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Why love matters for the future of leadership

ROBERTA SFERRAZZO

SOMEONE could think that talking about “love” within organizations sounds a little strange.

But there is a question that lies behind this consideration: what are organizations? There is a debate between academics and practitioners on the single definition of “organization.” However, we know for sure that people constitute organizations, and this is the reason why we can talk about love also in the organizational context.


People continuously establish relational bonds among them. It is part of human nature. It is the essence of who we are. In claiming this, I am referring especially to the anthropological vision of the person provided by Antonio Genovesi (1713-1769), the founder of the Italian civil economy tradition in the eighteenth century. He employed the formula homo homini natura amicus in contrast to the Hobbessian homo homini lupus, to express the balance between the two forces that guide individuals, i.e., self-love and love of others.

Specifically, organizations are places where fraternal relations can arise insofar as leaders are able to carry on “agapic” behaviors. Agape is an ancient form of love, which differs from philia and eros due to its gift and gratuity dimensions. Christians translated it into “charity” to indicate that love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. But how should a leader act in order to satisfy agapic requirements? Based on an empirical study I conducted in a multinational company, leaders should adopt three main strategies to act in an agapic way.

First of all, they should be able to bring people together by promoting a collaborative and participative spirit within the organization. This could be achieved by creating an organizational culture based on sharing. The second step consists in the adoption of subsidiarity logic. In adopting these logics, leaders desire to hear both what their collaborators think and how they feel. Moreover, they do not manipulate collaborators through control practices. This lets people free to give and receive trust.

Finally, leaders should foster reciprocal learning within the company. This can mean enacting training mechanisms based on explaining the same thing more times. In addition, leaders should care about people’s lives by, for example, establishing formal and informal meetings with their collaborators. Informal meetings may include micro-relational rituals such as food rituals where people can talk about things outside of the work. These processes would reinforce relational bonds within the organization.

In a nutshell, in the company I analyzed, I saw such a strong spirit of gratuity emerging within the organization. I tried to represent it through the following poetry, “A Sharing Heart.” This spirit of gratuity arose, for example, in the sharing of power, belongings, knowledge, information and time. Therefore, this organization can be considered as an emblematic example showing how love, in its gift and gratuity dimensions, can manifest also within organizations.

A Sharing Heart

Who am I without You?
It doesn’t matter what we do
Maybe we can build a bridge
Together is better, don’t you think?

Here I can share whatever I want
Ideas, projects, what keeps me on
But if then something – ups – goes wrong
It doesn’t matter, let’s build upon!

Sharing is such a magic word
As you can say what you really want
And here your bosses listen to you
They let you free being close to you

Dare, try, throw yourself!
Experiment, propose, do your best!
Propose, ask, let’s do it together
We will find the solution we think is better!

It is so lovely to work here
And I’m so happy then to hear
Whatever someone wants to express
Feelings, knowledge… and all the rest!

Leaders are such teachers for us
They explain, explain… and go back to explain!
They care about our whole lives
Always when it’s time to cry…

A different spirit we breathe in these stores
A spirit of friendship that seems as love
Routines and rituals are not boring acts
If lived together with a sharing heart!

Roberta Sferrazzo is a PhD candidate in Sciences of Civil Economy at LUMSA University. Her research interests include: critical management studies, business ethics, leadership, and rituals in organizations and humanistic management. She is a member of the Management, Spirituality and Religion Interest Group at the Academy of Management where DLSU is actively represented. Email: sferrazzo.roberta@gmail.com.

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