The Role of Love in Leadership and Business Growth

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Original Date: July 12, 2017
Leadership development has focused typically on strengthening concepts (KNOWING) and skills (DOING). In a similar way, it looks to develop financial or sales capabilities. While these are necessary and sufficient for salesmen or financial analysts, they are not sufficient for leaders. There is a third element critical for leaders — the BEING…awakening virtues such as humility, trust, and caring capacity.
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Barbie: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s webinar “The Role of Love in Leadership and Business Growth.” This is one in a series of webinars, where we connect for about 30 minutes to bring to life the challenges we see in the market and what to do about them.

During today’s session, Jose Marti, one on Axialent’s Mexico-based associate partners, will engage us in a conversation about the importance of a very critical and often overlooked leadership skill, the actual being, and how virtues such as humility, trust, care, and responsibility come into play. We will host a Q&A session at the end of the presentation, and if you have any questions during the session, there’s a question application in your control panel that you can use, where you can type in your question, and then we will look at them at the end of the presentation.

And with that, I hand it over to you, Jose.

Jose Marti: Thank you, Barbie. It’s a real, real pleasure and honor for me to be with you today in this webinar to talk about the role of love in leadership and business growth. Love and business are certainly two words that we very rarely see together, almost counter-intuitive in our world. But that’s exactly what I intend to show you today, how these two words not only go well together but actually belong together. So, let’s get started.

The name of the game today and in the years to come is disruption … disruption sweeping away corporations, such as Kodak from years ago, when digital cameras appeared and more recently Nokia, virtually falling into bankruptcy due to the appearance of waste. Disruption threatening not only corporations, but the existence of whole industries. The day when we all print our shoes at home with 3D printers doesn’t seem far away for me. Or to be able to ask for a self-driving car, have it showing in our home exactly the time we need it, and take us wherever we want. Well, that doesn’t seem far. Who would need then to own a car? It’s actually been forecasted that up to 90% of cars on the streets today could go away within the next decade or so. The exponential changes we face are VUCA Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are everywhere and every time.

Salim Ismail states in his book Exponential Organizations, that many of you may have read or know about, changes are of such magnitude and speed that acquiring more knowledge and developing more skills, just to do more, will no longer be enough. In order to survive in this new environment, organizations will need to focus on something more than knowledge, something more than knowing and doing, must strengthen the being dimension, the organizational culture. And those who do that may not only have a better chance of survival, but will develop a critical competitive advantage.

I do like Salim Ismail’s analogy of the perfect storm, and this is the way I envision it. Up to now, companies have been able to navigate and stay afloat, even through some rough weathers, caused by technology change or increased competition. They coped with it just by increasing the size of the sails in the boat, meaning knowing and doing, knowledge and skills. But we face today a new paradigm, the perfect storm. As technology changes, now joined by other elements, such as social networks, big data, crowdsourcing and new generations, thus multiplying the speed and the dimension of change in such way that more knowledge and skills will no longer be enough to face it. We must develop the being dimension. The keel of the ship must be large and deep enough to keep the boat from turning over and sinking.

Another metaphor that we use at Axialent is the iceberg. The larger part of an iceberg is the deepest under the water. While we only see what’s above, the outcomes we want to have, sustainable change is only possible when we work at the deepest level, the being dimension, where transformative change is possible. And this is the response precisely to the new paradigm: expanding our focus from knowledge and skills development to include purpose and virtues as cornerstones of changes and growth.

So, let’s talk about purpose first. While at Citi, I remember I used to ask leaders attending training workshops what’s the leaders’ purpose. The usual response was something like maximizing performance of all team members, not a strange type of answer for a banker. My reply then was, “But what are we before members of the team?” And of course, the answer to that is “people,” we are people before being members of a team. There’s a huge difference in treating people as people versus just only as team members. The purpose of an authentic leader then is something more like this: to unleash people’s potential.

Let’s take an example, let’s think about two people, Mary and John. Marry and John are having a review session with one of the rec reports, each one in their office. Both are doing and saying pretty much the same thing. John is doing a good job, he knows how to give and receive feedback, he has the skills, the knowledge to manage this kind of session. Mary is also doing a great job, as she has similar skills and knowledge. But, in addition, what’s driving Mary to do the session the way she’s doing it, is that she views the session as an opportunity to impact her colleague for her growth and happiness as a person, not just as a member of a team. But again, what you see they are saying and doing is very similar.

A couple of weeks later, competitors try to hire John and Mary’s employees. Who do you think has a better chance that his or her employee will stay working with the company, John or Mary? The usual answer is “Mary,” but my question then is “Why,” since both did and said pretty much the same thing. What made the difference? The difference is intention or purpose. The depth of intention makes the difference between two identical actions. And how do we call this, that when competition tries to hire Mary’s employees, they don’t leave, they stay with Mary. That’s called loyalty. And again, another question: what does any business need to grow sustainably? Loyalty from employees, of course, among other things that we will discuss. The point here is that loyalty is not only a function of competitive salaries or institutional processes, such as performance management, but is really a function … comes from a deeper level, from purpose or intention, which is a way of being, not just doing.

Same applies to a company level. It’s been proven that companies that operate driven by a noble purpose, rather than just by the need to maximize profits end up making more money than those that just chase profits. Raj Sisodia, who is a board member of Axialent, led this 15-year long research, where he compared business performance of 38 companies that operate under a noble purpose to generate some kind of benefit to society, not just profits. Compared those with other companies, they just chase profits. The very professional, all of them … very large corporations, but again, that just had no other purpose than maximizing profits. S&P type companies, as well as others mentioned by Jim Collins in his famous book Good to Great. As you can see, Raj Sisodia’s 38 companies outperformed in a significant way all others.

So, conscious leadership is integral, both at the company level, as an individual leader. Everything starts in oneself, the “I” dimension, values, and purpose in life. Includes the “We” dimension, building trust and respect, as we are then able to treat and appreciate people as people, and thereby accomplish the task, the “It” dimension, achieving sustainable results by the dynamic balance of these three elements. So, all of the three elements … I say it’s a dynamic balance, because sometimes you will have to put your focus more in one or the other, but in the long run, you must … as we are able to keep that dynamic balance. It’s the only way to achieve exceptional, sustainable results.

Let me go back to the iceberg to talk about virtues, the being level, the starting point of behaviors and values. What I’ve seen far too many times in organizations, trying to build culture, is those just identifying the values, such as result orientation, innovation, collaboration, client centricity, and they would just communicate those values through internal communications, hang them up from walls, and that’s it. And then, of course, not much happens out of that approach. Other companies do a better job. That was the case at Citibank, I remember. They develop long lists of behaviors underneath each one of the … They are related to each one of the expected behaviors, and then trained employees to understand and learn those behaviors. And that’s still insufficient and ineffective, as I believe that learned behaviors can’t sustain authentic values.

Authenticity comes from a deeper level, from a deeper place than the mind, comes from the being dimension, comes from … Just training, before training employees on behaviors and conceptual values, leaders must create environments where essential virtues are born. These essential virtues will naturally produce the corresponding behaviors that end up manifesting the expected values. Really the good news about these essential virtues is that we don’t need to learn them. We are born with them. Take for instance humility. Humility is an essential virtue to generate innovation. Can you think of a four, five-year old boy who is not humble? Of course not. Humility is actually not even an issue at that age, because kids are naturally humble.

Or take trust, essential virtue to build collaboration. Do you know a four, five-year old kid who is not trusting? I don’t. Responsibility, on the other hand here, an essential virtue also to work on results orientation, is something that we tend to relate with guiltiness. Responsibility as an essential virtue has nothing to do with guilt. It means ability to respond. It’s a natural tendency of human beings to be players in our lives, not victims. And we also are born with this virtue.

You may ask then, if we are born with these virtues, why don’t we all have them? We do have them, but many are buried inside of us, as a result of painful experiences throughout life. Experiences of humiliations, for instance, in our early childhood can make us cover up our natural humility and become arrogant, just as experiences of betrayal or rejection can make us hide our trustfulness … in a subconscious way become untrusting. We are also born with a caring capacity, a natural tendency to feel for fellow human beings. For instance, if we see someone on the street falling from the bike, we naturally try to help that person, not because we learned that we should do that. We learn that in school and in church that we should help the one who falls from the bike. It’s a natural tendency, a natural impulse of caring for others that we are all born with. Caring is the essential virtue to achieve client centricity.

Let’s go back to the example of John and Mary. Both are returning a call to a client. John is doing a great job, as he knows the product, he knows the client’s needs, really wants to close the deal. Mary too. Both are saying very similar things to their clients over the phone. The only difference is that the reason Mary is returning the call is that she promised a person, a fellow human being, to return a call. Before looking at her client as a client, she looks at him as a person. So, two weeks later, again John and Mary call their respective clients to present a new product. Who has a better chance that his or her client will take the call? Mary or John? And again, the usual answer is “Mary.” But again, my question is, “Why,” since both said very similar things. What made the difference? And again, the answer is “Intention.” The depth of intention of John was to close the deal, close the sale, while Mary’s intention was to respect the person doing what she promised to do.

And again, here the question, again, is, “How do you call that?” When Mary calls her clients, they take her call, they don’t go to the competition, to the competitors. That’s called loyalty, also fundamental for sustainable growth of the business, as is the loyalty of employees mentioned before. Here again, the important point is to understand and keep in mind that loyalty comes from that deeper side, the deeper level, not just by doing things, the right price, the right color of the product, paying good salaries and training employees. All of those things are necessary. But loyalty is really born from a deeper point, from a deeper place, from the heart, from the intention behind my actions.

Caring is an aspect of love. Of course, we are not talking here about romantic love. These all virtues are, in fact, part of that. There are only two primary energies that make us behave, that drive human behavior: love and fear. It’s not that fear is something bad. Fear can protect us, can provide contention. Love and fear are creative forces, a duality that must be in balance, similarly to the two main forces of the cosmos, expansion, and contraction. If the cosmos would be in constant expansion, that would relate to love. Perhaps the planets would go out of orbit. Or if the cosmos would be in constant contraction, would become a black hole. Balance of these two forces is what makes existence possible. As love generates passion in life, fear fuels self-interest. Those two forces that, again … should be in balance.

According to the founding father of economics Adam Smith, these two forces, he says that they are two forces that guide human actions, one is benevolence, and the other is self-interest. But our modern society is out of balance. He said self-interest became the dominant force mainly since the appearance of the currency in the market economy, after the barter society. He goes on explaining how all this happened, which we are not gonna go into in the interest of time, but his conclusion after that, after talking about this out-of-balance society that we are in, he says, “Self-interest will never replace benevolence as a necessary element to attain universal opulence.”

So, here we have the founding father of economics saying that love or benevolence, as he called it, is a necessary element for economic growth, because universal opulence is nothing more than that. It’s actually much more than that. Universal opulence is economic growth, it’s social growth, it’s personal growth. So, he is saying, to grow economically we need love, and we are afraid to even mention love at work. Something doesn’t match in my mind, something is broken.

What’s the way back home? Where to start? The key is within each of us. Recall John and Mary’s examples, where Mary was able to convey a sense of caring or love, as mentioned, to her co-worker first and then to the client, and thereby generated that loyalty from them. The key question is very simple: would Mary have been able to convey caring or love to another person if she has not given that to herself? Of course not. We cannot give what we don’t have. Yet, how often do we reflect on this, “Do I love myself? Do I accept myself unconditionally?” Perhaps we seldom come up with a question like that. Our immediate superficial answer is, “Yes, I love myself.” But it’s not as simple. And yet, it’s the starting point for anything else.

Charlie Chaplin wrote this when he was 70 years old … Not until he was 70 years old, he was able to say, “When I started loving myself, I realized that I am in the right place at the right time, and that everything that happens is perfect. Since then, I’ve been able to live in peace. Today I know this is called ‘trust.'” Imagine that you can say this in your life, “I’m always in the right place at the right time, and everything that happens is perfect.” Would that be a different life? That’s a life of trust. And here trust is no longer a concept, it’s a true virtue that is being lived by. Another thing that he said was, “When I started loving myself …” Again, 70 years old “…I stopped trying to be always right and thereby have made less mistakes. Today I know this is called ‘humility.'”

We try to be right, we try to defend our point of view when we think or when we feel that we are valued based on how much we know, that our worth is based on what we know. But, when you have reached the point that Chaplin reached by loving himself … realized that he’s worthy just because of the fact of being, just because of being, not by what he knows, but who he is … He’s worthy of love … Then it’s not difficult to say, “Yeah, I’m wrong” or “I don’t know.” That’s the natural humility that comes out of finding out who you are and loving yourself. You see, trust and humility are now part of a way of being that came up not from a dictionary, but throughout experiences in life that brought this alive. Now you can see, and I hope you can see, that virtues such as humility, trust, and caring generate loyalty and business growth. Hopefully, you can now see that these two words not only go well together, but truly belong together.

I’d like to finish with another analogy, and give you some tools and signposts to work with the first step of all of this, which is you. My analogy is with Michelangelo and his masterpiece, the statue of David. Michelangelo was asked one day how was it possible for him to have made such a perfection as the statue of David. His answer was, “I didn’t make it. I didn’t make the statue. It was already inside the stone. I only took away the pieces of stone covering it.” We all are born as the David, that’s my analogy. We all come to the world as Davids, perfect, with all essential virtues, but life experiences, as mentioned earlier, mostly of pain, make us cover with stones, with a stone called distrust our trustfulness, with another stone called arrogance our humility, with a stone called victimism our ability to respond, and so forth.

When we grow up, we are all covered with stone. We become a stone, and we believe we are this stone. My invitation to you today is to work with that stone, identify which stone has covered which of your virtues, take the chisel and hammer, and work to carve away that stone, one by one, day by day, until you uncover the David within you, the perfection that you are. The question here now is: how to get started? My suggestion is: follow the same steps as Michelangelo.

The first thing he did, if you can imagine him with a stone in front of him, was he imagined, he had the vision of the David inside the stone. He believed that inside that stone, even though it was cracked … This is also a historic event, he chose that stone because he believed David was inside. So, my first suggestion is: believe in who you are, see beyond the rock. When you look at the mirror, don’t just look at the consultant or the director or the father of four. Look inside, go beyond, and trust who is really inside there.

The second thing that Michelangelo, I’m sure, did, he made this a priority, to uncover the David. With all the different challenges that we face in life, as I’m sure Michelangelo had … If he would not have made it a priority to every minute, every day, work in that stone to uncover it, it would not have happened. It’s not something that we’d do on Sundays when we go to church, or we go to the temple, or we go to the mountain to meditate every Sunday. This must be an every-minute, everyday effort to stay awake, and look for awakening to uncover those essential virtues in us.

The third point is: use the chisel and hammer. With “chisel” I mean self-awareness, and “hammer” is action, take the corresponding action with discipline. Chisel is self-awareness of: what is driving my action, my everyday action, is self-interest, is fear or is passion? And then, if it’s only self-interest, if it’s only fear, if it’s unbalanced, then I stop there, take the hammer, and take a consequential action to correct that. So, with that, I’d like to go to the questions, to your questions or comments.

Barbie: Thank you so much, Jose.

Jose Marti: Thank you.

Barbie: That was fantastic. So we have some questions, and I would like to remind the participants as well that if you have one you can use the little question application in your control panel.

The first question, Jose, is, you mentioned that everything starts with oneself. How have you worked on this in your life?

Jose Marti: You could see already in my bio, I am a passionate biker. I always remember this experience, it’s a real sample of my adventure in building and finding my own David, which I started many, many years ago. This is, again, a whole life adventure. But this happened to me not long ago. Every once in a while, every two or three months, we go on long rides. We take three, four days, sometimes even five days, and go to the mountains. As you can imagine, while I was working it was even harder.

I would come home every day, 10:30, 11 o’clock at night. I would travel a lot, and then on top of that I would have to come to my wife, to Ivonne, and say every two or three months, “I’m not gonna be here next weekend or next week.” So, hard conversation, as you can imagine. I remember that time happening to me that I catch myself three, four days before one of these trips that I had not mentioned to Ivonne. I come back home with some flowers for Ivonne. So, you could think, or maybe just conceive that action isolated, it’s a loving action, right? So many years married and still bringing flowers to Ivonne, but that’s not really a loving action. Of course I love Ivonne, but if I’m honest with myself, which is the chisel, what’s driving that specific action in that moment was not love, was that I was afraid that she would be mad when I say that I was not gonna be at home because of the bike.

So, the chisel is that, again, be brutally honest, every minute, every action, every decision in your life. What is really, really driving that action? And the hammer is take the corresponding action. Throw out the flowers, put out the flowers, and face the conversation honestly, right? That’s the hammer. And that’s pretty much the way … I always remember that experience, being an observer of myself, every minute. What is driving my actions? But the other hand that I also found out is that I was falling into observing many times and judging myself. It took me many years to realize that only when I stopped judging myself, when I was not doing the right thing or what I wished I had done, it’s when I really started growing more, because if I judge myself then I will judge others the same way. But anyway, it’s a long … I hope that small example gives you some answer or some light into how I’m doing that in my life.

Barbie: Thank you so much, Jose. I have another question. How do I engage my boss or my leader in a conversation about this? How do I introduce trust and humility to a leader?

Jose Marti: That’s a good question. I remember having a conversation related to innovation. One of my bosses in Citibank in the early years … There was a very good speech about innovation and need to do things differently, and then I came back to … I was at that time also a couch to my boss, he had asked me to couch him, especially after some events like this one. I said, “The speech was great, but I don’t believe that people are trusting too much your speech.” And he said, “Why?” We had been already working on this issue in him, which is … “Remember, it’s very hard for you to accept whenever you make a mistake or whenever you are … Something goes wrong, you tend to not accept mistakes and not accept to go out of the way that you know. So, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about innovation and how beautiful your speeches are, what you’re conveying to people is that you really want to stay in a comfort zone, and not open to new things.”

I think the only way to confront and to introduce these … with real life experiences, with real life examples, where you could bring and connect with what the boss, in this case, is doing and how that is, again, also connected with what the business or the organization is pursuing. Again, not an easy job. It takes some strength to confront and some strength also to even talk about humility or love at work. It’s not an easy task, but again, as I said, the first step is within you, with you. When you start working in all of that in you, for you, it’s gonna become easier to do it at work.

Barbie: Thank you, Jose. I have another question. Love seems to be kind of the dirty word in an organization, and the idea of love in business seems to be very foreign. It’s more about self-interest and self-promotion. How do I start something at work? How can I bring this to work?

Jose Marti: I would keep the connection with the role of loyalty. We as a business … What we need to grow sustainably, as a business, is loyalty, not only from our clients, but also from our co-workers. It’s in my two examples I put there. And loyalty, as I mentioned … The traditional thinking in corporations is that loyalty must come up … We will get employees’ loyalty if we pay them enough, if we train them enough, if we even communicate openly. All of that can help, but true loyalty will only come up, will only happen, when employees feel that what I’m doing, my training to them, my communicating to them, my paying to them, comes out of my true caring for them as people, as persons, not only as a practice that must be done. Same with clients, it’s not that … I’m not gonna get loyalty just because I have a better price or a nicer color or … That will help, but loyalty will only come up when clients believe and feel that I care for them as people.

I love the story of John Mackey in Whole Foods, when he put all his money to start up the first store. As you know, Whole Markets’ mission … The reason he built Whole Markets … Whole Foods … is that he wanted to bring healthy food for people. That was his driving force, not just making money. And, as people in the neighborhood knew that … He was well known where he established his first store, by the community. A flooding came and took away the whole thing. The store was wiped out, and he had no money to continue. He was already in bankruptcy.

All of a sudden, the suppliers started calling John, saying, “Hey John, don’t worry about paying us, you pay us whenever you can. Here is a product.” And the members of the community would come on the weekends with their tools to help John rebuild the store. All of that because they knew what really was behind the actions of John: he cared about the health of people. As you know, Whole Foods is a very successful business, actually just bought by Amazon. But what drove his success … And I heard that from him personally … was the purpose behind, the love behind. That’s where loyalty comes from. I don’t know if this helps.

Barbie: Very helpful. Thank you, Jose. I have one last question: I have found recently in my own experience that the hardest thing is to accept not knowing without becoming anxious or fearful. Do you see this as connected to what you’re suggesting?

Jose Marti: Absolutely, absolutely. Again, it starts with working with yourself, with oneself. Why do I feel anxious or nervous or fearful when I don’t know something? And again, has to do, very deeply inside, with the fact that I’m putting value of myself in how much I know, and therefore or thereby in how much I’m accepted by other people. In order to be accepted, I need to know, and if I don’t know I will not be accepted.

So, start by accepting yourself, start by loving yourself, not based on how much you know, but in the fact of just … Again, the very fact of being, of existing, makes us worthy of everything, makes us worthy of love. We are capable, we are worthy, we are loved just because of the fact of being. When we can work that inside of, not at the mind, not … It’s just the words I’m saying are just words, and you can understand them, and seem obvious, but it’s not working them in the mind but in the heart. Generate that feeling, that emotion inside of you, that you are worthy just because of fact of being. Develop that every day inside of you, for you, and then naturally, eventually, the need to be right will go away, the need to be accepted will go away.

Barbie: Thank you so much, Jose. That was beautiful, and I think that was a great way to close the session today. So, thank you, Jose, for your presentation, thank to all the attendees, and have a great rest of the day.

Jose Marti: Thank you.

Barbie: Bye, everyone.

Jose Marti: Bye bye, thanks.

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