The point of good leadership is not and has never been creating a dictatorship where leaders rule as tyrants with iron fists. Radical as it may sound, the principle at the core of good leadership is love because if you allow that to drive the way you work and function, everyone around you will feel it, and the results can be astounding. Penny Zenker interviews bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and seasoned leadership coach and consultant Steve Farber to answer the question, “What puts love at the core of good leadership?” There’s a lot to unpack, but Penny and Steve guide you through the thought process that led to this conclusion, and how it can help you as a leader going forward.
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Good Leadership: Putting A Little Love With Steve Farber
On this show, we are hosting the greatest leaders, entrepreneurs, and gurus that are going to help you to take back time. What that is for me is to help you to think and act more strategically. I’m excited to have a good friend of mine here, Steve Farber. He is listed on Inc.’s Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts in the world and number one on Huffington Post’s 12 Business Speakers to See. He is a bestselling author, a popular keynote seasoned leadership coach and consultant. He’s worked with a vast array of public and private organizations in every virtual arena and may I add. He’s a darn good singer and guitar player with that. He’s a former Vice President of legendary management guru, Tom Peters Company, and is the Founder and CEO of The Extreme Leadership Institute, an organization devoted to helping its clients develop award-winning cultures and achieve radical results. The institute’s team has helped over 25 companies earn a ranking on the best places to work list. I can go on and on but I want you to hear directly from Steve himself. Without further ado, Steve Farber.
Thank you, Penny. It’s great to be here with you. I’ve been looking forward to this.
I saw you speak and I loved the message that you had to share. Also, I added in there you’re a great guitar player and singer because that surprised me how much of yourself you brought to your speaking. Tell us the foundation of why is your book called what it is that Love is Just Damn Good Business? Why are you in love with love?
There’s a specific reason why I chose to title the book, Love is Just Damn Good Business. It’s because love is just a damn good business. I’ve been doing this work but this work, consulting and leadership development and that entire thing and in the business world. I’ve noticed a few things along the way. I don’t claim to have it all figured out certainly. The most striking observation that I can offer to people in any business is that as uncomfortable as we are in using the word love and business in the same sentence, it is the foundation of what great business and great leadership are. It’s odd, ironic, tragic, or something that we seem to resist the idea that makes us the most successful.
It’s interesting, I was thinking, there’s an expression, “It’s business, it’s not personal.” What do you have to say about that?
Everything’s personal. I understand the rationale behind it. If I have to fire you, for example, I’m not making a personal judgment necessarily on who you are as a human being and your value as a person. You may not be a good fit for the business. It could be that I have to cut back. In that sense, it’s not a personal affront to you, but everything is personal. We take everything personally because it’s us, it’s our lives that we’re living and what we do at work and what happens at work and in our careers is a big part of our lives. It’s all personal. If we choose to acknowledge that, then it leads us to an interesting place. What is it about the experience of working and the experience of doing business with a company, let’s say, as a consumer that on a personal level affects us the most in the most positive way?
To me, that simply comes down to love. If I’m a customer, I love doing business with you. I love your product, your service, the combination of the two. I love the way you respond to my needs. I love the way you fix things when they go wrong. I love the way you offer me solutions. The problem is I didn’t even know I had until I see your solution. That’s where my loyalty is going to come from. It’s a personal thing. Internally, if I love working here if I love the people I’m working with and I believe in what we’re doing, I’m going to bring myself more fully to my work that’s personal.
It’s not that we have to get beyond this idea that somehow, we categorize and compartmentalize our lives into there’s work and there’s other. We play different roles at work and home. We do different things most of the time but we’re the same person, DNA and the same internal organs. We’re the same person, so why not acknowledge that and take advantage in a positive way of this wonderful component that we have as human beings that connection and experience are important to us. Why not be able to love the time that we spend in business?
Love is the foundation of great business and leadership. Click To Tweet It brings more joy and makes everything better. Some people might be thinking, what does love have to do with productivity, love in your business? What does that have to do with productivity and taking back time? How can you put it specifically for people? They’re clear, why this is important to the productivity of their business?
It’s an interesting question because the question itself belies the underlying assumption that we make, which is that love is somehow other than productive. To answer your question directly, if I love the work that I’m doing, the people that I’m doing it for, the people on my team, I’m going to be more productive because I feel a greater sense of responsibility to them. A higher level of commitment, a greater level of accountability for getting things done. If I don’t care about this place, this is the polar opposite. If I’m disengaged, I don’t care, I’m apathetic, whatever, then productivity is simply only going to happen as a result of somebody pressing their thumb into my back and saying, “Either produce or you’re out of here.”
That’s not effective. You might get a short-term result, but in the end, you’re not getting engagements in the long run and people end up leaving if that’s the way that it’s run.
You may get a result singular, but if you want results over time, plural, then that comes from people being committed and commitment and love are close to related to each other.
I was thinking of as you were saying that is when we’re in love, time goes away, we’re in the flow. When we can work and time can go away in the context of we could spend 8, 12, 14 hours doing whatever it is that we’re doing and loving it, enjoying it and bringing value to it that’s the ultimate. That’s what we’re looking for. If love is putting us in that place and is part of flow, then it’s productive.
I flashed back on this, maybe I’m the only one that ever had this experience in school, but I remember sitting in some God-awful high school class and watching the clock, waiting for that bell to ring. I understood even when Einstein meant by time is relative because it was freaking slow. On the other hand, if you love what you’re doing, it flies by. Interestingly, I never thought about love before as a way to take back time or to change the nature of it, but that is in essence what it does for us subjectively.
I wanted to make sure people like, “What? You bring somebody on and talk about love. What does that have to do with productivity?” I want to make sure that they understand my way of thinking here.
The framework that I offer in the book Love is Just Damn Good Business and I’ve been teaching this, is do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. That’s the credo behind this whole thing. If you break that down into its elements, doing what you love is the foundation for it. It’s your heart connected to your work but that’s not where it stops. In business, society, families and the communities, it’s not enough for us to be doing what we love. We got to be giving value to other people. Do what you love in the service of people. That’s the business context for it, as well as the moral and ethical context. If all I’m doing is what I love and I don’t care about the impact of that on anybody else, as long as I’m getting what I want. That’s another way of saying narcissism. I’m doing what I love in the service of people and I’m serving them in such a significant way that they reciprocate. In other words, they love me in return.
Let’s talk about that. What if they don’t?
We need to do a better job for one thing. If I’m doing what I love and I feel like I’m serving you and the feedback that I get from you as a customer, for example, is that you don’t love what I do. I do Net Promoter Score with you or some other measurement of that, and then I have something to learn there. I might think that I’m serving you in a way that you’re going to love, but you’re not and not responding that way. I need to learn from that and change it. Ultimately, we want our customers to love what we’re doing for them. That’s where our competitive advantage comes from.
If we love, we want to learn because we are in service. You’re taking that love and saying, “It’s nurturing. If this isn’t what you want, then let me change. Let me adapt. Let me bring it differently.” I feel that’s part of love is being flexible and meeting somebody where they’re at and adding that additional value.
It comes back to your question about productivity. If I’m serving you, one of the ways that I can measure that is how productive am I being? Productivity, innovation and creativity, these are all different facets of the same gemstone. If I’m innovative and creative doesn’t matter if I can’t execute on it and get it done. If I want to serve you, I’ve got to be firing on all cylinders, hitting all facets of the gemstone, firing on all gemstones. Pick your metaphor. That’s what it comes down to. This is applicable in every aspect of our lives. I intend this discussion and the book to be geared the business people, this is a business practice. Operationalizing love in the way that we do business is where our competitive advantage would come from. If it’s a nice to have or it’s soft California touchy-feely hoo-ha crap, what’s the point? I’ve been around for a while. I’m not making this up. I didn’t come onto this in a vacuum. It’s based on a lot of observation with a lot of companies, a lot of individuals who get phenomenal things done in profitable ways because they have found a way to answer the question, what does love look like in the way that I do business? If I could show that to my customers, the chances are good that they’re going to stick around for a while.
Let’s answer that question. Give us an idea and an example of how do you operationalize love for business?
First of all, let’s talk about the nature of the word because language is important. It’s also a little bit limiting. I don’t want to get caught up in semantics. First of all, understand that we use the word love in a lot of contexts and to describe a lot of different things. We use the word interchangeably, even when the experience is not interchangeable. For example, I love pizza and I love my wife. I love them differently. One I shouldn’t love and one I should but I still use the same word. It’s describing something familiar to me. The key to this is that people will self-describe the experience is something that I love. If our clients say, “I love doing business with you.” It’s true for them. They may have a different interpretation of what that means or how they would define it, but they still describe it the same way.
It’s an emotional connection, we can say that.
It’s a positive emotional connection. The question then is what should that look like? We can answer those thousands of different ways. I’ll give you a couple of examples. This is probably an example that I shared when you heard me speak because it’s my favorite case study. There’s a company called Trailer Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. I love this example because they don’t stereotypically fit the mold of a company that would be operationalizing love. They are not a particularly glamorous business. They’re a shipping company. They ship goods from primarily Jacksonville to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic. They ship barges of goods. That’s what they do.
Don’t you think that people that stand around and hold hands and sing Kumbaya? Is that what you’re saying?
They get damn close as it turns out but only an analogy. Let me explain why there’s such a great example of what we’re talking about. The backstory on Trailer Bridge is that they’ve been around for many years and their history it’s not the healthiest, let me say. They were, in fact, a toxic place for many years, terrible customer scores. They were the low-price option because people weren’t coming to them because of their service, they were coming to them because they were cheap. They were cheap because people didn’t like their service. It’s one of those vicious cycles. They had lots of turnovers. People couldn’t stand working there, and ultimately, they went bankrupt. When they came out of bankruptcy, they burned through four CEOs in two years. The place was not a healthy place to work.
Mitch Luciano took over. He was tapped by the board to turn the company around. He agreed to do it because he believes in the company. He believed in a lot of the people there. Not all of them, but he believed in a lot of them. He loved the place and what they were capable of doing. He told the board, he said, “I’ll do it, but I don’t want the title of CEO because people are burned out on CEOs. I have to earn that title. I’ll be President. I’ll earn the title of CEO. When these folks are ready to call me the CEO that’s when I’ll take the label.” Sit was symbolic right from the start. Mitch’s whole idea was this, to turn this place around, first of all, we have to create a culture and environment that people love working in. We want our customers to love us and therefore do business with us, be willing to spend more money with us, talk about us to other people. They have to love it. We have to make this a place that people will love working in. He went about answering the question, “What would that look like?”
Let me ask you this question, did he already have a connection with you and is this something he came up with on its own or had you worked with him before? Did he grow into this or discovered this?
When you say you 'love' something, there's a positive emotional connection. Click To Tweet Mitch was a fan of my books. He had read The Radical Leap was my first book. The Radical Edge was book number two. Greater Than Yourself was my third book. Love is Just Damn Good Business is number four. He had read The Radical Leap, The Radical Edge, Greater Than Yourself. The common theme throughout all of these and through everything that I do is that our role as leaders in business people is to cultivate love, to create an environment that people love working in. Love is a powerful business principle. I’ve been saying that for years, The Radical Leap first came out in 2004 to give you an idea of the timeframe. I had not yet met Mitch, but he was a practitioner of my work. I learned about this after the fact. He went to his board who were investment bankers and bottom line guys, private equity folks, that usual thing. He said, “I’ll take the job, but I want to take the title of CEO and you guys have to let me do what I want to do because this is going to be different from what you expect because I’m a love guy.”
Did he say that? Did he say that directly, “I’m a love guy?”
I don’t think he said those words but that’s what he was thinking. He said, “I got to make this a place that people love working in.” What should that look like? He did any number of things. By the way, he gets squirmy when I describe it as this is what he did because it’s all about what we did if you ask him. He’s a humble guy, a great leader and a hardcore business guy. He’s a bottom line-driven guy, but he understands that’s not where you start. He said, “I want to create an environment that people love working in.” What does that mean? It means the people that work here have to know each other.
It’s basic. If I love my team, that means I know the people who are on my team. I have a connection with them. I know about their families, I know about their aspirations, I know about their challenges. He said, “That’s not happening here.” He got granular about what he should do. Here’s what he did number one, it was a company of 160 people, and traditionally they all wore name tags, “Hello, my name is.” He said, “What the hell are we wearing name tags for? We’re 160 people. We should know each other’s names.” Let’s start with that.
The first thing he did was a little bit symbolic and practical. He got rid of the name tags. Think about what that meant for him as the leader of the company. He had to learn everybody’s name. It started to change his connection with people because he knew their names and that blew them away. He’s saying, “You need to know each other’s names too and we need to get to know each other.” They lived in cubicle city, floor-to-ceiling partitions everywhere. People that had worked together for years rarely saw each other even when they’re sitting right next to each other. He lowered the heights of the cubicles that people could look at each other.
He encouraged his management team to get out of their offices where people were holed up all day long and get out and mingle with folks and get to know each other. He looked at other aspects of the physical environment. He created a break room, a communal area, ping-pong tables, foosball tables. He borrowed that idea from Silicon Valley and all that. Every Thursday and they still do this. They bring in a food truck, they park it outside the office building, they invite everybody, they buy lunch for everybody so they can all eat together once a week. All of this to get people to know each other. As they got to know each other, lo and behold, they got to like each other.
As they got to like each other, they realized how much they love working there and the dynamic of the environment started to change. All by answering the question, “What should love to look like in this building?” At the same time, they were looking at their approach to their customers and he encouraged his team to show, to prove to their customers that they’ll do anything to make them happy. That’s because they love them. There are thousands of examples and it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but lots of examples. One thing they did that struck me is they got granular. They went right into their policies and procedures and they looked at some of their longstanding protocols. One of them being they would not ship a barge out of the dock until it was at least 75% full.
If they shipped at less than 75%, they would lose money on the shipment. If you look at it from a balance sheet perspective, it makes perfect sense. Can’t do that because we’re not in the business to lose money. They turn that on his ear. You’re the customer. You’re shipping a car to Puerto Rico for your family. You tell them it’s going to be there on such a date. It doesn’t sail. They don’t get it. The reason it never got there is that the company tells you they didn’t sell enough space, it’s still sitting in the dock. They asked the question, “If we loved our customers, what would we do then?” The answer is obvious. You would ship. Even if you lose money on that shipment, you will still ship because that’s what you said you would do.
That’s what they started doing and it goes on and on. Fast forward to the punchline. They’re always at least 98% to 100% full when they ship. If you trace that down, why is that? It’s because their customer service is great. They have fantastic customers. Their turnover has dropped significantly. Their best recruiters are their employees. They’ve ranked number 1 and 2 Best Place to Work in the City of Jacksonville two years in a row. The revenues of the company have exceeded the previous 25 years of the company combined. All by answering the question, what should this look like? It’s not enough to say, “Let’s love everybody.” We love our customers and print the banners on the buttons. If that’s true, what would we do differently around here? I love that example.
It comes from the behavior.
Observable behavior on every level, on a systemic level, on a policy level, on an interpersonal level, in a physical environment, everything.
That shows how operationalizing love is productive because it’s going to increase engagement. I’m sure people were not sick as often. Those are things that cost the organization fewer mistakes, more customers. It’s core to productivity.
The takeaway from that is whatever business you’re in for those reading, start with that question. If we loved our customers, what would we do differently? It’s a powerful question. The traditional question is to pull your team together and say, “What can we do to improve our customer service?” Which is a great question and it’s going to yield some good ideas. If you ask the question in the other way, how can we show our customers that we love them? It raises the bar. It raises the standards and the quality of the answer is going to be different because we have something to reach for. This idea that somehow love is soft and squishy and it’s counterproductive is insane.
To add my thing there to what we talked about is it makes it more emotional both for the people delivering it and the people receiving it. Not only is it up the bar, but because it’s more specific and it touches an emotional aspect. The answers are going to be different versus clinically what can we do to make?
By the way, not emotional at the expense of the clinical and the rationale, it’s both ends. I understand why this idea is this going to yield greater profitability, let’s say. I also care in the way that we do it. I also love the idea. We’re not sacrificing emotion for a reason. We shouldn’t be doing it vice versa is what we’ve done. In business, we’ve sacrificed whatever the opposite of that was. We will pursue reason at the expense of an emotional connection. We want to do both.
That’s critical and leaving people with something simple, which is one question that they can ask is extremely powerful. Break that down into taking your executive team, take all the teams in your organization and have them answer that question. It’d be exciting to see what they come up with.
Whatever kind of business you're in, you have to know what you can change to show you love your customers. Click To Tweet We have a great time at The Extreme Leadership Institute and helping companies to do that thing. We have some clients that we’ve worked with because if you think about what is required, it starts with that simple question. It’s what are the implications of that on everything we do for the people that we hire and the way that we hire them? How we do performance appraisals? How we reward people? What our physical environment looks like, our HR policies? All of that can be impacted by that powerful question. When that starts to happen, the results are quite extraordinary.
When you want to get there and you want to get there faster, you work with people who’ve already done it and are experts in it. How do we find out people who are reading more information about you, The Extreme Leadership Institute or any of the other amazing programs that you have?
There are two major websites, SteveFarber.com is where I live. I’m also the Founder and CEO of The Extreme Leadership Institute. Jenna Lynch is the President who’s quite brilliant. She’s brought 28 companies out of the best place to work list in her career. That’s ExtremeLeadership.com. You can learn about what we do there. We started our Love is Just Damn Good Business Podcast. We’re excited about that. On social media, I’m all over the place. If you can remember my name, you can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, all the usual haunts.
Let me ask you one personal question right outside of the love driving the core of productivity, but as a leader yourself and managing the multiple businesses that you manage and whatnot, what are some of the key strategies and tools that you use to be most productive?
I’m more productive than I give myself credit for. If you were to ask me to list my characteristics and qualities as a business guy would not be at the top of the list.
Do some things work for you? That’s all. We’re sharing tips here.
What I’ll tell you is that when I’m clear on why we’re engaged in whatever we’re engaged in? Why we’re doing a new project or why we’re launching a new program or product? I love that idea. There’s nothing that’s going to stand in my way. I get excited about it. Having said that, if I understand the why behind everything I do, there are things that I don’t love doing that I have to do anyway. I know that’s shocking. There are things that I hate doing that I have to do to do the work that I love. The technical term for that is called being an adult. As long as I understand why I’m doing it, even though I don’t want to, I will get it done in a quicker time and it’ll be more productive. If there’s something I don’t get it, I don’t understand it. I resist it, then I either need to understand it or I need to let it go. Plus, I’m getting better at this and a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with this. I’m getting better at delegating certain things to other people without feeling like I have to have my hand in everything. That feels good. Once I got to that play.
It’s my favorite thing to do is to delegate. If I can delegate something first thing in the morning, I feel super productive already. That’s my tip is delegate first thing in the morning and you’re all good. Thank you for being here, Steve. You were a great guest and shared a lot of great wisdom.
Thanks, Penny. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Thank you for being here it’s because of you, we do love you and we want to provide you with as much value and support in helping you to be more productive, focus your life and your energy on the things that matter to you. That’s what the show is about is to help you to be able to achieve that by sharing tips and tricks from various people who are doing their thing and doing it in their way. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take out a few of the tips that are going to be impactful for you. Thanks for being here. We’ll see you on the next episode.
- The Extreme Leadership Institute
- Love is Just Damn Good Business
- Trailer Bridge
- The Radical Leap
- The Radical Edge
- Greater Than Yourself
- Love is Just Damn Good Business Podcast
- LinkedIn – Steve Farber
- Twitter – Steve Farber
- Instagram – Steve Farber
- Facebook – Steve Farber
About Steve Farber
Listed on Inc.’s listing of the Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts in the world, and #1 on Huffington Post’s 12 Business Speakers to See, Steve Farber is a bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and a seasoned leadership coach and consultant who has worked with a vast array of public and private organizations in virtually every arena.
Farber is the former Vice President of legendary management guru Tom Peters’ company and is the founder and CEO of The Extreme Leadership Institute—an organization devoted to helping its clients develop award-winning cultures and achieve radical results. The Institute’s team has helped over 25 companies earn a ranking on the Best Places to Work list.
Farber’s third book, Greater Than Yourself, debuted as a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. His second book, The Radical Edge, was hailed as “a playbook for harnessing the power of the human spirit.” And his first book, The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, was named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
His much-anticipated new book, Love is Just Damn Good Business, published by McGraw-Hill, is available now.
Farber is a member of the exclusive Transformational Leadership Council, and his column, The Extreme Leadership Chronicles, runs frequently on Inc.com.
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