CEO Corner: Love-Based Leadership – My Interview with Yetunde Hofmann

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“When do most people in their lives do something where they come together to create something much bigger than themselves? Be someone, do something that is greater than themselves? That is pretty hard to find. Love enables this.”

Last Thursday I moderated our first HeadBox Connect Virtual Panel on the “Power of Everyday Leadership” with Kirsten Samuel, the CEO of Kamwell, Mike Piddock, the CEO of Glisser and Mark Leruste the CEO of the Ministry of Purpose.

I started the discussion by asking the panellists about what Simon Sinek calls “Real Leadership”. I started here because I agree with Sinek when he says that real leadership starts by operating from your heart, being compassionate, humble, empathetic, selfless, showing that you really care about the people who work for you, and that you can have a hugely positive influence and impact on their lives. If this responsibility is true in normal situations, then it is even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Author, Yetunde Hofmann, has taken Simon Sinek’s concept about real leadership a step further in her new book, Beyond Engagement – The Value of Love-Based Leadership in Organisations. I was interviewed by Yetunde, along with a number of CEOs, including the former CEO of Dyson, Martin McCourt on this important topic.

The full transcript of my interview has been split into three parts – the second part will be published on this blog next week and the final part the week after. 

Here’s part one.

How would you define love?

When Yetunde asked me this question I immediately thought about my wife who I’ve been married to for 22 years.

“I was thinking of why I love my wife so much and there are all the things that come into my mind.”

“Because when you love someone, it takes you to a place, a feeling; a sense of being that is much greater than you as an individual and there is something very powerful about that. There is ultimately no end to it. It is a state of being and of mind and a constant experience. It’s not something that begins and ends”.

“I love my wife because I respect her for who she is, what she says and what she does, and I think respect is a big part of loving someone. Allowing you to be true to yourself and who you are and loving that person for that – for who they are – this is really important too. As is empathy. And the ability to listen when you least want to. But when you really listen to someone and that someone feels like that they are really being listened to; they feel valued. So, value and being valued and having a sense of worth is also an intrinsic part of love and being loved. This is the one area I keep working on. I try to listen and don’t do nearly as much as I should, but I know I value everything about my wife and who she is, and this will never change. There is a selflessness to love as well. Love is inherently selfless. In human beings, it is helpful for us to be selfless. When we talk about can you bring your personality into a work environment, being selfless is a good thing. And linked to being selfless is a very underrated value in my view and that is kindness. It is very hard to be kind. Much harder than you think. It is much easier to be unkind.” 

“Also being cared for and knowing that someone really cares for you and is thinking about you and would do anything for you, would climb mountains and scale rivers for you is also really powerful.”

“I also think that love is about those little things too. In terms of all those little idiosyncrasies that you really love about someone and all those little things that you do for that someone too and they can get crowded out because they require time to think; they require thought.”

“When do most people in their lives do something where they come together to create something much bigger than themselves? Be someone, do something that is greater than themselves? That is pretty hard to find. Love enables this.”

How can you apply this definition of love to an organisation?

“It really can apply in an organisation.  It can apply through values, beliefs, principles, behaviours. Definitely. If you start by defining what love means in your organisation and what values, principles and behaviours go with it, it can certainly apply in an organisation.”

“Values and principles should drive your behaviours. Values really help define who you are who you want to be, what’s important to you, where you want to go in your life – all this comes from understanding your values. Love can come alive through the values that you want to hold up in the mirror so that you as a person, as a leader, can look in that mirror every day.  I’m always struck by leaders that I’ve read and really loved what they’ve written about leadership only to find out later that the values that they’ve espoused in their books on leadership are not values they live or lived in their personal lives. I’m really struck by leaders who do and can go on public platforms; and they talk about principles and values to do with leadership and yet do not demonstrate those same values and principles in their private lives. That’s false and when you look at it through the lens of love, you would say for example – if you really love someone, you wouldn’t sleep with another woman or man. So, I’ve been disappointed by leaders in public life who are not the person they say they are; who don’t live the values they say they have, in their private lives or in their work lives. And for me as an entrepreneur, everything that I want to be judged for in my work life is so interrelated to my personal life that if I did anything in my personal life that betrayed who I am in my work life I’ve ultimately betrayed who I am. You can’t have a value set at work and then have a different value set in your personal life.”

“I think to create a fantastic culture in a business which I’ve always thrived to do, I think values are critical and I think that some of the values we have here at HeadBox could easily fall out of the definitions of love and I’ve thought of those values in the context of my personal life and how I want to bring those values to the workplace in generating a fantastic culture and that what this means is that we’ve recruited great people – people from different walks of life, different cultures, different backgrounds and yet they share the same values. That counts for everything. Ultimately, we will be successful as a company here because of that more than anything else. When people meet HeadBoxers they have very positive things to say about them and I feel very good about that. In the same way when people meet my children and my wife and they have positive things to say about them I feel very good about that too.”

What do you think are the barriers to the presence of love in an organisation?

“When I think of barriers, I’m immediately drawn to employment issues and to legal issues; to a lack of trust – in the workplace. When trust breaks down you then find yourself as an organisation or as a business having to behave in a certain way because the law dictates or there are certain protocols that dictate the way you have to behave – and these force you to be less human and personal as your actions are now determined more by legal protocol.”

What comes to mind are the people in some of my businesses that have worked for me and have not been happy. They’re in the wrong job. And you should be able to tell someone that they’re not in the right job because every day they are working in a job that doesn’t make them happy is a day they could be working in another job that fulfils them. I feel a responsibility to tell them but because of the law, it is not always as easy as that.” 

“I can recall one person in one of my companies in the past whose sales figures were starting to go down and I sat him down and asked him – ‘if you weren’t doing this, what would you love to be doing instead?’ And he said, ‘I’d love to have my own sandwich shop and I’d give it a name.’ So I said ‘what’s stopping you from doing that? And he ‘said nothing really, it obviously means I wouldn’t work here anymore for starters’ and I said ‘why don’t you go and do that, you’re very passionate about it so why don’t you go and do it’ and so he did – he went and did it. He now has a sandwich/coffee shop. I had another person who wanted to be an airline pilot – the furthest thing away from selling advertising that you could think of – and I said ‘why don’t you go and be an airline pilot – so he did. It is about having the person, genuinely having the person’s interest at the heart of what you‘re doing. Luckily in both of these instances, having not followed the legal protocol, everything was ok but there were two examples when trying to be kind and helpful meant I did not follow the proper legal procedures and I ended up paying for that.”

“The barriers are also when people can’t say what they really feel and what they really think so the question is how do we engender that culture? That culture where people can feel what they really want to feel and say what they really think?”

In the second instalment of the interview, I discuss overcoming barriers to the presence of love in an organisation, the difference love can make if present in an organisation, the impact of love-based leadership on team effectiveness and more.

Beyond Engagement – The Value of Love-Based Leadership in Organisations by Yetunde Hofmann is released on 12th May 2020 and you can pre-order it here.

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