Greek Love in the workplace: “phila”, “eros” and “Agape”

Chapter 1, Pages 3-4 in “Lead With Love” by Gerry Czarencki

 Love. In order to delve more deeply into this word, we actually need to look into some history, in particular, Greek and Hawaiian history. Let’s start with the Greeks. What does the word love mean, especially for us in this context? The idea of love having a place in the workplace may be disorienting, especially if you’re thinking of the kind of love the Greeks called “eros,” what we know as sexual or erotic love. Obviously, eros is not the appropriate type of love for leaders to practice in the workplace. Indeed, inappropriate sexual relationships with a coworker—or worse, a subordinate—hold the potential for tragedy for all concerned. The Greeks also used the word philia, which defined another type of love—the love that we have for family. When William Penn first settled in the New World, he named his first and most important city Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love.” The Greek word philia was at the heart of the name of his new city. He dreamed Philadelphia would be a city where people would treat each other as brothers.

The concept of brotherly love, or love of family, is a warm and sensitive type of love. It avoids the erotic or sexual aspects of eros, but goes well beyond friendship. The Greeks, and much of Western civilization, believe the bond between family members, in general, far exceeds that of any other relationship. Most of us would agree that our relationships with our family members are strong and critical elements of our own personal development.

 This type of unconditional love has great emotional and spiritual appeal. Unfortunately, leaders cannot be this emotionally tied to those for whom leadership is their duty. In many ways, the unconditional nature of this type of love can be more damaging than helpful to a leader. Leaders of organizations, such as boards of directors, have a responsibility to be judgmental. Also, they must be focused on an organization’s progress toward and achievement of goals and objectives. Whether you are a non-executive chair of a religious college board, a development committee chair of a non-profit organization, a council member representing your constituents in a city government, or the chair of an audit committee for a huge public corporation, you have a duty to your group, and to your constituents, to achieve goals.

 As good as unconditional love may feel in any of those settings, any team member who is not pulling in the same direction is a potential risk to the objectives. You must be prepared to focus on achievement, in many cases to the detriment of an obstructing individual. Brotherly love probably will not help you take the actions necessary to persist on the course to goal alignment and achievement. Indeed, if your affection is so strong that it supersedes your duty to the mission of your organization, it may hinder your effectiveness.

So, let’s move on to the third Greek word for love, agape. This word reflects the notion that we, as members of the human species, have a special duty to love other members of the species. This love for humankind is the form of love that drives activists to support elimination of the death penalty, causes philanthropists to give vast sums to charity, inspires caring people to volunteer in third world countries, and leads people to help those affected by disasters. We all have that altruistic part of us that wants to give to society or at least to others in need. This is agape, the fine art—and even emotion—of loving people as members of humanity. It means we have a sensitivity to them that exceeds being polite. It means we pay attention to them, beyond just keeping them from being angry with us. It means helping them just because they are people—not necessarily because they are nice people— and helping them even when they find accepting help difficult. It means telling them bad news with sensitivity. It means not being brutally frank and blunt. In short, it means being aware of their needs, feelings, and difficulties. This type of caring is discussed in many ways by many authors. John Maxwell says it very explicitly: “Effective Leaders know that you must have to touch people’s hearts before you ask them for a hand. That is the Law of Connection. All great communicators recognize this truth and act on it almost instinctively. You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion. The heart comes before the head.”

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