This article first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Maria Rodale runs an empire spreading health and wellness information to the masses. She is the CEO of Rodale Inc., the largest independent publisher in the U.S., and the company responsible for putting out an array of magazines you've certainly heard of (Runner's World, Men's Health, Women's Health, Prevention, and the soon to-be-launched Rodale's Organic Life) and she personally vets every product that lands on Rodale's, the e-commerce site she launched in 2013.
Besides being a pioneering business leader whose company has also put out over 75 New York Times best-selling books, Rodale is a heart-centered leader who aims to change the way we do business. She leads by example by leading with love—a phrase we use at Round Table Companies to describe a new framework of working, creating, and contributing to the human spirit through the work we do as a thriving business.
Rodale's grandfather founded the business she sits atop today, and she grew up on an organic farm long before most of us knew what that meant. In fact, her company is widely regarded as responsible for launching the organic movement in America in 1942 with Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. Today, however, Rodale focuses on a new kind of wellness.
"We need to heal the human heart before we can heal the planet," she said in her keynote address at the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit last year in Austin where we met for the first time. As members of Conscious Capitalism, we had come together with other like-minded CEOs to discuss and share our ideas for doing business differently. We were surrounded by leaders who were striving to do well in business by being good—both as corporate citizens and as employers of human beings who provide products and services for other human beings. I met Maria the first night of the event and over the next three days, I continued to feel drawn to her "mother-earth" energy.
She walks the talk, and she tries to find ways to connect with her employees, encourage feedback, and foster a culture of transparency. A couple of years ago, she set up time to meet with her entire staff over the holidays—all 800 of them—in groups of 50–80 people. Over coffee and cookies she mingled with everyone in her enterprise, going on a "listening tour" of each department in her company.
"It's important for me to leave a positive emotional wake," she said of her interactions not only with her employees, but of everyone who crosses her path.
Maria feels a great responsibility within her organization: to help her people feel safe enough to be vulnerable about their own deepest hopes and aspirations.
"You learn by listening," she explains. She makes a point of gathering diverse opinions not only to inform her own decision making, but also to engender the dedication that makes her workforce and her company thrive. "Listening is important not just because I learn but also because people need to be heard."
Maria and I are perhaps unique among CEOs in that we ask our employees to dream with us because we genuinely want to help them on their paths. This is part of what we've dubbed here at RTC, leading with love, a term that embodies the sacred space we hope to create as businesspeople in an evolving world. It starts with the team that surrounds us.
"I feel like my job as an owner is to try to help them on their path," Maria says of her relationship with her employees. "If it is aligned with my path then we walk together—and if their path is leading somewhere else, then I wish them the best and help them on their way." Helping her employees flourish is just another contribution to helping the planet heal.
In the end, leading with love is about creating a space for people to explore their own dreams, to live their own best life. It all circles back to the humanity we strive to promote.
"It's not just about losing weight and being fit," Rodale explains. "It's about healing yourself. It's hard to be generous and kind if you are suffering. Learning to be generous and kind is what gets you out of suffering."
And when there is less suffering in the world, there is more wellness, according to Maria.
CEOs in waiting take note—this is what the future of leadership looks like.
Maria's journey has taken her though astrologers, therapists, shamans, and countless books over the last three decades.
"It's a choice," she says. "You choose to get over your fear and do the work." The work will bring you incredible insights on how to move forward with love and compassion.
"It's like a Nancy Drew mystery," she says, explaining that the detective novels were a great motivator for her to find her own path to wellness and compassionate leadership. "Everyone has to follow their own personal clues—the clues the universe sends to them. No one is going to hand you a menu. Every journey is different and every path is tailored for your individual needs. The clues show up in your life the way you need them to."
Maria Rodale shows us all that when you are in a leadership role and can lead by example—when you are living a life that you love—it is infectious. It creates a culture of people who want to follow suit.