Is Your Business a Mercenary, or a Missionary?

Companies want customers to love them. Bosses want people to love their jobs. Yet many leaders will tell you, emotion has no place in business.

This is cognitive dissonance at best, dangerous at worst.

Let’s start with the cognitive dissonance. To think you can strip emotion out of the workplace, and create a successful business is lunacy.  Human endeavors are by their very nature emotional.  Success depends on goodwill, cooperation, empathy, and other nuanced emotions, including love.

When Mark Zuckerburg talks about Facebook, he’s emotional.  He’s passionate; he cares about how Facebook is impacting the world at large. In a recent commencement address he said, “The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”

Without emotions, business becomes nothing more than a mere transaction. An exchange of money for goods or services with no loyalty or attachments is hardly a recipe for creating an engaging workforce or a lasting brand.

Instead of avoiding discussions about feelings, leaders like Zuckerburg leans into the emotional yearning we all have to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Zuckerburg has chosen the missionary path.   His organization is going to make a difference and he knows that emotions play a big role.

Another organization leading with emotion is Procter & Gamble. Their recent ad campaign, ‘Let’s Talk About the Talk,” featured snippets from different generations of African Americans talking to their kids about how to handle prejudice.

Some say it’s a not a consumer products company’s place to wade into social issues.  But if you read P&G purpose statement on their web site you see phrases like, “improves the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”  P&G focuses on helping “the communities in which we live and work to prosper.”

As one of the world’s largest companies with 23 Billion-dollar brands, P&G touches the lives of consumers every day, serving over 5 billion people around the world. P&G has made a choice, they’re going to do more than just sell product.  They’re going to address the emotional issues of our time.  Their ad campaign is the result of a long held focus on higher purpose, which includes embracing and promoting diversity.

Being driven by a noble purpose to improve lives (the missionary approach) causes leaders in organizations like P&G to make different decisions about what they pursue and what they don’t pursue.  They’re intentional about addressing the emotional impact they can have on their clients, and ultimately the world.

It may seem safer to shy away from emotion.  But the results indicate otherwise.  Leaders unable to connect to the emotional needs of employees or customers create transactional organizations, solely dependent on the economic self-interest of the players involves.

Which leads us to the mercenary approach. Examples abound of organizations and leaders who lost touch with their people and clients, and saw their businesses fail. Without an emotional rudder, and without leaders who are intentional about what people often call the “soft” side, it’s easier for greed to prevail. One need look no further than the Volkswagen debacle and Wells Fargo scandal to see what happens when leaders fail to create a positive emotional narrative for the organization.

Emotions are messy and people complicated; ignoring this reality never works.  If you’re in business, it’s going to get emotional. Address it up front, and you create an organization will missionary zeal. Leave it to chance and you may get attacked by your own mercenaries.