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Introduction to Ethics and Compassion In The Workplace

"No cord nor cable can so forcibly draw, or hold so fast, as love can do with a twined thread." (Robert Burton, 1577-1640, English writer and clergyman, from The Anatomy of Melancholy, written 1621-51.)

Love is a strange word to use in the context of business and management, but it shouldn't be.

  • Love is a normal concept in fields where compassion is second-nature; for example in healthcare and teaching.
  • For those who maybe find the concept of 'love' too emotive or sentimental, the word 'spirituality' is a useful alternative. Spirituality is a perspective in its own right, and it also represents ideas central to love as applied to business and organisations, ie., the quality of human existence, personal values and beliefs, our relationships with others, our connection to the natural world, and beyond.

Some people see love and spirituality as separate things; others see love and spirituality as the same thing. 

In business and organisations 'love' and/or 'spirituality' mean genuine compassion for humankind, with all that this implies. 

  • We are not talking about romance or sex. Nor are we referring to god or religion, because while love and spirituality have to a degree been adopted by various religious organisations and beliefs, here love and spirituality does not imply or require a religious component or affiliation at all. Far from it. Anyone can love other people. And everyone is in their own way spiritual.

Given that love (or spirituality, whatever your preference) particularly encompasses compassion and consideration for other people, it follows that spoiling the world somewhere, or spoiling the world for future generations, is not acceptable and is not a loving thing to do.

  • Love in business and work means making decisions and conducting oneself in a way that cares for people and the world we live in. So why is love (or spirituality) such a neglected concept in business? It hasn't always been so (of which more later).

Compassion in Corporations

It's likely that love and spirituality became something of a taboo in corporations because 20th-century business was largely concerned with 'left-side brain' perspectives, for example, performance management, critical reasoning, total quality, strategic planning, financial results, profit, etc.

These are necessary aspects of good business and management, but they are fundamentally dispassionate. Also, they tend to be 'male-oriented' areas. Not always, but they tend to be so, probably because men are generally more prone towards left-side-brain thinking and working. (See the Benziger theory section for more understanding about this.)

Historically men dominated the business landscape, and still do today to an extent. Not surprisingly then male-oriented ideas and priorities - especially dispassionate left-side-brain factors - have tended to dominate business and organisations.

Conversely, love, compassion, and spirituality are generally perceived to be female traits. The amazing Universal Love poem is a fine example. Men are less likely than women to demonstrate loving, compassionate, spiritual behaviour because of cultural and social expectations, especially when reinforced by the business traditions already mentioned.

Additionally, in some cases, successful business people owe much of their success to a personal drive borne of insecurity - the motivation to fill a gap or want, which can manifest as relatively unloving, dispassionate behaviour. Some successful people seem to suppress their spirituality and to actively resist love to the point that they cannot even discuss it.

Where unloving dispassionate behaviour exists in a business leader, whatever its cause, this unavoidably sets the tone for the whole organisation to be unloving and uncaring, and devoid of spiritual awareness. If this situation is replicated across very many large organisations, as arguably it has been during the 20th century, then inevitably business and work as a whole tends to be characterised in the same way - as unloving and uncaring, and certainly not spiritual.

I'm not saying that the western world is run by a load of emotionally insecure mentally dysfunctional ruthless men (although I bet we've all worked for at least one of them in our time), but arguably there are certain correlations between aggressive results-driven male behaviour, the short-term business success demanded by western economic systems, and the organisational and economic cultures that arose and endured from 'successful', dispassionate anti-spiritual (and mostly male) leadership.

I should also make the point that dispassionate results-driven behaviour is not the exclusive domain of men. Many successful women in business (and politics) have had to wear the trousers, if not full the battledress, to beat the men; at a man's game, in a man's world.

Let's acknowledge also the reality that a methodology based on cold-hearted logic and dispassionate decision-making can produce very effective results, especially short-term, and where clinical leadership is required to overcome great challenge or difficulty. Moreover tyrants and bullies sometimes succeed. Some even achieve long-term success (according to their own definition of the word success). And arguably certain dispassionate methods, where people and environment are not affected, are a perfectly appropriate part of the business management mix.

However, unloving uncaring methods, which tend to predominate in organisations and to be passed on through successive leadership generations, are not the entire and only way to run a business or organisation.

Compounding the situation, the historical prevalence of dispassionate leadership, unloving ideas, and uncaring behaviour in organisations has tended to determine that reward systems and training and development methodologies have been correspondingly dispassionate, (staff and suppliers basically do as they are told after all), and so the whole selfish cycle reinforces itself.

Not surprisingly, therefore, ideas about loving people, being compassionate and spirituality are unlikely to appear in many management training manuals or training courses. Nor are the principles of genuine tolerance and selfless giving, or the values of forgiveness, or of nurturing your own spirit, because after all we must love ourselves before we can unconditionally love everyone else, and what's the point of loving yourself if the idea of loving anyone else is a totally alien concept in the conventional corporate world?

People who extol the virtues of love and spirituality in organisations have until recently largely been regarded as cranks - not because love and spirituality don't work - but because organisations, and also the developed western economic world, have evolved to ignore and exclude the deepest of human feelings and needs. Which when you think about what we actually all are, and what we actually all need as people, is a bit strange and a bit daft.

Work and organisations in recent times have simply not aligned with some of humankind's most basic needs - to be loved, and to find our own purpose and meaningful connections in life, which often brings us full circle to loving and helping others.

For a hundred years or more, millions upon millions of people who need love and spiritual meaning like they need food and drink, are denied these basic life requirements at a place that occupies the majority of their useful existence (their work), because love and spirituality (and all that these words represent) seemingly don't feature on the corporate agenda. 

Changing Times

However, things are changing. People are most certainly now seeking more meaning from their work and from their lives.

People in far-flung exploited parts of the world now have a voice, a stage, and an audience, largely enabled by technology and the world wide web.

  • Customers, informed by the increasing transparency and availability of information, are demanding that organisations behave more responsibly and sensitively.
  • Increasing numbers of people are fed up with the traditionally selfish character of corporations and organisations and the way they conduct themselves.
  • The growing transparency of corporate behaviour in the modern world is creating new, real accountability - for the organisations which hitherto have protected the self-interests of the few to the detriment of everyone and everything else.

Now, very many people - staff, customers, everyone - demand and expect change.

  • Leaders need now to care properly for people and the future of the planet, not just to make a profit and to extract personal gain.
  • And so businesses and corporations are beginning to realise that genuinely caring for people everywhere is actually quite a sensible thing to do.
  • It is now more than ever necessary for corporations to make room for love and spirituality - to care for people and the world - alongside the need to make a profit.

Love, compassion, and spirituality - consideration for people and the world we live in - whatever you choose to call it - is now a truly relevant ethos in business and organisations.


Love, compassion, spirituality, and real ethical principles (to some a modern interpretation of the preceding concepts), actually provided the platform for the formation and success of many very large and famous corporations.

Dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries some very big businesses were originally founded on loving and spiritual principles.

  • For example, the early Cadbury and Rowntree British enterprises were founded by Quakers and run on far more compassionate principles than we would consider normal in business today.
  • High finance and loving principles rarely appear in the same sentence now, but many regional banks, long since swallowed by the multi-nationals, were once Quaker businesses, run on caring principles.
  • The Pease Company which effectively pioneered the railway industry was also a caring Quaker business.

(The source of these details is Sir Adrian Cadbury's talk on 'Beliefs and Business', 2003.)

This is not a soapbox or a recruiting post for the Quaker movement - not least because certain Quaker-founded organisations very quickly sacrificed their caring principles in the quest for greed and power. It just happens that some parts of Quaker business history provide good examples of managing corporations successfully, while at the same time leading and managing and making decisions with love, compassion and great care for the world.

We can also look to longstanding examples of co-operatives, employee ownership organisations, mutuals and credit unions becoming increasingly successful in modern times. 

Many of these organisations openly advocate and support more caring and sharing ideals that place people and ethics ahead of profit, and significantly some are now beginning to demonstrate that a more caring philosophy can translate into a competitive advantage and better commercial performance.

Love, compassion, spirituality and ethics in business are not dependent on membership of a group or sect. Anyone can be loving, compassionate, spiritual and ethical; in fact, most people are - it's just that big corporations have tended to require people not to be.

  • Then as now - in fact even more so now - you don't need to go to church or to be a member of a particular religion in order to love other people, to act ethically and honestly, and to consider the needs of other people while you pursue (quite reasonably) what you need yourself. This includes loving yourself and striving to be a loving compassionate forgiving person, even if the organisation around you hasn't yet seen the light. Be assured, it soon will do.

As we know, management ideas tend to be cyclical, and this is a case in point: Love and Spirituality are back in business.

Increase in Popularity

There are increasing numbers of writers, gurus and now even a few business leaders who advocate greater love, compassion and spirituality in corporations.

  • There are also various interpretations of these ideas about love and ethics, about compassion and spirituality. It's normal for any significant concept to have several interpretations, and these reflect the different ways of applying the concept in different situations.

Some interpretations have a compassionate or spiritual foundation; others are quite rightly incorporated within wider issues of corporate social responsibility and ethical business. Other ideas approach the concept from the environmental angle or sustainability, or 'fair trade'.

The challenge for modern managers and leaders to develop an interpretation of love and spirituality that will work for your own organisational situation.

Below are some ideas about love in business and management, from different perspectives. They are two different interpretations. Hopefully, they will help you see ways that love and compassion and spirituality, which are tricky to measure and describe intangible specific terms, can be applied in a practical sense to work and organisations.

  1. The first article is by Barbara Heyn McMahan, a Cincinnati-based consultant, who helps organisations develop relationships and capabilities among people and teams, particularly in response to challenges of globalisation and cultural diversity.
  2. The second is a piece by Sonia Stojanovic, a McKinsey consultant, which features in Soleira Green's book, 'The New Visionaries: Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World'.

Please accept the use of US English and UK English spellings for certain words on this page and in the featured articles - they reflect the mixed authorship and audiences of these materials.

Barbara Heyn McMahan

Barbara Heyn McMahan sees love and spirituality in organisations from the perspective of feminine instincts and behaviours. This is not to say that men are useless at it; not at all: men, like women, can actually do anything they put their minds to. Everyone can.

The concept of 'feminine spirit' emphasises that the biggest challenges in modern work and organisations respond to what we traditionally consider to be 'female' strengths and styles.

Globalisation is creating these new organisational challenges:

  • Managing and developing global teams - which requires far more sensitive treatment than traditional localised structures
  • Approaching cultural diversity as a strength, not a hindrance - which requires great perception, awareness and openness to possibilities
  • Creating inclusive responsible plans, and making ethical decisions - which requires a strong sense of what is right and good, including compassion, humanity, and spiritual connection

Most of this is traditional 'female' territory, but it must now part of the 'male' compass too, because these are the big issues facing all managers, leaders and organisations today.

As such, this is a call for everyone in management and business to be more loving and spiritual - to be more sensitive and understanding and compassionate - and a warning to all paid-up members of the Genghis Khan School of Tyrannical Leadership (male or female) to adopt more 'feminine' ways of doing things.


Business and the Feminine Spirit


Love in business. A novel concept. Most of us are probably used to a traditional culture at work where 'proper' reserved behaviour is expected. People keep their distance and approach work and relationships with a sense of formality.

What if that paradigm were to shift towards a more compassionate and spiritual model?

In the past, traditionally-male behaviours such as tough-minded decision-making and competitive aggression were the standard. At job interviews and when assessing performance and potential, leaders would assess whether the employee had 'fire in his belly' or was a fist-pounding-on-the-table kind of guy or gal. There was little tolerance of sensitivity, never mind tears. Now, however, a sea-change is occurring that recognises the value in management and leadership of feminine traits such as warmth, affection, nurturing and intuition.

Some would identify this move as introducing love into the workplace.

In fact, love flows naturally when you create a space for it. People are naturally inclined to good. It's the business world that makes us resistant and sceptical.

If you are open and accepting, people can feel comfortable around you. People feel better when they are allowed and encouraged to connect on a deeper level with others, especially with managers and superiors. Fear and anxiety is no help in organizations. Connecting openly dispels anxiety and makes for harmonious relationships.

An increased sense of humanity and trust positively impacts the bottom line, because people - and entire organizations - work far better when folk are happy.

Here are some pointers for creating a humane and productive business environment, for anyone who seeks to make a positive difference in their work:

1. Establish a collaborative mindset

Your peers can be an excellent support system. View your colleagues as potential allies rather than threats - especially people in 'warring' departments. Ask for their opinions and listen to what they have to say. Incorporate their input into your decision making. Work on inclusion and resist exclusion.

Business processes often encourage unhealthy competition, exclusion, alienation, lack of consultation and non-collaborative behaviors, so look out for these negative situations, and use collaboration and cooperation to remove tensions.

Look out especially for policies and systems that discourage (unintentionally or intentionally) collective working and team-work, especially between departments.

In the belief that it raises overall performance standards, certain leaders encourage unhealthy competition and 'free-market' methods which are designed to see only the best performers survive, leaving less experienced or less capable people to struggle. Of course this can raise performance at the top level, but it's not a recipe for building strengths in depth, nor for organic growth and self-sufficiency throughout the organization.

In such environments traditionally female strengths such as relationship building, empathy and listening skills are suppressed if you allow them to be, so instead consciously use these capabilities.

The ability to work in partnership and collaborate with others is a behavior that should be encouraged, rewarded and leveraged.

Foster collaboration ahead of competition.

2. Reach out to others

Find ways to connect personally with others on an honest human level. Ask sensitive questions and identify common areas of interest. Proactively look for opportunities to help team members in a meaningful way.

Do something outrageously kind for a co-worker with no expectation of anything in return. Maybe unexpectedly treat the colleague ahead of you in the cafeteria line to lunch. Just for the heck of it. Throw surprise parties for people, or baby showers (US-speak I know..) for soon-to-be moms and dads.

When engaging with anyone - managing, co-working, collaborating, networking, directing, following, whatever - focus on what you can do to benefit the other person, not vice versa. Your positive, genuine efforts will have a lasting impact.

Some people use the word 'Karma' in referring to this sort of concept, and while Karma has other deeper and complex meanings in Buddhist and Hindhu ideology, one of the central principles is quite irresistible when you get the habit: namely that people who do good things generally find that they experience good things as a result. The universe - or whatever life force is out there - does seem to keep checks and balances..

3. Use your intuition

There's much truth to the concept of 'female intuition'. Intuition is invaluable especially in dealings with people. This skill isn't limited to the female gender. Men have it too if they simply tune into it, rather than denying its existence or relevance as can be the tendency.

Take note of your physical and emotional feelings associated with intuition. Your hunches are often correct and are based on information that may not be readily apparent to your consciousness. We all know deep down whether something is right and good.

You develop your intuitive abilities by first of all accepting that you have them, and then by practising paying attention to your feelings. Trusting your intuition is a wonderful way to enhance your decision-making skills. Listen to your instincts and afterwards, debrief with a trusted colleague or mentor. What decisions did you make? What were the repercussions of these? Do you notice any patterns? Does your intuition play a larger role in certain areas, (people, processes, teams, aims, tactics, problem-solving, etc) so that you might transfer the intuitive approach to other aspects of your decision-making?

Note the outcomes of your intuitive decision-making and capture them in writing. You don't need to write a book - just jottings or little diary notes suffice for many people. This way you'll remember things and be able to refer back to them, which means you are more likely to spot the connections between your intuitive feelings and actual results, which helps develop intuitive ability. It's in all of us, or the human race would not have survived. Did you ever see a caveman with a spreadsheet or a psychometric test? Of course not - they used their instincts and intuition to succeed and survive. Or a big stick of course, but we don't want to go back to that..

4. Meditate daily

First we need to debunk a few myths about meditation. For example meditation is not just for hippies and Buddhists, and you don't need to adopt that funny cross-legged pose and fill the place with patchouli smoke to do it.

Meditation, like love and spirituality, is an option that's available to us all. Anyone can do it. It's essentially a deeper state of thought and relaxation than we normally achieve, because simply we normally don't bother. If you put your mind to it, literally, you can do it and get better at it, and maybe one day even try the cross-legged thing too. And there are plenty of other fragrances if patchouli doesn't do it for you.

Incidentally the reason why darkened rooms, fragranced candles or incense and soft music or other soothing sounds are used in meditation, is similar to why we bathe toddlers and read them a story before bed - it all helps condition and trigger the mental response towards the intended feeling and behavior. Logically if you want to relax, it helps if the body is encouraged to do so through as many senses and sensations as possible - your brain is part of your body remember - if your body is being distracted and kept ready for action because of lots of simulation, then relaxation and meditation is a bit trickier to achieve. Instead, do things to relax your body, and your brain will relax too. And don't get the children all excited before bedtime or they won't go to sleep..

Meditation, aside from being good for health, healing, de-stressing, and general relaxation, is an extremely powerful way to heighten your connection to your intuition, and is also remarkably good for bringing forth your 'feminine' aspects (for men and women alike).

When you meditate you help your mind and body to be 'centred' again - to restore your natural balance. In this way helps awaken and enhance 'feminine' strengths that we all possess to one degree or another, that are commonly suppressed by the pressures of work and life.

Meditating is bit like running a 'full system restore' on a personal computer - it's cleansing and helps get us back closer to our 'factory settings'.

Start by meditating once a day for ten minutes. A quiet darkened room helps, but really you can do it anywhere - even in the car, although best not while driving. It's even possible after a little practice to sneak a quick two minutes of meditative re-charge or relaxation at your desk in front of the PC any time you feel the need. Obviously the environment has an effect on the ease and depth of experience you can achieve, hence why a darkened room is a good idea for beginners or serious sessions.

If you fancy it, lighting a scented candle or playing some soothing sounds can help. The crackle of an open fire is good for some people. The sound of water and waves also help. Whatever, it's a matter of what makes you feel comfortable.

Focus on your breathing and if thoughts come to mind, don't fight them, just accept them, and then let them go.

View your mind as a chalkboard (or wipeboard if you prefer a modern slant) and mentally erase all thoughts from the space. As a beginner, if you are able to hold your mind clear of thoughts for one to two minutes, you are doing great.

Our 'monkey minds' are constantly jumping around and it takes a bit of discipline and practice to slow or eliminate our thoughts. With practice and repeating the sensory ideas that work for you, you will soon be meditating like a Buddha.

Build up to meditating twice a day for ten minutes, and any other time you feel the need to re-charge or relax. You'll find yourself grounded and attuned more closely to your feelings. And the incense will make you smell great.

5. Build your confidence

Appreciate what you have to offer and encourage open dialogue with those who may share different strengths. Professionals who are truly comfortable in their own skin are often the most competent and humble. By valuing your inner worth, it will be much easier to rid yourself of jealousy and competitive thoughts.

Rise above petty conversations at work. Refrain from initiating or contributing to gossip. Judge no-one. If you need to assess situations and performance focus objectively on behavior and causes rather than subjective personal criticism.

Feel comfortable wearing clothes that express your personality. Go ahead and don a soft blouse, flouncy skirt and sandals that set off freshly painted toenails. Women can do this too...

It's a question of celebrating your personal style - even if the dress code for your situation is a bit restrictive - find ways to be yourself.

Relaxing and lightening up is more helpful for confidence than taking yourself seriously. Remember the laid-back teachers at school who were always calm, and who never seemed to lose their temper at anything? The ones who always had that air of confidence? Being relaxed and calm about things - 'counting to ten' instead of blowing up - is a way to build confidence, as much as it is a sign of confidence. You can be the same.

In addition, a little self-deprecating fun can lighten any situation. Someone who can break the ice - or the tension of a difficult moment - is regarded as a mature and calming influence. People who cannot take a joke might be stern, but they are almost always regarded as lacking in self-assurance too. If you have the strength to enjoy a laugh at your own expense you automatically exude confidence.

6. Put yourself out there

Take a risk. When it comes to connecting with others, challenge yourself outside your comfort zone. Although this may go against the grain in traditional corporations, initiate emotional engagement with other people, and maybe even a bit of physical contact - within acceptable boundaries of course. It's safest with someone of the same gender, unless you know the other person well.

Physical contact is an immensely powerful thing. Many people really enjoy a good hug - in fact sometimes it's the only cure when people are upset or angry. Physical contact does however carry certain risks in the workplace because of the risks misinterpreting signals, so if in doubt don't use it. Nevertheless there are times when you can trust your instincts and reach out to people in this way, even if it's a gentle touch on the arm, or a pat on the back.

Being friendly though is perfectly safe. Go out of your way to greet a colleague you haven't seen in a while. Be the first to say hello. Never ignore someone because you think they ignored you first - they probably never even noticed you because they were still thinking about the big game last night, or whether they left the oven on.

The world is full of people who wait for the other person to initiate contact. No wonder people don't generally communicate well - they are all too busy thinking they've been ignored, when in fact nothing can be further from the truth. Everyone longs for the other person to initiate content and give them a big friendly smile.

And that's the way it starts - then you do begin to do it more often, and then other people try it too because they see it's safe and nobody dies, and before long everyone on the floor is happy to make the first move, then it spreads to the whole building. Because everyone realises it's okay to be open and friendly.

Individuals at all levels of an organization welcome being treated as a full person, not just a workmate or a phone extension, or an email address.

So put yourself out there: approach people as people - in a genuinely friendly way - be affectionate and caring - through hugs and pats when it's okay, or simply through a big warm smile.

7. Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do

Demonstrate integrity and stand up to unethical comments or decisions. Move past your own discomfort when it comes to doing the right thing, even (and especially) when no one is watching.

Challenge that inappropriate joke or derogatory remark. If it's wrong don't laugh because everyone else does and it's difficult not to. It's not always necessary to challenge things vocally - sometimes staying silent is challenge enough.

Stand up for people who are not represented in the conversation. You'll be recognised as a leader for enhancing the conscience of the group or organization.

Sometimes it's very difficult indeed to do the right thing, especially if the whole organization and all the people around you are advocating and accepting something that's wrong. But often all it takes is one brave soul to ask a sensible question, "Do we all really believe that this is the right thing to do? - I mean is this really ethical and good?" Or to say, "I'm really sorry but actually I can't go along with that because to me it's not right."

And then lots more people will feel strong enough to say they don't agree either, and then you have a real basis for building something good and ethical. Sometimes all it takes is one brave soul, and that can be anyone. It can be you.

Use your deepest instincts to decide what is right, to feeling centred and confident, and to connect with and value other people. These are the behaviors which enable organizations to respond successfully to the challenges of the modern world.

It's not about table-thumping or shouting, and it's not about costs and profit. It's about fundamental spiritual things like love, caring for and respecting people (including yourself); the quieter gentler 'feminine' strengths and skills that all of us possess - men and women - and which we all must now to be able to use.

Organizational culture-shifts happen not because someone at the top makes a pronouncement - a culture-shift happens when the attitudes and behaviors of their people change.

At the root of any successful change you will increasingly find the qualities of love and trust, which together create the freedom for us to make the right decisions, to connect with others, to challenge and to innovate.

A trusting organization that values and encourages the softer 'feminine' traits among all of its people is one that leverages diversity and harmony. And that, in anyone's book, makes good business sense.

© Barbara Heyn McMahan, August 2006-17.


Barbara Heyn McMahan is the founder of Atticus Consulting LLC, a global-organisation development consultancy, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She specialises in coaching executives and professionals to develop global teams, leadership and to leverage cultural diversity. She has over 15 years of corporate experience in this field having consulted with many multi-national corporations in the US, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East.

Barbara holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan, a Masters in Labor and Industrial Relations from Michigan State University and a certificate in Organization Development from NTL, Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences. She graduated from the leadership programs of Future Milwaukee and the Phillips Leadership Institute and has served on the Boards of Jewish Vocational Services and the Greater Cincinnati Applied Psychological Types chapter.

Barbara's contribution of this article and cooperation in the edit are gratefully acknowledged.


Sonia Stojanovic

Here is a powerful article by Sonia Stojanovic which echoes and extends many of the ideas about love and spirituality on this page.

This article was first published on 26 April 2006 and features in Soleira Green's book 'The New Visionaries - Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World'. It is reproduced here with permission, which is gratefully acknowledged.

Sonia Stojanovic (at time of writing this article) is a consultant with McKinsey, and was previously head of Breakout and Cultural Transformation with ANZ Bank in Australia. She specialises in organisational transformation.

In this article Sonia explains her vision and views about the cultural shift facing business and the world at large. The article also describes the achievements of ANZ Bank in bringing positive change to its people, customers and banking.

Soleira and Santari Green run 'New Visionaries', a focal point for visionary leadership, evolutionary coaching and self-fulfilment. Visit the website to obtain Soliera Green's book 'The New Visionaries - Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World'.

As with Barbara Heyn McMahan's article, Sonia Stojanovic's experiences and methodology illustrate that Love and spirituality have a real and crucial place in the modern corporate world. The concepts of love and spirituality are if anything more valid in today's challenging corporate environment than the traditional business leadership pursuit of economic ruthlessness.


My Vision: love, meaning and the whole person in business

My vision is to bring love into business. To recognise that everything is love, that business doesn't need to be the kind of 'dog eat dog', hard-edged, market driven process, which we see developed in its biggest extremes today. That it can return to shareholders while also contributing to the community and giving meaning to people's lives.

My work is about getting people and organisations to have the courage and energy to look at and accept that the whole person has a place in the workplace, as opposed to the historical perspective that subscribes to the adage that the person who turns up for work is part of a machine as a human resource. It's about having the recognition that the whole person has a whole life and that we don't have to turn off parts of our lives and ourselves as we walk in the door. Once we can get people to get that, then they're up for doing the transformational work. This shift in root perspective is key to the work that I do.

They can then support their teams and businesses to go through processes that assist people to make the necessary choices that recognise that firstly they are fractured, and that there is choice to reintegrate the mind, body and spirit - that all three do matter to all of us. The key is to have people get that while we are taking them on a personal journey of transformation, we are also able to measure and track that it's good for business. It does have to have a positive impact on business performance and not just be a touchy, feely, nice thing to do. We can prove this impact now on a wide range of measures. It makes intuitive sense that if people are their whole selves and are authentic with each other that the positive relationships that result will produce in an uplift in productivity. We can offer that as the strange attractor to others to follow suit.

The strange attractor

You know that restaurant scene in 'When Harry Met Sally', where the woman says I want some of what she's having. When someone sees that someone else is having something good that they don't have, it becomes the strange attractor. This is one of the ways to influence global culture shifts. We demonstrate that it can and does work and then others begin to want some of that. Once in the door, we work with people and organisations in a transformational way and the productivity, creativity and engagement becomes a fait accompli.

In my travels round the world, working for organisational transformation, I'm now seeing a big shift towards more people-focused business. I believe this is due in great part to three things:

1. There's got to be a better way

The baby boom generation are the ones now leading these big companies and the baby boomers were either involved in, or on the fringes of, the 60's when the idea of love, peace and all that stuff came in to the vernacular. They've gone through their 'making hay while the sun shines' days and they're in their mid 50's and 60's now reflecting back, as I do, on what that was all about, thinking 'there's got to be a better way.' Also as we begin to see our own mortality with our parents passing, the questions arise in our minds - 'What is my legacy? What am I leaving for future generations and how will I be remembered?'

2. Young people on the leading edge of change

The younger generations are saying very clearly, "We don't want to be like you. In fact we resent the way you are, the 'me only' generation and we want something different. Yes we'll come and work for you and of course your money is important, but that just gets us in the door. So unless there's the challenge and the contribution that I want to work for, then I'm not going to stay." This is a generalisation, but it does seem that young people are the ones on the leading edge of change. They rattle things  from inside, demanding that things be different. I feel this agitation of the field of business is a healthy one.

3. Hundreds of thousands of us

There are hundreds of thousands of us out there, if not millions, working on these big visions. I run across them every day in my travels around the world. They may be people who are doing similar work to my own, in business, the community, schools, government, or they're people who are packing groceries in the supermarket that you strike up a conversation with or a taxi-driver who tells you his life story on the way between home and work. There's a lot of thinking and reflecting going on out there. If you allow yourself the time to check into it, you find it everywhere!

What I've been finding is that if I shift the way I behave with people - connect more openly and honestly - then people are more likely to have these far deeper more meaningful conversations that are transforming the world. It's those conversations that you can have at any moment of the day that truly are a blessing. What I find so interesting is that I'm often more 'out there' when I have those kinds of conversations one on one with people than I am in a corporate setting. I can try things out that I would be more circumspect with in a corporate setting. It's very fascinating to find how people respond when you talk heart to heart with them. And yet organisations are made up of people just like this - people with hearts.

A global network

Being a visionary gives me the opportunity to really play at the edge and I love that. That's part of my contribution, as is connecting people. I'm always looking for opportunities to put people together with each other. I have this vision of having a neural network of people covering the whole globe. The reason that I'm happy and love going to different parts of the world is because it gives me the opportunity to taste that part of the world and where it's at, to see what's ready to be birthed and to meet those who are on the journey, to discover who's available for the work. At the moment, I'm working in Canada, the Middle East, Africa, Brazil and in the US. I'm going with the energy of working globally wherever there's an opening to engage in this new way and to co-create this neural network of like-minded people who share the vision.


Organisational Transformation (the ANZ Bank story)

My time and experience at ANZ has led the way for me to be a spokesperson and catalyst for organisational transformation. I was offered the opportunity to operationalise the transformation of ANZ as a business as the Head of Transformation reporting directly to the CEO, working very closely with him around creating a breakout in the cultural transformation of what was a pretty broken culture.

'Breakout' is action focused towards breaking away from the past, being a different organisation and bringing hearts AND minds to work. What I learned at ANZ, apart from the power of working with energy, is that we can create transformation as a way of being, a way of life, a continual process that is consciously chosen within an organisation to become more of what it's meant to be and for people to become more of their own potential. That's what happened and continues to happen under my successor Siobhan McHale, at ANZ. We were able to integrate it as a way of being into the organisation.

There were a number of contributing factors that helped us to achieve that, as opposed to one thing that created the paradigm shift:

  • We created a whole system buy in. With organisational transformation, it's got to be more than the traditional meaning of having the CEO and the leadership team on side as platitudes. It's absolutely critical that the whole team is on board for this kind of change. Consequences for non-alignment are key as the role modelling is a key aspect from the leadership - formal and informal. Some of our competitors tried to go down the same path without this kind of commitment and alignment and it didn't work for them.
  • We had to learn to let go of the past and live in the present. We needed to put in place structures and safe processes for people to forgive and sometimes to confront, to let go of their withholds and to move on into the present. So many people in organisations are actually living in the past whilst trying to live in the present through strategic intent, but they're not really in the present, not in the now.
  • We used story telling with metaphors and real life stories about real people from all levels of the organisation, who they were, why they believed they were making a difference and why their contribution was important.
  • We learned to break old rituals in order to allow new ones to be birthed. So things like celebrations and little things like thank yous, things that normally weren't common within the organisation became important. We saw that it was important to 'take the time to smell the roses' so to speak.
  • We celebrated people who discovered that they wanted to do something else besides banking. Instead of chastising them, we made that cause for celebration, a part of finding themselves. We made that on a spiritual level a part of the contribution, which would then enable others to be attracted to us as the next part of their journey. In practical terms that shifted us from being the least preferred employer in financial services in Australia to being the most preferred over a period of about two and a half years.
  • We began to attract people who were very much of the heart profile, people who wanted to be involved in something where they could make a difference. Heartfulness and business focused is a very powerful combination that is inspiring to self and others.
  • We introduced a compelling aspiration that gave meaning and purpose to the organisation. The aspiration was not something that was dictated from above, but emerged from the energy of the field of Banking in Australia. We talked about the 'Bank with the Human Face' and that worked very well for our people given that in Australia bank bashing is considered a national sport and very deeply ingrained into the psyche of the Australian people. So moving our people from saying they were ashamed of working for a bank, which we discovered in our initial rounds of diagnostics, to having people say they were proud of what we were doing was a big accomplishment.
  • We created the employees as part of the legacy, recognising that they were part of that journey, being able to tell their kids and grandkids one day, 'I was there when ANZ decided to change the world of business and banking for the better.' They understood that the bank's vision and their part in it could contribute to their sense of having accomplished something in their lives. Allowing people the space to ask the question as to why they came to work and what was meaningful for them was a key consideration.
  • We worked on people's personal transformation from the inside out, allowing them to transform their relationship to who they were, which meant business and the bank was transformed along with them. We spoke of the ripple effect and how it all starts with each of us being accountable for creating the future.
  • But we also worked from the outside in by transforming the organisational environment through policies, systems and procedures. That was the non-sexy part I suppose. We changed the performance management systems, introduced a diversity agenda, a free internal job market, a bureaucracy alert to do away with bureaucracy and transparency around remuneration. We launched new recruitment processes, introduced a balanced scorecard, strategic reviews and all sorts of things that looked at creativity, growth and how to create innovation. Then of course there were things like the community agenda with Volunteering leave (one day's paid leave per year to do community work that a lot of people did in teams), the first ever national literacy survey, financial literacy training run for the community out of the bank branches and match saving schemes for underprivileged people to go towards their children's education.

It was amazing to be a part of all of this and I guess being in the middle of it all, it seemed there was always more to do, more challenge to continually raise the bar. But one morning in 2003 I woke up and knew that I'd done what I'd come to do. I knew that it was time for me to move on. I didn't actually leave until July 2004, but during that time I worked with my team and the CEO to put the transition in place for my replacement, Siobhan, to take over. As part of the transition, there was a strategic review around 'Breakout' to determine the future focus for the work.

Prior to my leaving, we had started doing work on establishing an internal coaching programme for excellence with the dream that everyone at ANZ would be a coach for everyone else - 360 degree and in the moment. This came to me as a waking dream - one of the ANZ values was to 'Lead and Inspire each other' and I had awoken that morning realising that through becoming a coaching organisation, this value would be realised. Once that was started, I knew I could leave and within a short period of time I found myself invited to New York to do the organisational consulting work that I now do globally.


Following the dream

For me, being a new visionary is about following the dream and following your heart, believing and knowing that the universe supports you and your visions. New visionaries are people who can go into the void and access what is waiting to be manifested into reality, translating that so that people can actually hear it and work with it. My sense of the power of the new visionaries that I'm seeing these days is that they are not sitting on the top of their hills with their mantras being righteous. They're very practical and out there getting their hands dirty. They're actively doing the work. New visionaries are up for it and as they say in Australia 'they put their balls on the line.' They're courageous and willing to go where no man has gone before, a la Captain Kirk, and then see how it grows. They're not fearful about making it up as they go along - to see what fits. I think that's the most exciting thing about the new visionaries that I'm seeing these days. They're up for it and are very substantive physical entities as well as emotional, mental and spiritual entities. It's about the integration of the whole. They are standing in all of those worlds powerfully and that's what the planet needs.

This wonderful blue marvel

People with a spiritual calling often have a great desire to escape to the other dimensions, whereas I have a very different attitude around that. My sense is that when my time comes to leave this dimensional wheel of incarnation, it will happen at the right time as everything does. But there's much beauty in this world. This is an amazing place where you can eat wonderful food, drink great wine, laugh at jokes, cry at sad movies, look at the beautiful tree outside your window and even marvel at all the very special creatures on this planet. I believe this is a very special time to be alive, to be a loving and nurturing supporter of Mother Earth in all of her glory and my sense is that the new visionaries are in that space. They're very much about the practical... how can we ensure survival of this wonderful blue marvel in its earthly reality and its consciousness.

This is the most exciting time of my life. I've been very blessed and my life experience has given me an understanding of the reason I'm here. I'm a new visionary and I get to bring my visions alive in the world at a very special time. But I'm also really grateful for the opportunity to link around the world with others of like mind and vision, of which there are many. People today are willing to go more deeply and are up for seeing the potentiality and for working in consciousness. We are in a time of exponential growth, a time when more and more people are finding themselves in transformational movement, discovering new levels of themselves and their potential to contribute to this amazing world.

© Sonia Stojanovic 2006-15, from the book 'The New Visionaries - Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World' by Soliera Green.


Sonia Stojanovic is (at time of writing this article) a consultant with McKinsey and Company. She was previously head of Breakout and Cultural Transformation for Australia's ANZ Bank.

This article was first published on 26 April 2006 and features in Soleira Green's book 'The New Visionaries - Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World'. It is reproduced here with permission, which is gratefully acknowledged.

Soliera and Santari Green run 'New Visionaries', a focal point for visionary leadership, evolutionary coaching and self-fulfilment. Visit the website for Soliera Green's book 'The New Visionaries - Evolutionary Leadership for an Evolving World'.


Common Themes: inputs vs outputs

The articles here by Barbara Heyn McMahan and Sonia Stojanovic demonstrate and echo some important points about Love and Spirituality in organisations:

  • Love and Spirituality are already relevant and applicable concepts in business and work. This is already happening.
  • It is possible, quite easy, and actually very natural to develop and interpret some very specific principles and actions for any organisation based on loving and spiritualistic ideals. You can create a very workable practical methodology to bring Love and Spirituality into your work, your team, your department or a whole organisation, right now if you want to.
  • There are good people out there to help you bring a more loving and spiritual ethos into your organisation if you want some support to do it, and the great thing is that these people are loving and caring too - they practise what they preach - and they might even give you hug now and then when you need one, as we all do from time to time.
  • Love and Spirituality are very much connected with motivation and change. People in modern organisations sometimes struggle to think how to 'motivate' their people - as if motivation is some sort of force you apply to somebody. In fact everything that truly motivates people - whether to perform better, to be more dependable and committed, to take initiative, to be courageous, to do the right thing, to adapt to change, etc., (I could go on but you get the point) - can be included within Love and Spirituality. Love makes people believe in themselves and feel valued, and liberates them to have this same effect on others. This builds confidence and trust. Spirituality enables people to connect with each other and with the things that truly matter in the world and their lives. This gives people meaning and purpose and relevance, which is at the heart of true motivation.
  • In terms of corporate initiatives, Love and Spirituality are about as natural as you can get. These needs and tendencies are basic human nature, and they are in all of us. So when you decide to bring a bit more Love and Spirituality into your work, you will be pushing on an open door.

Love: Leo Buscaglia

Any page about love and spirituality warrants a reference to the work of Professor Leo Buscaglia (1924-98).

Leo Felice Buscaglia began his ground-breaking 'Love Class' at the University of Southern California in 1969, on which he later based his remarkable and best selling book, 'Love', published in 1972.

The Love Class was free, extra-curricular and no grades were awarded. Buscaglia was prompted to offer this very unusual class after the suicide of a young female student, which sparked the realisation in Buscaglia that life and work and learning were meaningless without love and relationships. The Love course became extremely popular, spawning the book and also many television appearances, which led to Buscaglia earning the reputation 'the granddaddy of motivational speakers'.

Not surprisingly, Leo Buscaglia has since been closely associated with the topic of love and human relationships, in which he emphasised the value of positive human touch, and especially hugging.

Buscaglia wrote several other best-selling books related to love, relationships, fulfilment, and became a hugely popular speaker, at which he was famous for his practice of hugging audience members who would stand in line, sometimes thousands of people, waiting for their special moment with the great man.

When someone next asks you what you want for your birthday, say Leo Buscaglia's 'Love'. It's a remarkable and wonderful book.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Sharon Drew Morgen has been talking about love and spirituality in business for many years.

Her remarkable methodology enables extremely positive and helpful communications and relationships, and is summarised on this website in the context of Buying Facilitation - Yes, selling really can (and should) be a caring and loving process, where the aim is to help the other person, and not to manipulate or influence for greed or profit.

Sharon Drew's methodology is most popularly applied in the sales and selling field, but the principles are just as applicable and effective in all areas of human relationships, including teaching, coaching, managing, counselling, social work, mediation, conflict-resolution, parenting, and even marital relations.

Sharon Drew Morgen's facilitative model can also be applied very effectively to decision-making, innovation and change.

For organisations particularly seeking to bring true social responsibility and compassion into their culture, management, and relations with customers and suppliers, Sharon Drew Morgen's philosophy and methods are at the leading edge.


Positive Psychology and Detachment

Here is an interesting and very relevant article kindly provided (November 2006) by Charu Talwar who was at that time researching positive psychology at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.

I (AC) have lightly edited the article to clarify certain points, and to highlight relevance to love and spirituality at work where appropriate.

Charu Talwar was seeking to correlate scientifically the qualities of spirituality, love, compassion, optimism, tolerance, etc., (representing positive psychology), with the Eastern concept of Anasakti (non-attachment or detachment).

This is an intensely interesting area of thinking. Particularly if it leads to practical methods for awakening and/or developing these qualities in people.

Charu Talwar defines positive psychology thus:

Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. According to Seligman (2002), positive psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.

  • Positive emotion entails the contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future.
  • Positive individual traits consists of strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.
  • Positive institutions are those which through purpose and meaning and values foster better communities, enabling and represented by justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.

Each of these three domains is related to a different meaning of the scientifically unwieldy term 'happiness', and each has its own road to happiness (Seligman, 2002).

Positive emotions lead to a pleasant life, which is similar to the hedonic theories of happiness. Using one's strengths in a challenging task leads to the experience of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and the engaged life.

Deploying one's strengths in the service of something larger than oneself can lead to the meaningful life (e.g., belonging to and serving institutions such as education, free press, religion, democracy, and family, to name a few).

Arguably the values and character strengths represented by positive psychology (courage, integrity, love, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, optimism, etc), and also the indicators of positive psychology (happiness, life satisfaction, subjective well-being etc), originate from or relate strongly to the Eastern concept of 'Anasakti' or non-attachment.


Topics like the art of living, happiness and well-being have been discussed elaborately in Ancient Indian Literature (notably Bhagavad Gita).

Asakti (attachment) and Anasakti (non-attachment) are significant concepts related to well-being and happiness.

Here I elaborate these concepts.

Asakti and Anasakti are indigenous psychological constructs of the East.

The English equivalents of Asakti and Anasakti are attachment and non-attachment/detachment, although the Eastern meaning of attachment and non-attachment is far deeper than the conventional English literal interpretation of these words.

Bushan (2005) defines Asakti as attraction towards individual or object with expectation. This often results in frustration and mental problems.

Anasakti is simply negation of attachment.

Charles T Tart (1997) holds that attachment is about various processes that give more value, attention and psychological energy to feelings or concepts than to this perception of the actual reality of situation.

In terms of personal consequences, Buddhism sees attachment as the principle cause of suffering in life. When one is attached, one becomes slave to rewards in much the same way as the rat in the (Skinner's) experiment becomes a slave to the pellet box, performing only those actions that bring him token reinforcement.

Non-attachment or Anasakti, on the other hand, is the systematic practice of not automatically giving psychological energy to thoughts, feelings, perceptions and desires that come along. When an individual is unattached to external contacts, he/she finds happiness within his/herself (Bhagavad Gita, 5.21).

In other words non-attachment is the key to 'authentic happiness'.

Non-attachment involves always being able to keep our minds above any turmoil and trials of the environment. Non-attachment produces equanimity. It has long been referred to by the Vedentists as the attitude of 'being in the world but not being of it'.

Non-attachment is acceptance of situations without reacting negatively to them. It is a state of mind that is continuously observing the nature of events and remains unaffected.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches that the one who abandons all attachment to the results of his/her activities, satisfied and independent, engaged in all kinds of undertakings, yet not concerned with rewards involved, is truly happy.

Those of us who are accustomed to traditional Western management and organisational thinking might initially reject this idea, because it appears to suggest that outcomes are not important. However the true meaning is actually very close to modern Western ethical and humanitarian ideals, i.e., being good and happy results from doing good things, not from achieving rewards, personally nor for the corporation. When we focus on reward we are 'attached' and are inherently wrong-minded. When we focus on simply doing good we are right-minded, unattached and thus are fulfilled.

The term detachment or non-attachment has always been seen in a negative light in the West.

Unlike the common Western notion however, detachment is not about surrender of objects of the world but about the surrender of desires that create limitations and conditioning of mind.

Nor is detachment a zombie-like state where an individual has no passions, no desires or where he/she is cold and indifferent. Instead detachment is a state where egocentric desires and fascination for animate and inanimate objects of the world ends and the person understands the meaning of true love (or expressed more conventionally, the meaning of purpose, compassion, humanity, etc).

Swami Rama (1965) asserts that love and non-attachment are synonymous.

Resting on the rich eastern literature, and more specifically Indian Yogic Literature which indicates an obvious link between non-attachment and all positive traits like courage, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, gratitude and even happiness, I (CT) am keenly interested in exploring the correlations between these qualities and Anasakti or non-attachment.

My research work therefore focuses on whether traits like forgiveness, optimism, courage, trust, hope and other character strengths correlate with Anasakti and to what extent.

The basic aim is to scientifically validate our Eastern Yogic literature, which will at the same time strengthen general understanding of 'loving' and spiritual qualities as viewed from the Western perspective.

This research may get us a step closer in attaining what has been very appropriately termed as 'authentic happiness'.

Besides, it will help us in integrating Eastern psychology, which is inherently humanistic and positive, with the current 'positive psychology' movement (love and spirituality at work in other words).

If the correlation between Anasakti or non-attachment and traits like forgiveness, optimism, etc., can be scientifically established, the next step would be to design interventions aimed at training people in practising non-attachment.

Charu Talwar (November 2006-15)

Supervised by Dr Sudha Banth Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.

See also


© articles as shown, Barbara Heyn McMahan 2006-17; Sonia Stojanovic 2006-17; Charu Talwar 2006-17; edits, contextual material and code Alan Chapman 2006-2017