“I am transitioning to 100 percent hugging,” says Jerry Greenfield co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream empire. Known for his reliance on ethics and values, his business plays an active part in the wider community and his ice cream sells globally.
Recently, he held a lecture and free ice cream social event at Brown-Lupton University Union in the US, attracting over 800 people for a programme on values and ethics.
Welcoming the students to the event literally with open arms, he shared his Ben & Jerry’s journey. His humble personality makes his story easy to connect with. Well, you can hardly fail to connect with someone who instead of shaking your hand insists on a hug!
In London mid summer this year he spent time judging the short list for the company’s Europe-wide social enterprise competition, Join Our Core, in the same location used for the BBC series Dragons’ Den.
Those who meet him say he exudes a generosity and warmth that most find infectious. In a public setting for example, a steady stream of people nervously comes up to him and he’s quick to offer his bear-like hugs, plus a few kind words. They all walk away with smiles on their faces.
You could say Greenfield is not really an ethical leader since he no longer plays an active management role at Ben & Jerry’s. He concentrates on promoting the company’s social mission. This is expressed in support for campaigns that few other companies would regard as kosher, such as the Occupy movement and same-sex marriages.
Yet in another way he’s exactly that–an ethical leader pursuing his values, following his ethical compass and making sure his company does too, although it is now owned not by him but the giant Unilever. The board remains separate and is mainly allowed to go its own way.
As for his transitioning to hugs, Greenfield is hardly on his own. Male hugging is now all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. President Obama for example is an incorrigible hugger, but then you probably need to be one to claw your way to the White House.
If it moves hug it, seemed to be Bill Clinton’s motto but unfortunately it didn’t necessarily always stop there when it came to the ladies.
Depending on who you ask, male hugging is not yet universally liked. For example, a Canadian 2011 survey of advertising and marketing executives found just over half (58%) thought hugging colleagues at work was inappropriate. Most (72%) said they rarely, if ever, hug clients or business contacts.
A leadership hug is not quite as simple as it looks. Hugging releases oxytocin, also known as “the cuddle hormone”. This makes those on the receiving end feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The chemical has also been linked to social bonding.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, known to promote feelings of devotion and trust. Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana explains “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.” 
So there are plenty of reasons why an ethical leader might adopt hugging to re-enforce their message. A proper deep hug, where the hearts are pressing together, produces important benefits such as
Ethical leaders who hug though, should make sure they do it with genuine warmth. Just going through the motions is almost worse than not doing it at all. They also need to realise hugging can be something of an acquired taste.
For example, relatively few Asians commonly express their love with hugs. Many don’t miss physical affection, thinking of the custom of hugging, especially in public, as a silly display.
For some people it can be annoying to be touched by an over-enthusiastic ethical leader and therefore trying to hug everyone in sight can be highly inappropriate.
In simple terms: hug those close to you, don’t try and hug those who look pained and back away.