Love is in the Air, But is it in Your Culture?

The number of Super Bowl commercials expressing themes of love and compassion was both stunning and encouraging. Whether it was McDonald’s accepting hugs as payment for cheeseburgers, or Always inviting us to rethink how seemingly subtle messages devalue girls and do real, lasting damage; love and compassion were definitely in the air.

What I find myself wondering is whether that love and compassion is a marketing mirage, or a genuine expression of the values embraced by the companies using these messages to strum our heartstrings. The thing about love and compassion is, people need to perceive a genuine connection for these powerful emotions to resonate as real. This resonance seems more likely to happen if the organizations that are offering these messages of loving compassion have cultures that reflect these same qualities. If not, I would expect the impact of those marketing efforts will begin to feel a bit like someone smiling at you in a way you know isn’t really friendly.

The essence of love and compassion is a genuine heart-felt connection that leaves people feeling good about the interaction, and more invested in being helpful towards others as a result. Expand that into a way of life, and you’re looking at a culture where innovation, initiative, creativity, and connectivity take hold and flourish because people feel safe, seen and appreciated. Coaching-Based leadership creates these kinds of spaces, and this kind of culture.

By contrast, the ever-prevalent Command and Control approach to leadership— where managers feel it’s their job to assess what behaviors are acceptable, what ideas will fly, and who’s right and who’s wrong—creates spaces, and cultures, where people opt to play it safe, stay silent, and get even, rather than take the initiative and risks needed to connect in creative, meaningful ways.

The difference comes down to where these two approaches to leadership spring from. Command and Control leadership is based on judging and correcting people, whereas, Coaching-Based leadership is based on recognizing and realizing potential in others. They are as different as night and day, as are the cultures they create. That’s because you can’t coach someone and judge the person at the same time. You have to choose. It’s one or the other. Create insight or judge people’s behavior. You can’t constantly judge people and expect them to interact with customers, and each other, from a place of loving compassion. It isn’t going to happen.

As for those companies plying their wares with love and compassion, I truly hope their ads are artful expressions of their coaching-based cultures and not just images conjured by their marketing departments. If loving compassion truly resonates inside and outside of these organizations, I expect they’ll realize the success their hoping for and push the edge on this approach further. That would be very cool. Perhaps we’ll know when we see next year’s Super Bowl ads. I’ll be watching. How about you?

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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