Management Matters: Make Love and Work

It should be no surprise. Science and technology are helping us understand how and why we do what we do—at a pretty deep level, too. This is especially true in the emerging field of neuroscience that studies our brain and the role it plays in our behavior.

The question is this: Is there a biological basis for the things we have always thought to be more spiritual in nature and belonging particularly to human beings? Things like altruism, empathy, and being sensitive to the feelings and needs of others. Some researchers call these qualities part of "social intelligence." I think they're better understood as various aspects of "friendship love." So the real question becomes: Are these high-quality, loving behaviors hardwired into our brains? Scientists now think the answer is probably yes. And why wouldn't they be? If your genes (and upbringing) drive most other behaviors, it makes sense that they would also drive things like generosity, cooperation, teamwork, and the like. Evidently we are wired to connect to others, because, like most human behaviors, these too have survival value for the whole human species. In addition, they provide some pleasure, another reason for their emergence. So things really are changing. It is not the strongest who survive in life nor the most intelligent, although they play a huge part in keeping the species sound. It is now fair to say that "survival of the nicest" is the new game in town.

This is especially true at work. Simply put, there is a neurological basis for the kinds of social interactions that improve others, don't give you a direct personal benefit, and at times may even cost you something. Evidently when one person acts altruistically toward another, this affects the brain chemistry of both parties—individual minds become fused into a single system. Imagine how powerful these softer qualities could be as the operating principles of business, since work is so largely based on human interactions.

To become an altruistic and empathic leader who operates on this richer level, you have to do certain things. This sets the mutuality in motion and provides benefits to all involved. What are the loving behaviors effective leaders need to develop to have this kind of impact on-the-job? They must show empathy, attunement, organizational awareness, influence, interest in developing others, inspiration, and teamwork. Are these qualities you're creating in yourself? If not, you have precious little chance of becoming a powerful leader. If you are, congratulations, because it is bosses who have the biggest responsibility to bring these behaviors to the workplace. They bear a new burden for putting employees in the optimal state of mind to work, by being positive and supportive.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. These are the soft behaviors I've discussed over and over again in this column that get hard results in your business. Now we're beginning to see why they work so well. They have a very strong biological basis. They're programmed into our brain, and they will not be denied. This last step demands that we redefine how we conduct business, because this is the part of life where we have so largely excluded "friendship love," much to the detriment of people and profits. So is promoting them a good way to go? I'm sure it is. After all, can you really do any better than having Mother Nature on your team?

Dr. Tom McDonald, a Ph.D. in psychology, speaks on "People Skills" needed for "Business Results."

Originally published Nov. 1, 2008

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