is the optimal ratio of ingredients? Apart from Eros, my test recipe for “work love” would be equal spoonfuls of Philia, Ludus (the childhood imagination variety), Pragma (remove the poisonous tendrils of “love is blind”), Agape, Philautia (eviscerate the poisonous organs – as you have to with Fugu fish) and Storge.
However, keep the goodness side of Eros as a side-dish to be enjoyed by two co-workers who happen to fall in love a la Good Will Hunting, as indeed did my wife and I.
- The WSJ interview is referred to in this article, https://www.pcworld.com/article/2063818/ballmer-wasnt-fired-from-microsoft-but-he-was-pushed.html
2. See https://thoughtcatalog.com/rania-naim/2016/02/the-7-kinds-of-love-and-how-they-can-help-you-define-yours-according-to-the-ancient-greeks/
3. Gor, N. (2012). The Dharma of Capitalism. Kogan Page.
4. See https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21729801-daughters-have-effect-hiring-policies-which-leads-greater-success-venture, published 30th September, 2017.
5. Shakespeare suggested so in Two Gentlemen of Verona
6. See 1 Timothy 6-10.
7. From interview with Matthew Syed, The Times, June 25th, 2013
8. Nurse Russell knows what’s killing the NHS, The Times, December 9th, 2012