In Love with Leadership

Sometimes when I talk about love in leadership, you would think that I had just used a four letter word.

Leadership is perceived as needing to be to be professional, effective and produce results, especially those of a monetary value. “Don’t get into too much of that touchy, feely stuff,” I’m told, “It will make people feel uncomfortable and lose their edge.” While I agree leadership needs to have all of these elements to be effective in business, I don’t think these values exclude the importance of being heart centred, which is a powerful ingredient for transformational change.

Heart-centred leadership, coming from a place of vision and passion. These leaders don’t just do a job, they live what they believe. It fills their thoughts, informs their opinions and dictates their actions.

Heart-centred leadership contains all the elements we look at when we are branding our business – our vision, mission statement, brand definition and behaviours – then super-charges them. It engages people so that they really feel passionate about these corner stone values, instead of just paying them lip service. I have worked with companies who spend a huge budget putting together the phraseology that marketing gurus told them really epitomises their brand. Unfortunately, the employees were demoralised and didn’t embrace the concepts, so they become nothing more than an expensive hypothesis. In this example the client was focusing on the customer but not the people who were going to deliver it. The team didn’t feel valued, listened to or respected, so they certainly weren’t going the extra mile. And why would they? As long as they we’re doing enough to justify a salary, that was all they felt they owed the company.

This is the story in many corporate organisations, large and small. Particularly in times of recession many businesses become almost totally focused on the bottom line. People are expected to work even harder for little or no wage increase and the underlying current is one of fear. “If I don’t do all they’re demanding of me, I’ll be the first to go in a reshuffle.” You don’t get the best out of people with fear as an incentive. It causes anxiety, the tendency to make mistakes and stress related illnesses, which are currently at an all time high in the western world. It also creates a blame culture where bad practice never really improves because no-one feels safe to put up their hand and take responsibility for mistakes. If unaddressed, you are left with a disengaged workforce, like the one I mentioned, above, and it will, sooner or later, impact on your revenue, because everyone is ‘just doing their job’. Mediocrity won’t cut it these days.

So, what is the missing piece?

Heart-centred leadership, coming from a place of vision and passion. These leaders don’t just do a job, they live what they believe. It fills their thoughts, informs their opinions and dictates their actions. They care deeply about their business, product or service and will do what it takes to ensure their team is engaged and supported. They will look at challenges from the perspective of finding a solution and do all they can to create a win-win outcome for their customers, their partners and their team. This is leadership for the long haul. It doesn’t happen instantly and it is unlikely to stick if the leader is seeing the position as a short term means to achieving their self actualisation. Heart centred leadership is just as interested in the advancement of the company and individuals as its own success. It’s about, “What’s in it for us?” not, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the love ingredient that makes the whole company embrace the passion and vision. Steve Jobs is the obvious example of heart centred leadership. He was so passionate about his products that he wouldn’t tolerate anything second rate. He left an amazing legacy with Apple, which still inspires, excites and generates huge revenue, illustrating that heart centred leadership definitely pays off.
Three years after his death it’s still harder to get a job working for Apple than it is to get into Harvard. Pretty impressive.

Some of the outstanding leaders I have known or worked with truly walk their talk and people respond to that authenticity; it inspires even the most cynical team member to change their attitude and re- engage.

So what creates love-leadership, or ignites the flame of passion that may have started to die?

The first step is getting deeply connected with your leadership story, again. What was it that fired you  up and caused you to fall in love with your company? Who were the heroes, role models and mentors that first inspired you to lead? Mine was Oprah Winfrey. She had overcome great  adversity and created a successful business; she was a great female role model, genuinely cared about people, was having a lot of fun and wore great clothes. I wanted to be her. She still continues to inspire me. Leadership takes a great deal energy, focus and time from you. To keep the freshness of your passion alive, you need to keep revisiting the story that brought you to where you are, today, and where you want your vision to take you tomorrow. This is essential if you are to effectively meet the inevitable challenges that will come along. As a heart centred leader you need to sustain not only your passion but that of your team and your customers.

Heart centred leadership is not egocentric. Steve Jobs didn’t let hurt feelings get in the way when Apple approached him to come and work with them, again. He loved the company so much it allowed him to put aside any offence or pettiness and get back to living his passion. A heart centred leader knows it’s far more about who they are being than what they are saying. Some of the outstanding leaders I have known or worked with truly walk their talk and people respond to that authenticity; it inspires even the most cynical team member to change their attitude and re- engage. That’s not to say these leaders are super human and won’t lose their temper or make mistakes but they have the grace and humility to admit their faults and make amends. I’d rather follow a fallible, genuine person than someone who has oodles of charisma but has no integrity. How about you?

From that place of ‘being’ a leader, rather than ‘doing’ leadership, you can be a very positive influence. When people are in love they are happy, optimistic, generous and slow to take offence. Creating a heart centred atmosphere in a company works the same way as it does in a relationship: there is a common sense of purpose, cooperation and satisfaction. I was talking to one of the trainers in the Apple Store, Covent Garden, and asked him why he enjoyed working for the company. He told me that he had been a teacher and gave up his position as a department head and university lecturer to work for Apple. It was a big step but he liked the company ethos and was ready for a more positive working environment. At first he was a little cynical, not really believing that the team could work so well together and be consistently friendly and cheerful. After a month, he realised that they really were that happy and enthusiastic. Steve Job’s passion has created a fans, not customers, and there is no sign of that declining. That’s the influential power of heart centred leadership. It’s not just business super stars like Steve Jobs that are having these results. Some very successful UK companies such as The Supper Club, Clock, Natoora and the wonderful We Are The City are built on a great company culture, headed up by heart centred leadership.

It may not be the easiest or most conventional path to travel but the rewards, both personally and professionally, far out weigh the challenges involved. Smart companies are realising this and making fundamental changes so that they can be part of the business success of the future. In this new era of business people want to collaborate, not be dictated to. Heart centred leadership is the way forward.

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