Business. Collaboration. Love. What?

Eric Ward on Unsplash

Yes, this is about love. What does love have to do with business or cross-border collaboration or the influence of cultural differences? Everything. Here’s why:


We spend most of our lives working. Forty, fifty, sixty hours a week. Over three, four, some folks five decades. The rest of the time is sleep, communting to and from work, shopping, cooking, eating, pooping, peeing, cleaning, raising children. And if we’re lucky, there’s time left over for exercise and rest and relaxation, reading a book or two.

Folks, we spend more time with colleagues, with customers and suppliers, than we do with our loved ones. Do the numbers. Not with spouses or children or parents or siblings or cousins or our closest friends. Instead with people in our work ecosystem.


Ok, so that’s the first reality, the first set of facts. Here’s the other, far more important, reality. Love is the greatest power known to mankind. The greatest power known to any and every individual. What?

I’m a parent. My son turned 23 recently. In many ways I am a deeply ambivalent person, vascillating between doing this or doing that, going in this direction or in that direction, make this choice or that choice. Stop start. Left right. Up down. Yes no. Run walk. Punch hug. Love hate.

But by far the easiest choice I could ever make, in fact it would not even be a choice, I would not have to even think, would be to give my life for my child. Folks, I don’t need to be dramatic here for effect. Every one of you among my readers who is a parent most certainly nodded in agreement when you read that statement above.

That’s just one form of love. There are many forms. Between siblings. I have four brothers and a sister. The relations are not always great, often not even good. One brother wants nothing to do with me. But our love for each other is unspoken, a given, strong as steel. Lay down my life a sibling? Ambivalence washed away.

Much like my love for my cousins. I grew up with more than thirty of them in suburban Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s. Shared experiences. Catholic elementary school. First Holy Communion. Confirmation. Birthday parties. High school graduations. Weddings. The birth of children. Family. The bonds are strong.

Family. But also friends. I ran in a great crowd at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where I was graduated in 1981. Deep and abiding friendships were formed. They have passed the test of time. Forty years and counting.

Greatest Gift

Love is the greatest of gifts. Just think of your spouse, your children, your parents, nieces and nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles, your closest friends. No need for me to describe what love is, we already know. Perhaps a few words. Support. Loyalty. Listening. Consolation. Joy. Forgiveness. Encouragement. Also difficult, but necessary conversations. But always loyal, always there for the other. Selfless. Not about me. Free. Given feely. Free at and in heart.

Ok, what about our work? About our relations at work? With other people? Is love not at play? Do we go from being loving human persons when not at work to unloving or less-loving human persons when we’re at work? As if we could take out our heart, or turn it off, when we enter the building.

Seriously. Think about it. What’s operating in our hearts when we’re working, when we’re interacting with colleagues, customers, or suppliers, in our broader network of relationships? And folks, let’s not kid ourselves. Work is relationship. Business is relationship. It is first and foremostly human. We’re human persons and not machines. And we don’t work in or for machines. We human beings may make machines, but we’re not machines. There’s a difference.


The Germans have a great term – Geisteshaltung – meaning so much as the orientation of your mind, how you are thinking, in what direction you are thinking, from what direction are you thinking. Where’s your head?

Haltung is posture, attitude, demeanor, bearing, countenance, deportment, mindset. Geist meaning mind, spirit, intellect, animus, psyche.

A year or two ago at mass the priest in his homily – Predigt – spoke about Herzenshaltung. I knew the term Geisteshaltung, but Herzenszaltung? I thought: “Yeah, Herzenshaltung! Where is my heart? From where? To where? To whom? For whom? To what purpose?”

Imagine life without love. Reflect on your most important relationships. Imagine no love with your children. With your spouse or significant other. No love with your parents, aunts, uncles, closest friends. What kind of life would that be? Not much of one.


Ok, let’s take it one step further. We spend most of our life with colleagues, right? Good, how about those relationships in which love is not in play. Loveless. Impersonal. Or worse, interacting with colleagues as if they were a means to an end, instead of ends in and of themselves. And being treated in that way, too.

Holy Moses would that be a sad, sad life. Most of our waking hours working in a job, in an atmosphere, in a network of interactions, of relationships, where love was not involved. What kind of life would that be? Empty. Shallow. Sad. Shoot yourself. Jump in front of a fast-moving train. Open the window and jump. Or worse, walk this earth among the walking dead.

Wait, now what do I mean with love in the workplace? I don’t mean that colleagues fall in love. That happens. Good. I mean love in the sense of respect, care, concern, listening, supporting. Or let’s use less touchy-feely terms: cooperating, collaborating, helping out. Teamwork. 

Yes, those are also a form of love. Frankly, if we’re honest with ourselves, and with each other, when that kind of love is operating in a team, you get some pretty damn good results. We certainly know what the results look like when that kind of love is not at play in an organisation. It’s ugly. I mean that literally. Ugly in the heart. Ugly heart, ugly behavior, ugly atmosphere, ugly work results. Ugly. One of those terms that feels the way it sounds. Ugg. The ly doesn’t help, frankly.


Ok, let’s swerve over to what I usually write about, cross-border collaboration, understanding cultural differences, so that things go smoothly.

Again, there are all kinds of love. Parent-child. Among siblings. Family clan. Close friends. Neighbors. Members of same church, synagoge, mosque. And work colleagues. From different countries. Perhaps thrown together due to a reorganisation, a global project, or due to a merger.

Global team. Americans. Germans. Mexicans. South Koreans. Poles. French. Pick your nationalities. Ok, cool. Among those colleagues what’s their Geisteshaltung? Where are their heads? To be honest, that’s the easy part. It’s about business. We know that stuff. Heck, we work at forty, fifty, even sixty hours a week. Over many years, decades even. We better know it.

What’s their Herzenshaltung? Ah, now that’s much more complicated. In fact, this article is most likely making many of you feel a bit uncomfortable. And not just you. I’ve wanted to communicate these thoughts for years. Many years. I was too fearful of embarrassing myself by doing so. Ambivalent, remember?

But, folks, let’s get real. The Herzenshaltung is far more complex, requires far more courage, demands of us so much more imagination. Imagining how things could be. In our interactions with each other. Ain’t no Six Sigma gonna help. Ain’t no Lean gonna tighten things up. Ain’t no McKinsey gonna analyze how to proceed. McKinsey and love in the same sentence? We’re talking matters of the heart. Our hearts. Yours. Mine. The hearts of our colleagues. Inside of company, outside of company.


So much to write about this. Just two points. Imagine how we would operate, literally what we would do, day in and day out, if we made a clear and conscious decision to never see any colleague as a means to our end, but instead as an end in and of themself. Imagine the interactions, the atmosphere, the spirit of the place, the heart of the place !

Second, in the cross-border space, and that is where my focus is, image how we would operate if we made a clear and conscious decision to sincerely strive to understand how our colleagues from other countries think, therefore work. And did our best to make transparent and understandable to them how we, in our country, in our culture, think, therefore work. With the expressed goal of then figuring out together how best to integrate our approaches. Imagine the interactions, the atmosphere, the spirit of the place, the heart of the place !

Geisteshaltung. Herzenshaltung. Isn’t it love that is the foundation of both? It surely ain’t physics or chemistry or accounting or finance or engineering or project management or Lean or whatever the newest management fad might be. Remember scorecards? Whatever that was.

Herzenshaltung. Where’s your heart? In relation to your colleagues? Especially those who are at home in, who come from, another country, from another culture. 

Herz + Haltung. Heart + Posture. I like words. They have meaning. MerriamWebster on posture: the position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose; state or condition at a given time especially with respect to capability in particular circumstances; a conscious mental or outward behavioral attitude.

I like that last definition: conscious mental attitude. Let’s add to it of the heart. Conscious mental attitude of the heart. A choice we make. Now let’s get reductive: business, company, teams, collaboration, cultures, human beings, Herzenshaltung, results, success, brothers, sisters.

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