The role of love in leadership and business growth

Our world faces today unprecedented changes fueled by the combined forces of new paradigms. As Salim Ismail states in his book “Exponential Organizations,” amazing technology advancements are now joined by other disrupting elements such as social networks, big data, crowd sourcing and new generations, creating what he calls “the perfect storm.”

Disruption in every aspect of our life will happen at such speed and magnitude that knowing more and doing more will no longer be enough to stay afloat. Leaders, now more than ever, need to strengthen the “being” dimension: who we are and what we are here for.

Working with this new reality is not just a new learning process; it requires an inside-out transformation both from a business perspective and from a personal one.

The traditional view of business growth only driven by profit optimization must be transformed to become purpose driven, as sustainability of growth is only achieved when a deeper purpose to generate a benefit for society is the central driver of its existence. This driver can also be called love—one of the two forces that drive human behavior. The other one, the flip side, is fear. Love generates passion to create and contribute, while fear fuels self-interest, which is the dominant driver of business in our world today.

Love is rarely related to or even mentioned in a business environment today. Kenneth Boulding, one of the most renowned economists of the last century, states: “The main obstacle for economic growth today has been the incapacity of the (integral) system to boost love beyond the family ambit.”

We seem afraid to even talk about love in a business setting, yet famous economists like Boulding and Adam Smith, founding father of economics, advocate it as necessary for business growth. Smith said: “Self-interest will never be able to replace benevolence toward others as a necessary element to attain universal opulence.”

Why then have we avoided love in business?

From an economic or business perspective, love is difficult to be defined and measured. From a personal standpoint, it entails working on ourselves, facing and transcending our fears and deficiencies…not an easy job. However, everything starts there: within you, within me.

Perhaps the missing link to connect love and business in today’s world is loyalty—from customers and from employees.

It is common belief that loyalty is achieved by such things as the right price of products for customers or the best salary for employees, customer “service” or employee training. These elements are necessary conditions of loyalty but not sufficient.

Loyalty is not a function of the mind but of the heart.

Only when customers feel (and experience) that the service or product we provide is driven by a deep intention to generate a benefit for them, to enrich their life as people, loyalty can emerge. The same applies for salaries or training provided to employees. And loyalty from employees and customers is the base for sustainable business growth.

Such deep intention is also called caring or love.

But the duality of forces driving our behavior as human beings is constant: love/caring versus fear/self-interest. Managing this duality is the job—the path of transformation required from us in the new time.

The way to do this is through consciousness:

  • Being aware of the intention behind each and every one of our actions or decisions, day by day, minute by minute.
  • Being aware that self-interest disguises very easily as care or love.
  • Becoming our own observers but also being aware of our conditioned tendency to judge both others and ourselves.
  • Observing yourself compassionately—with no judgment—but persistently and taking consistent action.

Understand your fears and be determined to awaken your essence: love.

“As mind merges in the heart, true understanding awakens. You are the invisible inside the visible, the unmoving inside all movements. Like space moving in space, glowing inside a thin skin called a human being.” —Mooji

6 Beliefs about Leadership that Can Change the World

Change the world.I recently completed an intensive 10-month leadership development program. Once a quarter, 24 people from all over the world would come together for a week of experiential learning at a retreat center in Asheville, NC. During this journey, there were plenty of breakdowns, breakthroughs and even a broken finger.

When people hear the word leadership development, they often think of managers and executives receiving training. Certainly this can be the case and still I believe there is another way to think about this. I chose this training program over many others because I believe everyone is a leader and with this perspective we can change the world for the better. Imagine everyone in your organization recognizing their capacity to lead and realizing that leadership is not based on positional authority. What would be possible?

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Dare to Care: How Compassion Impacts the Bottom-line

Compassionate leadershipBecky’s frustration grew as she watched Joan blow up in her office yet again. Becky had served as the Director of Sales for a successful pharmaceutical company for the past six years and struggled with her relationship with her Sales Manager, Joan. Careful to not say anything that would trigger Joan, Becky began to hold back in their conversations and avoided meeting with Joan altogether.

“Not again.” Becky thought. “It seems that every time I meet with Joan she gets upset when I ask her a tough question or I disagree with her position. This is driving me crazy!  How can we work like this?”

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Inclusive Leadership: A Modern Competitive Advantage

Inclusive Leadership

As we continue to adapt to challenging and uncertain economic times and look toward the future of how we can sustainably compete in an ever-changing marketplace, we often focus on business strategy, lean reduction, systems, processes and key differentiating factors which define our competitive edge. All relevant and powerful places to look. However, when it comes to attracting and retaining your best talent, harvesting the innovative ideas that live and breathe inside your organizations corridors and eliciting true commitment from employees, inclusive leadership skills are required.

We often see Diversity and Inclusion in the same area so let’s be clear that our stand is that we are ALL diverse. Diversity is about the differences and similarities of everyone – it is NOT limited to a specific group of people. We all have inherent diversity; factors with us from birth that shape how we see the world and how we are seen, like race, gender, ethnicity, etc. Their influence can impact our behaviors, expectations and mindsets. And acquired diversity, aspects of us and our identity that are shaped by elements that change over the course of our lives: where we live and experiences we have. These are less visible but still important in forming how we view the world.

Inclusive leadership is the ability to effectively leverage diversity and most importantly the diversity of thought that comes with it.

Inclusion has become an integral part of the survival conversation, begging the question “How can we enable employees to maximize their creativity to drive organizational innovation and long-term success?” Inclusive leadership creates the environment that does just that. A leader who leverages diversity of thinking can be the disruptive force that breaks-through common limiting factors in even the strongest of organizations. These limitations are often driven by culture, the behaviors, systems and symbols that point to “the way we do things around here”. It is our strong need to belong that has shaped us to quickly and often unconsciously assess what it takes to “be one of us” and what it would take to be “rejected”.

Our goal, and often that of the organization is for someone to assimilate quickly and “get with the program”. This is in direct conflict with efforts an organization might initiate to diversify talent, ideas and ways of viewing things in service of creativity and innovation. If an organization is truly committed to effectively competing in today’s ever-changing marketplace with increasingly global and virtual work teams, it needs to foster a culture that values the unique experiences and perspectives of each individual and fully engages everyone in the drive to success. Inclusion means that employees experience a sense of belonging.

Inclusive leaders strive to create an environment where employees feel they are part of one organization, across the globe. They value every individual’s contributions, no matter their title, in order to better adapt to new competitive opportunities and challenges. Building a culture that thrives on inclusive leadership starts with building the self-awareness of the leaders. Developing their ability to be introspective, being honest and aware of their own blind spots and deepening their ability and commitment to be authentically curious, listen and learn from their employees.

Gone are the days of the lone leader with all of the answers. Today’s leaders are leading with questions, changing the conversation, inviting challenge and demonstrating the powerful humility and self-awareness required to truly be inclusive. This in turns creates a culture where we interact with one another human to human, rather than title to title and invite everyone to be a part of the success of the organization rather than just “doing what they are told.” Command and control will stifle the creativity and commitment of even the most dedicated among us. Today’s modern competitive advantage is inclusive leadership. Bill Gates recently said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”


About the author

Pamela is Axialent’s North America Managing Partner. With more than 15 years of experience in international relationship management, consulting and entrepreneurship, she is a leadership consultant and coach, course designer, and conference speaker. Read more>



Is it your boss? Or is it you?

“She micromanages”, “He delegates too much”, “She doesn’t allow us to give our input”, “His requests are indecipherable”, “She demands too much in too little time”. The list could go on and on. Difficult bosses. They seem determined to make our lives impossible.

Yes, there are challenging bosses out there. And there’s also our ability to respond to any given situation. Consider the following scenarios. For each situation, take a moment to honestly think how you would respond, what’s the immediate reaction that comes up in those few seconds after you are posed with the situation?

  • When there’s a mistake or you are asked about a breakdown:

a)    You identify who’s responsible for getting you into this situation. For example, “The report isn’t ready because the Finance team didn’t post the data in the internal system”.

b)    You acknowledge your contribution to the problem. For example, “I forgot to explicitly request the Finance team the data I needed to ensure I’d get it on time”.

  • When your manager delegates a task and you are unclear about a few things:

a)    You leave the conversation thinking what an ambiguous request and that you’ll do the best you can with the information you were given

b)    You ask for clarification

  • When you are asked your opinion in the middle of a heated team meeting:

a)    You give a polite opinion wanting to avoid creating more disruption

b)    You express what you think in a way that is honest and at the same time respectful to others

  • If you disagree with your manager:

a)    You share your point of view with colleagues, but not with your manager. He doesn’t really listen, so what’s the point?

b)    You express your disagreement with your manager, stating the facts that underlie your opinion and acknowledging that your perspective is one of many possibilities, not “the” truth.

The options might be a bit extreme but they capture two archetypes: the victim and the player. In the “a” responses the focus is on what others did wrong or should do different. You suffer the consequences of external circumstances (the finance team didn’t do their job, your boss makes unclear requests). In the “b” responses the focus is on how you contributed in some way to the situation and what you can do. You respond to external circumstances (you ask for clarification, you express your truth).

Acting as a victim might be more an automatic reaction than a conscious choice. It protects you from blame and feelings of failure. There’s safety in feeling innocent and watching from the sidelines. But it’s also disempowering. You get trapped in the assumption that there’s nothing you can do.

It’s not you, it’s me

The first step is to recognize that it’s not all about your manager. If you believe her actions are wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it, you are trapped in the mental model of the victim.

The most significant shift from victim to player is moving from a frame of mind of “it’s not up to me” to “what can I do”. A powerful way to do so is paying attention to your language.

As we saw in the examples at the beginning, the victim speaks in third person and focuses on factors beyond his control: “The finance team didn’t post the information”; “It was too little time”; “The request was unclear”; “Management doesn’t support the idea”.

The language of the player instead starts with “I” and includes specific actions you could have taken or can now take. “I didn’t ask the finance team for the information”; “I underestimated the time it would take me to complete the report”; “I did not understand the request”; “I couldn’t convince management to support the idea.”

Another telling difference is that the victim uses the language of “should” indicating obligation and judgment, while the player uses the language of “could” indicating possibility and learning.

I’m not advocating for you to become a language fanatic paying attention to each specific word, but to see language as an expression of your underlying frame of mind and to start paying attention to your automatic responses. Are you focusing on external causality or personal accountability? Are you focusing on what others should do or what you could do?

You can’t change how somebody else behaves. But you can influence through your thoughts and behaviors. Next time you are faced with an ambiguous request, instead of thinking “he should be better at delegating”, consider asking clarifying questions around quality standards, available resources and time of delivery. You are helping your boss be a better boss. And you leave the conversation empowered to actually get the task done.

A footnote for the leader

Just as we are inviting the reader to take ownership on how he or she responds to a “difficult boss”, as a leader you also can take ownership if you have an unmotivated team member.  How might you be contributing to this person’s engagement with the project, department or company? What example are you setting through your actions? How much do you focus on what others should have done vs. what you can do? Are you having honest and respectful conversations around performance? Are you delegating clearly?

Creating an effective and meaningful relationship goes both ways. When we are unhappy with somebody else’s role or behaviors, a lot of energy goes into complaining, venting or denying. Shifting from outside causality to personal accountability, from blaming to owning, opens the space to identify what can be learned, what can be done and how to make it happen.


About the author

Tim is Axialent’s Brazil Associate Partner. He has developed his professional career through more than 25 years in senior leadership positions in the fields of consumer packaged goods, life sciences and management consulting. Read more >



The Elephant in the Room

When Contradictions Create Paralysis and Destroy Effectiveness in the teams

“We believe in teamwork” (while solo-flyers get promoted). “We empower our subsidiaries to serve clients as they see best” (while corporate imposes inflexible policies). “We take care of our people” (while benefits are being cut every year).

The contradiction between the espoused values and what actually happens (the behaviors in action) hides a valuable message. While managers say they believe in teamwork, they might also be afraid of loosing their top talent to the competition and end up promoting high-performers that not necessarily are team players. The apparent contradiction per se is not the problem. The problem is when these contradictions aren’t openly discussed. If somebody exposes the contradiction, you have to come to terms with the brutal fact: maybe you do not value teamwork as much as you say you do. In an effort to hide the contradiction you, probably unconsciously, give ambiguous answers, don’t include the item in the agenda or shut people down.

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M&A: Managing the ´soft stuff´

“Hostile takeover”, “culture clash”, “turf wars”, “us against them” – phrases commonly applied to M&A, often in retrospect to describe why expectations that rode high at the start failed to be delivered. These are telling words of conflict; it’s easy to ascertain that stakeholders involved in any joint venture believe they are entering a war—a war they believe they must win to survive. 

So how do leaders, post merger, prevent loss of productivity and ensure they deliver the anticipated synergies, in the context of such a win-lose atmosphere? A mounting body of evidence points toward the soft side, the human elements, as the culprits of failure to maintain productivity and deliver the expected synergy. Stories abound of integration efforts being undermined by the so called ‘soft stuff’ – where human expectations, anxieties, tribal behaviours, mixed emotions, different mindsets and ways of working, not to mention the win-lose mentality, pull against efforts to achieve the task of integration and post merger productivity. The evidence is there, for all to see, of potential lost, of synergies left on the table, of disappointment – it’s become received wisdom [1] that ‘culture’ is responsible for some spectacular M&A failures.

It Takes More Than IQ

Successful business professionals and leaders have well developed critical thinking skills and solid IQ along with strong functional and market knowledge. These have been honed and developed over the years in academic training and business experience. We naturally rely heavily on those skills to resolve critical business challenges. Great leaders however know that it takes much more than intellect and knowledge to solve business issues, especially those that require engaging and inspiring our people to give their very best.

Great leaders lead with their heart, have a clear set of beliefs and values and combine cognitive and rational skills with well-developed emotional intelligence (EQ). They understand that what separates them from successful leaders is not IQ, talent or skill, but their ability to harness the talent to get the best possible outcome. It is similar to the difference between a star and a superstar athlete who have pretty much the same talent, skill and fitness levels. What separates them is the mindset, the mental makeup.

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Easy Yesses vs. Conscious No’s

Today’s leaders didn’t get to where they are by saying no to opportunities. Most arrived at their positions by saying a lot of yesses. Yes to a rush-marketing assignment. Yes to a CEO’s special request. Yes to implementing a new technology across a global network. These are widely praised as good leadership traits, but how often is a leader congratulated for saying no?

These many yesses require leaders to inspire those they lead with a common purpose and successfully transform organizational visions into profitable realities. But with the many yesses along the way also comes endless meetings due to tangents, impromptu brainstorming, more people on meetings than what is really needed, and long hours at the office to manage the overflow. Company cultures driven by yesses, where there is no moderation in who attends meetings, who’s allowed to jump in on a conference call, and what new ideas should be tried out are also the ones with the longest work hours, the most relationship issues, and the most dissatisfied employees.

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