Love in corporate America. An oxymoron? A new steamy reality show? For those of us who are jaded it seems impossible. Yet Kouzes & Posner, best-selling authors of the classic book “The Leadership Challenge” in their final chapter conclude “Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”
The authors cite the example of a retired U.S. Army General, John Stanford talking about how he developed great leaders: “The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people…I don’t know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is“.
A new book called “Love 2.0” by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson now adds the weight of science to these words. Dr. Fredrickson is a professor of psychology and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In my interview with her, we discussed surprising findings on how our body experiences love, why it is essential to leading organizations of today, and practices to bring more of these “micro-moments of connection” to our work lives.
Three Surprising Findings
Love, as experienced in the body, is micro-moments of connection Love is an emotion, a momentary state that arises to infuse our mind and body alike. Love is neither exclusive to our close family or friends, nor does it last forever as many a Disney princess movie leads us to believe. It is, however, renewable. It requires three factors: a sharing of positive emotions among two or more people, synchrony between their biochemistry (via mirror neurons in their brains), and a mutual desire for each other’s well-being.
Love broadens our brain capacity Research shows that during these moments of connection, we broaden our own mindsets, allowing for big picture thinking, and enabling our minds to make novel connections.
Love is actually a nutrient-like health behavior necessary for our human race to thrive. The fact that these positive emotions arise between two or more people and nourish the body functioning of each creates synergistic effects as explained by Dr. Fredrickson in her TEDx Talk. The vagus nerve (which connects our brains to our hearts and regulates the body’s inflammation, glucose, and heart rate, protecting the body from heart attacks) strengthens as the body experiences more of these micro-moments of connection. This in turn improves our capacity to connect with others, creating a virtuous cycle for ourselves and those we connect with.
Why Lead with Love?
These micro-moments of connection unlock team collaboration During these moments of connection, we become more flexible and attuned to others. This allows for being open to a diversity of viewpoints and approaches to problem solving. Research shows that a leader’s positive emotions are not only more contagious than anyone else in the group, but that the strength of these positive emotions actually predict the group’s performance.
Inspire trust, loyalty and engagement As we connect in this way with others, we are better able to influence and be influenced by others expanding trust and engagement. The book quotes data from neuroscientist Uri Hasson of Princeton University who has done brain imaging to show how brains light up in synchrony. Called neural coupling, leaders can actually do the current day equivalent of the Vulcan mind meld through their capacity to connect with others.
Encourage creativity and innovation Research on positive emotions demonstrates that as we open up to micro-moments of connection with others, we become more creative and encourage that in others. Our resilience improves, which is essential for rebounding from failure. In teams and groups this has a wave like synergistic effect through the mostly unconscious impact of mirror neurons in our brains.
Practices to Bring More Love to Work
Reflect on connection regularly – Dr. Fredrickson’s research has demonstrated that just reflecting on the quality of our connections everyday actually strengthens our vagus nerve. A daily practice of thinking of the three longest interactions we had with others and reflecting on the degree to which we felt in tune with them strengthens our capacity to connect.
Practice Meditation – Research also shows that doing a loving-kindness meditation for just a few minutes a day is linked to strengthening our vagus nerve and the capacity to connect.
Create ways for people to find micro-moments of connection – In our 24/7, virtual, globally dispersed work environments, as leaders we need to create rituals for people to find micro-moments of connection.
Love as it turns out is a moment by moment choice each of us makes to be fully present to others (mentally and emotionally), and to have good will toward them. The payoffs are well researched. The choice is ours to make.
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A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes.com blog.