This article first appeared on Forbes.com.
Recently, I stood in a hotel ballroom with 199 other CEOs of companies worth $5 million and up. Some people ran smaller organizations like I do. Some led $60 billion-dollar empires. Amidst the leather couches and organic food treats, I listened for two days as they discussed the future of capitalism and what a conscious company is. And then in a moment of clarity, the room came into focus and I realized … they’re totally missing the boat.
That’s not to say that I was surrounded by people who are in any way bad. These are some amazing folks sporting impressive resumes 20 pages deep with accomplishments and awards. They are good people working hard to connect with one another. But too many of them are chasing the wrong definition of what it means to be conscious.
I was reminded of what Tom Brokaw once said: “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”
It’s also easy to give away a portion of your profits to help bring water to remote villages in Africa. And yes, we should all be committing a portion of our profits to great humanitarian causes. But writing a check is easy. Breathing love into an organization is an entirely different proposition.
The role of love in conscious capitalism
When I read John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s book, “Conscious Capitalism,” I was inspired by their description of love in an organization. While we use that language daily at my company, RTC, I had rarely, if ever, heard the term used in other businesses. I appreciated that they were introducing love into the leadership conversation.
But leading with love is not an intellectual exercise; it’s not something that you can study in an MBA program or learn at a conference. It’s a lifestyle you have to commit to with time, energy and resources.
And that’s something I know how to do. I was once lauded for my ability to take huge emotional risks on stage and then in front of the camera in Hollywood. I have worked with five therapists and seven executive coaches. I have studied vulnerability for the last decade, and am now enrolled in an 18-month Gestalt Therapy training program (and am sharing my therapy journal with my staff). I created the Delivering Happiness comic book and I have the word “love” tattooed on my arm.
In other words, I’m the poster boy for this intersection with conscious capitalism. I’ve facilitated visibility, which is what makes love possible. Love cannot exist between us until we see each other deeply. We must open ourselves up and share space with our fellow human beings. Until we can appreciate and respect their journey, love is not accessible.
How to change your organization’s culture
So what does leading with love look like? Here is how it shows up at RTC:
1. Presence. Every single phone call I am on or meeting I attend gets 100 percent of my attention and focus. Being present for others is the greatest way I can show them love and respect. My staff have taken that example into their own work with coworkers and clients. That has created a culture of presence.
2. Encouraging growth. We encourage our staff to shift past their blind spots by offering them insight into their work habits and then giving them access to an executive coach who helps them work through challenges. By surrounding them with love and support so they can break through their personal barriers, we help our staff to redefine who they want to be in this world. That ties their growing identity to our organization, which inspires the entire ecosystem.
3. Exploring your passion. We only work on passion projects—we do not accept “jobs.” This was a tough transition we made a few years ago. We only say yes to people and projects that our staff can feel amazing about. Knowing that our sales team has the backs of our creative and operations teams has infused our culture with trust.
4. Taking risks. As the leader, I have to be willing to be vulnerable first and lead by example. At a recent company retreat, I did personal work on my relationship with my father (who works for me), in front of 20 of my staff. It was humbling and uncomfortable, but it was also awesome. Doing our personal work in front of each other encourages a deep understanding of who we are as human beings. When we risk showing our hearts to one another, we create fierce loyalty that pays off in how we approach our work for clients.
We have to stop hiding from one another at the office if we want to engage in life-changing work. I believe this is the next evolution of the culture conversation. When we share our truth with stakeholders, we create opportunities for deep connection—and those heartfelt stories will drive sales because trust drives sales.
But trust is changing—you cannot manufacture it any longer. You have to earn it by listening, by being present, and by leading with love.
(A special thanks to Maria Rodale, Erik Harrington, Larry Leon, and Bryan Ungard who I met at the CEO summit and who all inspired me. To those of you who are leading with love, but who I did not meet or share intimate time with, please introduce yourselves so we can learn from one another.)