Loving leadership: caritas in business

Trouw

Loving leadership in business can offer many extras, according to Harry Commandeur, Professor of Industrial Economics and Business Economics at Erasmus School of Economics, and Paul van Geest, Professor of Theology and Economics at Erasmus School of Philosophy. They are authors of the book 'Agape | Caritas in bedrijf' (Agape | Caritas in business), which contains ten studies on organisations that apply loving leadership in practice. In an interview with Trouw, the authors talk about their book.

'Leaders must be loving, kind, and friendly'

In their book, Commandeur and van Geest turn to church father Augustine, a theologian for inspiration in business. ‘Augustine emphasises that leaders must also be loving, kind and friendly, so that they can better understand their subordinate. At the same time, they must be able to make strong and just decisions, in favour of the continuity of the company. Empathy, love and good decisions are connected in Augustine's practices', says van Geest.

Usually, economists perceive men in their models as a homo economicus, who is always rational in his considerations and consistent in his preferences,' van Geest explains. In discussions with directors of large companies, we discovered that other factors play a role in economic decisions than just rational considerations. One of these drivers is empathy, which touches on caritas, love.'

The loving manager

So what does a loving manager do in practice? Van Geest starts with what a loving leader should definitely not do: 'That is going around the company like a soft guru. According to Augustine, you can confront people with their imperfections, but then words of healing must follow. A loving leader will therefore not only make a cool and clinical diagnosis when an employee's turnover is low. He will first ask himself: what does he or she need, and how can I support him or her? A loving leader is not only empathic but also decisive.’

Allow money to be what it should be

Commandeur explains that in Augustinian leadership the community is central, not status and self-interest. A leader should not only safeguard the interests of the company, but also those of the employees and society. The studies by Commandeur and van Geest show what this looks like in practice. For example, companies focus on the employee's personal development, important decisions are discussed extensively with the staff, or employees are financially supported in more difficult periods. Another company puts its surplus profits into a foundation or charity. This way, the company allows money to be what it should be: an instrument for prosperity and well-being.

More information

The full article from Trouw, 18 February 2021, can be downloaded above (in Dutch). 

The book Agape | Caritas in bedrijf can be purchased here