Last year, I wrote a piece in HRExaminer about why tomorrow’s leaders will come from HR. The reason, I opined, was love. Not romantic love, but the people-need-people kind of love that brings us together, puts relationships at the center of our work experience, and reminds us that technology and contracts and business should all support relationships, not supplant them. Based on what I’ve seen, heard, read, and experienced in the eight months since, I can take that idea a little further now:
Love alone isn’t enough. It needs to be expressed in the right way, and combined with certain other characteristics, to be effective. Here are three of
them that I’ve had a chance to see in action this year:
Love will help you organize the troops, but if you’re not clear on where you want to go, then things can fall apart… fast. If the organization
has no other guiding principle beyond “follow the leader,” then all it takes is for the leader to be out for a couple of days for people to start wondering which way to go. Politics and interpersonal pettiness are a constant risk in organizations that lack clarity.
In addition to clarity of goals, the leader must also have the courage to stay focused on those goals when the going gets tough. If people are allowed to focus on things that feel good but don’t move the company appreciatively forward, then important priorities can get lost in a see of “smalls” (as my cofounder Lisa likes to calls them), and accountability crumbles.
Humility is needed to ensure that the right information gets used in important decisions. As a leader who (1) has power to reward or punish people and (2) has to rely on others to provide you information, it’s important to make sure that people who might have an incentive to hide (or reframe) bad news don’t do it. Being humble helps here in two ways: first, setting the example that it’s OK to be imperfect can make it safer for people to share bad news. Second, sometimes a leader needs to be humble enough to ask the “dumb” question that will let her know if the information she’s been provided is accurate. Because if a leader gets bad intel, well… as they say: “garbage in, garbage out.”
The problem here isn’t that love alone isn’t enough; it’s that as much as I’d love to embody all these things, life is simply too short. Developing
humility is a lifelong journey all by itself, but my team needs humility now—and clarity, and courage. No matter how intensely I focus on
personal development, I’m unlikely to unlock my full potential on a calendar that works for my shareholders. Because remember: even after I figure this stuff out for myself, I still need to get all the other employees onboard!
Last October, I stumbled upon an amazing answer to this dilemma. I had been invited to Ecuador to keynote Human Perspective International’s (HPI’s) client conference. Over a few days, I moderated two CEO panels and interacted with a number of professionals who, all together, were responsible for the lion’s share of an entire nation’s food, oil, imports, and technology. They were rising to meet some incredible challenges, and as I asked how, I increasingly saw that they all treated development (or love, as I would call it!) as a team activity. The sense they conveyed was that in their organizations, they could harness humility or courage or clarity the way most people think to tap people’s analytical abilities or creativity.
Then I heard HPI’s CEO, Carolyn Larkin, speak, and I understood why.
Carolyn brought DiSC to Japan, and then to South and Latin America. She built an international OD consulting company, along with a network of thousands of consultants across the Americas. Carolyn grew up in Harlem, moved to California, and along the way crossed paths with people like Mickey Spillane, Cary Grant, Earnest Hemingway, and Deepak Chopra. Her personal and professional story is a master class in appreciating all life has to offer—she’s one of those people who makes it impossible to envy them, and you just find yourself sharing in her story and enjoying it as if it were your own.
Carolyn gave a talk at that conference in which she openly asked if it wasn’t time for companies to put a Chief Spirituality Officer on staff. As she
described the role this person would play, I was struck: despite my initial skepticism, I quickly realized that the CSO could be the one to nurture all
those capabilities the company needs, putting together teams based on peoples’ innate capabilities regardless of where those capabilities sprang
from, whether from family, faith, professionally, or otherwise. For someone like me who has long advocated for a more integrated approach to business, this idea had appeal.
Controversial? Absolutely, I questioned it at first myself. Dangerous? Not really, though being open to a new idea does require some bravery.
This is the next frontier for business: speaking directly to a company’s need to differentiate itself on things beyond benefits and pay, and stay relevant in a world where people increasingly care more about quality of life and making a difference. Worth exploring more fully? Definitely! Carolyn and I plan on writing about this. Love and spirituality at work may still seem like “out there” ideas to some, but there’s no denying a deep, longstanding hunger within business for these very concepts.
HPI’s been putting the core ideas of the CSO into practice for years, even if named something else, and many of the things I have been advocating for over my entire career also tuck nicely into this idea. I’m excited about our collaboration and look forward to sharing more about what we discover—because who wouldn’t want how to bring more love and clarity and courage and humility into the workplace?